Not since Nelson Rockefeller was booed at the Cow Palace in 1964 have Republican politics seemed so savage and uncertain as in 2011. Mitch Daniels, who appeared destined to play the role of William Scranton, refused to run and Newt Gingrich received rough treatment for simply making an observation on public policy. No doubt Daniels dreaded vying for nomination that at present can only be obtained by adopting the most rigid of stances.
Gingrich once the hero of conservatives, got into the hottest of hot water by suggesting that Paul Ryan's plans for Medicare constituted a type of right-wing "social engineering." Immediately the ideological drones of the Ayn Rand branch of the GOP skewered him for somehow undercutting the infallible from Wisconsin. While in Iowa, he was unbraided by a bully and forced to recant a public policy opinion. No moral indiscretion or exposure of corruption, but a view, turned him into the devil-incarnate of the new style tea party.
Forget that these worthies had packed town halls in 2009 and 2010 with red-faced seniors fearful that Obama would take away their "God given" Medicare and Gingrich appears foolish indeed. Suddenly anyone questioning the bizarre libertarianism of Ryan appeared a traitor to Ronald Reagan conservatism. Just for a moment, it appeared that liberal-style political correctness had suddenly captured the right, except for the policies, the tone and the tactics appeared uncanny. Now language was important and Gingrich violated the strict ideological rigidity of the House Republicans. Scott Walkerism, replete with its union busting and wealth worshipping approach, was now heir to Reaganism.
Poor Mitt Romney; he appears destined by default to get a nomination from a party that distrusts his health care reform in Massachusetts. Obama, who has cleverly claimed that Romney was his inspiration, must be gloating. Romney rather weakly defended himself by citing that health care was a state issue. This will not satisfy those denizens of the newest version of conservatives who see any state-economic intervention, either federal or locals, as valid. Romney's worth for these ideology is that he is not Obama, as for the man himself they have little use.
No conservative seems to want to pick up the banner. Mike Huckabee, when faced with his lucrative Fox job or the presidency, naturally preferred the check. Sarah Palin has got to make her decision, but no doubt her power as a celebrity will come into any consideration before opting for a presidential run. Michelle Bachman is the only candidate left and she is simply not viable. From the sidelines, many of those so-called principled conservatives appear more like money-grubbing mountebanks than serious political leaders. Palin's claim to fame was a vice presidential nomination, Huckabee's brief tenure as Arkansas governor and so it goes. At least Donald Trump has never pretended to be anything more than a promoter. Such a lack of responsibility makes them seem simply as a gang of opportunists who will do anything to sell a book or grab a headline.
Which leaves the current field. Gingrich was never taken seriously but he should be. His conservatism is built around the movement hatched by Barry Goldwater and nurtured by Reagan. Unlike Romney, Gingrich was in the thick of battles against Bill Clinton in the 1990s. He defeated Clinton's health care initiative, whether those who scorn him know it, Gingrich actually was involved in great deeds.
Jon Huntsman is another who one suspects will founder as the rocks of ideological purity. Ron Paul, who is an honorable and thoughtful libertarian, simply is too interesting and intelligent to attract the hard-boiled newcomers who claim to be conservatives. As for Herman Cain, it's simply not in the cards.
For the tea party and others on the right, it would behoove them to force one of their relevant "leaders" into the race, otherwise they will constitute a not overly large peanut gallery who will critique Romney - supporting the candidacy while despising the candidate. Once more as in 1996, they propose to govern from the Speaker's box with perhaps disastrous consequences for their party.