I haven’t said much about politics lately, not because I’m not interested, but because Sullivan, Krugman, and Yglesias generally say all that needs to be said.  (I used to read Chait, but it’s no longer possible so far as I know to get his posts in blog format.  I hate feed format; I don’t want to open a new page to read each post.)

For an outsider, watching the Republican candidates has been hilarious and chilling.  They’ve been digging ever deeper in a dirty barrel to find a candidate who’s not Romney, and each is worse than the last.  Bachmann is crazy, Perry was a dud, Cain was out of his depth and turned out to be a skeevy liar, and now the Tea Party, crusaders against immorality and RINOs, are seriously considering Establishment figure and serial adulterer Newt Gingrich. 

My pet theory is that it’s all Sarah Palin’s fault.  If she’d run, she might well have united the Tea Party voters.  If she’d clearly said she wouldn’t run back in January, it might have been easier to either settle early on an alternative, or to entice a better candidate to run.  But who knows.  Palin looked important ansd scary when she seemed like the voice of craziness.  Now that they’re all competing for that crown, she stands out only for her ability to alienate even her own party.

Sullivan likes Ron Paul, which is mostly I think a measure of Paul’s amazing ability to make people find in him what they want to see.  Paul is crazy too, just not crazy in the same way as the rest of the base.  He’s a crank about the Fed, he’s a racist, he throws out his libertarianism when it conflicts with his fundamentalism (look up his views on abortion, evolution, and climate change), and above all his drive to dismantle the social safety net would send us back into a depression.   Against all this it’s small consolation that he probably wouldn’t get us into a war in Iran.

(I also think people don’t think out how a Paul presidency is supposed to work.  The president can’t legalize drugs by himself; he has to get two houses of Congress to agree.  It’s already a bit of a fantasy that he gets the GOP to swallow his apostasies and nominate him; how does he bring the rest of the GOP into his pro-legalization position?  And if he’s supposed to work with the Democrats instead– what’s in it for them?  Did you see any drug legalization passing in 2009?)

Who’s going to win?  It’s hard to say, because they all look like losers.   I think either Perry or Bachmann is the only logical Not Romney.  (Does anyone think Gingrich won’t self-immolate in the next 11 months?)  Bachmann can channel the rage of the base and is smarter than Palin; Perry can appeal to both fundies and the establishment.  (He doesn’t seem very smart, but the GOP likes dumb, stolid figures, and I predict he’ll start to be presented like Dubya was: a Guy Like You who’s all the better for not being an intellectual.)  Romney would be a lot like McCain: not to the base’s liking at all but someone who’s gonna get their vote over Obama.

(Huntsman is a parenthetical.  He’s the most appealing to an outsider, though he has had his moments of craven surrender to the hotheads.  But he seems to have no charisma and no ability to rise above his single-digit ceiling.)

How about the general, as the pundits like to call it?  I’m cautiously optimistic for Obama.  Obama is a man you should never underestimate; he plays a long game, he gets better when he’s fighting in a corner, and he’s more likeable than most of the GOP field.  And I think he’s learned that pressing for bipartisanship is not to his benefit any more. 

The economy is the big question mark.  For Obama to win it doesn’t have to be good in November 2012, just improving.  If it’s tanking again, he probably loses.

The Republicans are betting the farm on it being 2010 all over again.  And they may not be wrong.  They do negative very well; they can keep the economy down till the election; their base is a lot more excited than the Dems’.  And they can benefit from voters’ misplaced anger over the economy.  

On the other hand, it’s no slam dunk for them, for several reasons:

  • The electorate skews much more Democratic in a presidential election. 
  • The Ryan plan, the shutdown theater, and their eagerness to give more to the 1% haven’t played as well as they thought.
  • Not-Romney is going to be scary; Romney is going to be not exciting enough.  

But Democrats shouldn’t get placid either.  The fractiousness of the Republicans is fun to watch, but it’ll disappear by the time they hold their convention.  And the craziness on the ticket (even if Romney is nominated he’ll need a crazy as VP) will not prevent a respectable showing– recall that Obama only got 52% of the vote running against Palin, and that was at a time when the Republicans were extremely malodorous in the public nostril.

(I just read Nate Silver’s rough analysis, and I think we end up in a similar place: neither side has a guaranteed victory; a worsening economy would probably kill Obama; Not-Romney would be bad but might not be fatal for the GOP.)