2011: the Republicans’ annus horribilis


On the eve of 2011, the GOP was reaping the benefits of the biggest turnaround in political fortunes in recent history when it recaptured the House of Representatives from the Democrats and reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate to three votes. There was hope total control of Congress was one election away. And why not dream of the trifecta and making Barack Obama a one-term president? This past year had opened with the expectation the GOP was back and that it would lead the political agenda throughout 2011.

Indeed, the year got off to a good start for the Republicans, who provoked showdowns on a potential government shutdown in the spring and on the debt ceiling in the summer, gaining significant concessions from the president in the process. Obama appeared weak and his poll numbers suffered. In so doing, the GOP had shifted the focus of political conversation toward government spending, the size of government, and the need to rein in the debt.

Meantime, the economic recovery continued to be anemic and the sovereign debt problems occurring within the Euro Zone underscored the need for drastic new directions in economic policy. Comparisons with Greece were often used by Republican politicians to force Obama to back down. As a result, with the exception of the killing of Bin Laden in April, Obama has been on the defensive all year. Until this December, that is.

A future that seemed so full of potential for the GOP barely a year ago is no longer as certain. It started with the most promising and the strongest candidates, such as Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, all passing on the chance to run for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, celebrity politicians like Sarah Palin and businessman Donald Trump began to tantalize the GOP party base with a possible run. The effect of this was to weaken the Republican brand, as the the entertainer-candidates came to dominate the airwaves. The party was hijacked by candidates wanting viewers as opposed to votes.

Those candidates who did opt in were soon confronted by a party base that was mesmerized, and sometimes intimidated, by the Tea Party, by Trump’s idiotic birther nonsense, and by the obsession with saying no to anything Obama proposes. Even in the area of national security, normally a strong suit for the GOP, the Republican message seemed to amount to, “We are against anything Obama is for.”

And then there was the problem of the actual candidates. They remain, for the most part, a hodge-podge of marginal types, including strict social conservatives (Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachmann), a flawed comeback kid (Newt Gingrich), a self-promoter flogging a book (Herman Cain), and a man whose policies are at best unconventional, at worst wacky (Ron Paul). Finally, there is the steady but unloved Mitt Romney. Ahead of the Iowa caucus, only Romney seems to have a chance to defeat Obama in the national election.

The debate season and early campaigning only reinforced the weakness of the Republican field, as Perry flamed out, Cain brought comic relief but little else, Gingrich started a comeback until he began to implode again, and Bachmann returned to her initial spot–a marginal candidate. Santorum and Paul have shown life of late, but it will be temporary, Through it all, Romney has weathered the storm, collected endorsements from establishment Republicans and continued to build the organization and financial base necessary to capture the nomination. But he’s done it without ever gaining the affection of party members.

The recent Gingrich surge, in particular, made establishment Republicans aware of just how far the base had gotten out of control. Watch or read what Karl Rove, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, and David Frumm are saying and you know there is pressure not to select a candidate who’s completely outside the mainstream.

Of course, the Republicans will soon have their candidate. It will likely be Romney and the contest with Obama will be firece. But 2011 was a missed opportunity. Obama’s victory in the debate over the extension of the payroll tax cut was modest in itself, but the defeat of the House Republicans was enormous in scope. Add to this the dysfunctional nomination contest and it’s impossible to not conclude 2011 was a bad year for the Republicans. The hope for them is that it cannot get worse.

Happy New Year to all and see you in primary season.


2011: the Republicans’ annus horribilis

  1. Well, unless Republicans have a ‘real’ candidate waiting in the wings for the exit of the clown car….they’re stuck with Romney….and Obama is likely to have a second term.

    • True!

      And I wish Maclean’s would stop using the term “social conservatives” to describe Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachmann, and instead use the more truthful “religious radicals”.

      Each of these three has promised to ‘overturn’ very basic constitutional protections, and urged their followers to ignore civil law, in order to turn the U.S. into a theocracy.  They are radical, they are un-American, undemocratic, and they are seditious.

      • Boy, I’ll say.  None of them seem to be familiar with their country’s history, the constitution or the bill of rights.

        They aren’t ‘socially conservative’, they’re nutz!

        • They may be nuts, but they’re less of a risk to the US and world economies than that black, moronic communist currently holding the office.

          • All of them are dangerous …because they’re nutz.

            And if you think Obama is a communist, you’re nutz too.

          • Have you never heard him discuss his plan to ‘redistribute wealth’?

            If not; pay attention; is so; quit lying to yourself!

          • @Mike4444 

            The US does that now, as does every other country. That is not remotely communism.

      • Which basic constitutional protections have they promised to overturn, exactly? 

        • ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’

          • I see. The socially conservative Republican Presidential candidates have vowed to force Congress to make a law either establishing or prohibiting the exercise of a particular religion?

            You’d think that would have made the news.

          • That’s what they’re selling to the little people, Gaunilon…..and the little people buy it everytime.


          • You do realize that the purpose of that ammendment was to protect religion from government, and not the other way around?

          • The protection was meant to work both ways….a wall of separation between church and govt.  Churches aren’t even taxed.

  2. Is it wacky to seek peace instead of war, prosperity instead of debt, sound money instead of fiat paper? Ron Paul is the shining light of the GOP.

    He has more support from the military than all of the other candidates combined. He has the support of libertarians. He has the support of those who oppose war. He has the support of those who believe in civil liberties. He has the support of those who believe in limited government.

    It says something about the times, and Macleans, when a columnist would refer to Dr. Paul as ‘wacky’.

    • It says something about the decades of homophobic, antisemitic, and racist garbage published under Ron Paul’s name that people describe him as “wacky”.  And that’s leaving aside his genuinely wacky views, like his obsession with an unmanageable gold standard.

