Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate is supposed to get nasty, confirming that the party has finally abandoned Ronald Reagan’s self-serving Eleventh Commandment—“Thou Shalt Not Attack Another Republican”—and decided to go for the jugular.
We’ll see how rough things really get. Remember that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was supposed to use a June debate appearance to attack “Obamneycare,” in hopes of deposing the supposed frontrunner of that moment, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. It did not happen, Pawlenty is now a former candidate and Romney is a former front-runner.
If things do get rough, it appears that the contenders will be banging away at one another on the question of political careerism.
Romney got the fight started with a none-too-subtle dig at the new front-runner, Texas Governor Rick Perry, whom the former front-runner lumped in with the “career politicians” who “got us into this mess, and…simply don’t know how to get us out.”
Perry is, to be sure, a career politician. He started running for elective office during Ronald Reagan’s first term and has never stopped. Since 1984, Perry has put his name on eighteen primary and general election ballots for legislative and state offices.
But Romney is going to have a hard time selling himself as a political neophyte. He has run for only three offices: a failed challenge to Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994, a successful race for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and a bumbling campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. But he is the son of one of the leading Republican politicians of the 1960s, former Michigan Governor George Romney. Mitt Romney grew up around his dad’s campaigns for governor (1962 and 1966), as well as George Romney’s doomed 1968 run for the GOP presidential nod (which former Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes famously referred to as so painfully inept that “Watching George Romney run for the presidency was like watching a duck try to make love to a football”) and his mother’s unsuccessful race as the Republican nominee against Michigan Senator Phil Hart in 1970.
Few Americans grew up around more politics and have been groomed for more offices than Mitt Romney, who likes to talk up the time he spent in the private sector but who scrambled onto the political hustings as quickly as he could.
In fact, the stage at Wednesday night’s “Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation” debate in California was packed with members of the permanent political class.
Between them, Perry, Romney, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have mounted 110 separate primary and general election campaigns for offices ranging from a seat on the Stillwater, Minnesota, School Board (Bachmann in 1999: she lost) to president of the United States. Add on their current runs for Republican presidential nod and the total number of races goes to 118.
Three of the Republican contenders have sought the presidency before—Romney and Paul for the GOP nomination in 2008, Paul as the Libertarian Party nominee in 1988 and in several states as an independent in 2008. Cain mounted an all-but-forgotten campaign for the 2000 Republican nod.