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KONRAD YAKABUSKI

Future shock: And the winner is … Barack Obama! Add to ...

Can you believe it’s already the end of August? It seems as if 2012 is flying by as fast and as furiously as a Texas dust storm.

As Republicans converge on Tampa for their Aug. 27-30 nominating convention, their year-long mud-wrestling match is entering its final round with no clear victor and only a sorry sight of bloodied finalists.

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For the first time since 1976, when Ronald Reagan nearly knocked off sitting president Gerald Ford, Republicans are beginning convention week without any candidate having locked up enough primary delegates to win the nomination outright.

Such disunity is never a good sign so close to an election. Yet, looking back a year, it was all foreseeable.

Indeed, each time a new candidate threw his or hat into the ring, the initial buzz only gave way to abject disappointment.

Before Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the race a year ago, conservative elites in Washington were scrambling desperately to draft a compromise candidate, one with enough right-wing cred to satisfy the GOP base but not so much so as to flirt with the fringes.

Mr. Perry was not that candidate. Most sensible observers realized that fairly quickly. And not just because of his quip that Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s attempts to stabilize the economy by printing money were “almost treasonous.”

As early as August of 2011, Mr. Perry was a fountain of cringe-worthy promulgations on the campaign trail. He called evolution a “theory that’s out there.” Asked in Iowa whether he was carrying a gun, as he often did in Texas, where he possessed a concealed weapon permit, Mr. Perry retorted in his best Dirty Harry drawl: “That’s why they call it concealed.”

With more executions under his belt than any modern governor, Mr. Perry seemed just a bit too trigger happy for most Americans. He even vetoed a bill to exempt mentally disabled convicts from death row.

On top of it all, Mr. Perry’s role in producing the “Texas economic miracle” was only a supporting one. The low-tax, low-regulation policies that made Texas a magnet for companies fleeing California predated his accidental governorship.

And when Mr. Perry did dabble in economic policy, he showed a decidedly interventionist streak. He created, and his office directly administered, the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. Meant to subsidize businesses in the state, they were doubly useful as slush funds for Mr. Perry to reward campaign donors.

Some Republicans began to suspect there was a Wizard of Oz quality to the Lone Star governor when he showed up on the campaign trail a year ago in orthopedic runners – or grandpa shoes – instead of cowboy boots.

But he was a formidable campaigner. And in the early primary states, where GOP voters have come to expect one-on-one face time with every candidate, he was a master of that baby-kissing kind of flattery that still travels miles in American politics.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how Mitt Romney, who looked like was he was made out of cardboard, forfeited the lock on the nomination he held a little more than a year ago. It was the inevitable result of a political career built on ambition rather than conviction. And let’s be frank: modest political talent. When he was spontaneous, he came off as flaky.

It’s sad, really. In many ways, Mr. Romney seemed like the right man at the right time. His business record and even-temperedness had prepared him well for the economic tempest of the early 21st century. But his serial shifts on abortion, climate change and health-care reform have made it impossible for many Republican voters to trust him.

So, here we are. Neither Mr. Romney nor Mr. Perry has enough delegates to carry the nomination. And Michele Bachmann has yet to release her delegates. She’s still claiming she’ll bring gas down below $2, still confusing Elvis Presley’s birth certificate with his death certificate, and still vowing never to raise the debt ceiling.

It promises to be a carnival of a convention. The winner is unlikely to unite the party, making Barack Obama an odds-on favourite to become the first post-Depression president to win re-election with a jobless rate above 8 per cent. His campaign team has deftly discredited Mr. Romney as a silver-spooned corporate puppet and reminded voters in swing states of the Texas model’s ugly underbelly.

No word on whether Sarah Palin will show up at the convention. As she recently told Fox News, she’s “still thinkin’ about it.”

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