        • Unmanageable because economies grow, while the supply of gold stays the same.  A gold standard would mean imply a constant deflationary spiral.  In fact, the sort of deflationary spiral that late-19th-Century farmers tried to get out of by advocating a silver standard (at a time when the supply of silver was increasing because of the discovery of new deposits). The gold standard might work well enough when the supply of gold is increasing at about the same rate as the economy, but otherwise it can create significant havoc, escapable only by issuing decrees on the value of gold (as happened in the late-19th- to early-20th-Centuries).  

          • Where gold is money, and the economy outstrips the supply of gold, that means that gold buys more, over time. A very good thing for savers. They need not risk their money in banks to keep up with price inflation. Banks might even offer bailment accounts, where depositors own their deposits rather than the banks.

            Fiat paper money allows central banks to reward insiders, and to finance war. Both WW I and II would have halted within months in the absence of govt. control over money.

            The best approach to money is to let the free market decide what money is. That might be gold. That might be silver. That might be cigarettes, as happened in prisoner-of-war camps.

            Fiat monopolies pose grave threats to liberty. A monopoly over money and interest rates poses the gravest of economic threats.

          • The wonderful thing about the modern economy is that there is nothing preventing you or others from buying gold, silver, cigarettes, etc.  You can do so, and you can freely barter it with others for transactions, or you can trade it for paper money and use that to buy stuff.  The so-called “monopoly on money” really only extends to the government; in essence, the government is saying “this is the only thing we will take or give when you are doing business with us” (business here including the paying of taxes).  But, there is nothing to prevent shops from setting prices in ounces of gold or whatnot.

            As for the “gold becoming more valuable means savers are benefitted” argument, that might be true, but there are huge deflationary problems associated with that.  If everyone starts to think their money will be worth more tomorrow than today, they put off purchases, having a huge impact on economic growth (see, e.g., Japan in the 1990s).  Plus, a constant contraction in the availability of money means the constant need to renegotiate wages down.  Perhaps the new nominal wage will buy the same goods as the old, but it’s still going to be very hard to convince everyone of that.  

          • Charles Paul Hoffman writes: “The so-called “monopoly on money” really only extends to the government…” — Whose powers and scope are enormous.

            CPH writes: “If everyone starts to think their money will be worth more tomorrow than today, they put off purchases…” — Really?

            Let’s say there is 1% deflation in a year. That is roughly 0.0027% deflation a day. Are you really going to delay the purchase of a meal or a computer based on that?

            Computer prices have deflated far faster, and yet people continue to purchase computers.

            As for wages, most people seek a bigger wage due to an increase in their job experience. Regardless, why is a negotiation for a lower wage any worse than a negotiation for a higher wage?

        • How big a movement is there in Israel to stop taking American aid? 

  3. Other than that middle paragraph with the loony Democrat talking-point about Republicans having an “obsession with saying no to anything Obama proposes”, this piece is bang on.  

    What was Mitch Daniels thinking.

    The question for Republicans now is whether it is better for the country to let Obama wreak another four years of damage while partially reined in by a Republican Congress and (soon) Senate before having someone less damaging win the Presidency, or instead to take a Romney presidency and try to restrain his poor instincts in the same manner (which is tough when he’s nominally a Republican).

  4. To say that I am disallusioned with the current GOP field of candidates would be an understatement.
    I think Romney is a RINO and Gingrich is an “insider.” Romney will pander to the left to try to attract independents and blue dog democrats and I worry that Gingrich would lead in the “business as usual” fashion. I was a strong supporter of Herman Cain, not so much that I thought he could win, but I thought that some of his policies would push the other candidates to the right where we Republicans belong. This country simply cannot afford four more years of the socialist style leadership that Obama has envisioned for us. We simply cannot spend more than we make on a sustained basis and the taxpayer is stretched to the limit, while hundreds of millions of dollars are being fed to Obama’s cronies and Democrat party contributors. At a time that over 60% of Americans view themselves as “conservative” I hope that a GOP controlled House and Senate will keep either of these two men on track.

    • I simply don’t get where you believe that Republicans would spend less than they make.  Your points are conservative talking points without fact:  in both Canada and the U.S., the only parties to have balanced the budgets were the left ones (Clinton Democrats, Chretien Liberals) while the record debts were created by the Mulroney Conservatives and Bush Republicans.  

      Sarah Palin as governor of Alaska took the most pork of any State;  “Iron Lady” conservative Michelle Bachmann’s company takes Federal AND State handouts — I mean subsidies.  Gingrich took millions and millions as a “consultant” to Freddie Mac while they were getting taxpayer money.

      You had better HOPE that Romney is a RINO … if he behaves like a real Republican he’ll bankrupt the nation!

  5. In presidential match-up polls in early primary states, where the 2012 election is under way already, the GOP has solid leads over Obama (Intrade, at the very least, gives Obama even odds to survive, which is low for an incumbent). Romney – the most moderate and electable candidate – is the prohibitive favourite in the GOP primaries. In the senate, a whole host of Democratic seats – won in the 2006 wave election – are vulnerable. When guys like Ben Nelson are resigning, you know the senate majority is in trouble. 

    But a defeat over the extension of a temporary tax (never mind earlier policy victories, like the one on the death ceiling; never mind that Obama’s approval ratings are poor despite putting bin Laden AND Gadhaffi on ice) means that the sky is falling for the GOP… 

  6. If Mitt Romney is the best that the GOP has to offer, the Republicans had better hope and pray that the stock market crashes just before the election, like it did in 2008. Not that the Republicans don’t already seem to be doing everything they can to make sure that happens. People in the United States blame Congress but punish the President. 

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