SALINA, Kan. - The dull roar one hears coming from the White House these days is actually the sound of Obama staffers trying to contain their glee. Is it actually possible that the Republicans will choose Newt Gingrich as their nominee for President?
It's not an earth-shaking prediction to say that Barack Obama will easily defeat the former House Speaker should such a match up unfold. Newt's unelectable. Political ad-makers would undoubtedly have a field day next fall with his thirty-plus years in politics, his three marriages, work as a lobbyist, history of unpredictable and petulant behavior, etc.
Why are Republicans on the verge of nominating a candidate who might threaten to join Alf Landon and Walter Mondale as one of the biggest Presidential-election losers in history?
For an answer one needs to look at the recent political phenomenon known as the Tea Party. This grass roots movement successfully galvanized opposition to President Obama's Healthcare Reform in the midst of a sharp economic downturn and ushered in large Republican gains in the 2010 off-year elections.
The movement has always been a bit divorced from reality - criticizing President Obama for budget deficits that were the product of the Bush tax cuts, wars, and a severe recession, for example. And yes, it was tinged with a bit of racism - exemplified by the Birther movement and vociferous support of Arizona Law 1070. But their unifying mantra has always been uncompromising opposition to the policies of Barack Obama. Say what one will, the movement was successful at the ballot box in November of 2010. In doing so they pushed the Republican Party far to the right.
To expand and solidify its takeover of the Republican Party the Tea Party Movement needs to nominate one of its own as the Party's standard bearer in 2012. Therein lies the problem. One by one this year Tea Party favorites have crashed and burned.
Sarah Palin had the inside track at first. But Palin advertised her lack of substance early and often and was written off by most Republicans after her ridiculous comments in the aftermath of the Arizona shootings in January of 2011. Donald Trump stepped in for a few weeks just to fan the Birther nonsense. Then Michele Bachmann picked up the mantle and support for a time, even managing to win the Iowa Straw Poll. But her star faded just as quickly as the national spotlight highlighted her penchant for twisting or even making up her own facts.
Governor Rick Perry then jumped in with all the swagger of a swashbuckling Texas cowboy. He quickly imploded after a series of gaffes and poor debate performances. Herman Cain inherited the Perry (Tea Party) crowd. But he too soon withered under the relentless scrutiny of modern-day Presidential politics.
Throughout this soap opera Mitt Romney has remained the steady presumed front-runner. And conservative Tea Partiers do not like Romney. With all the flip-flops in his political career it's hard to say where Romney really is on a lot of issues. But consensus has it that he is the more moderate of the candidates. And "moderate" is a dirty word to the Republican far right who see the battle as a struggle for the soul of the Party.
So who's left for this crowd? Jon Huntsman, another moderate? Forget it. Rick Santorum? What's he doing on the stage anyway? The only other option for conservatives, providing they can get past his suggestion that it would be impractical to deport twelve million undocumented immigrants, is Newt Gingrich.
The situation on the ground leaves Tea Partiers with a lose-lose proposition. Romney is not one of them. And Newt can't win next November.
Could it be that the Tea Party tide is receding into the waters of historical anecdote?