R's Wait A Minute = BO's Four More Years

February 20, 2012

If you don't like the weather, wait a minute and it will change. Locals claim the old saw as their own in New England, in Florida, in Kansas, in California. Not so much in Alaska.

And trying to keep track of that mercurial weather has been excellent practice for trying to keep track of the Republican presidential primary race. If you don't like the leader (and apparently many people don't, regardless of who it is), wait a minute and it will change.

The GOP is on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of sure victory. They are squandering the opportunity to rebound from the 2008 disaster, and retake the White House from a president whose approval ratings dipped to the lowest depths of any Commander-in-Chief in modern history. But you have to be quick just to keep up with the various candidates' disaster du jour.

Biblical dilatants used to debate how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Religious zealots argue about who is holier than thou. Republican candidates squabble over who is the true conservative. Even the electorate - those who still care - can't decide.

Rick lost evangelical Iowa, then won it. Mittens took New Hampshire, but that didn't help his conservative credentials. Rick's reversal in Iowa was too late for momentum in South Carolina, where Newt flashed on the scene for a southern fried moment, long enough to proclaim that it was now a two man race. But Mittens trounced the field in Florida, and Mr Former Speaker flamed out when Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota abandoned Mitttens and weighed in for Rick, leaving Newt in the dust. Rick then proclaimed that it was now a different two-man race. And just when it looked like the elephants may have had a conservative horse they could hitch their 19 th century ice wagon to, Mittens won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll. No one accused the other of killing Cock Robin, but wait a minute.

Rick said that Mittens rigged the poll. Newt called on Rick to quit. The conservative National Review called on Newt to quit, and trashed Mittens.

Newt slapped Rick, poked Mittens' eyes, and said "nyuk nyuk nyuk". The big winner in this latter day Three Stooges comedy is Barack Obama, who was looking like a sure one-term wander, but has been the beneficiary of the Republicans' ineptitude. He leads all potential opponents by substantial margins in the Pew and CNN tracking polls, and has a 50% approval rating for the first time since Osama bin Laden was killed. But even Obama couldn't handle his new prosperity, alienating some Catholics with headlines of contraception requirements for religious institution health care plans.

Never have so many been so appealing to so few. It is admittedly early in the campaign season, but we already have a pretty good idea of what each man stands for - at least today. Or we can wait a minute, as Mittens emerges from the phone booth as the Severely Conservative Governor of Massachusetts, now worried about the "very poor", or Rick tries to convince us that he didn't really mean that all women should be home in the kitchen. Or Rick declares that "If the President says he is a Christian, then he is a Christian". Glad we now have that on the record.

It looks like the man who will emerge as the GOP candidate for president will be The Least Objectionable, not The Best Qualified. And that is definitely worrisome to the party faithful. Low voter turnouts in Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, and Nevada weren't the result of Tuesday must-see TV. Republicans in large numbers were casting their votes for None Of The Above. Mittens' popularity is in free-fall, and Rick's most appealing feature is that he isn't named Mitttens. Anyone seen Newt lately?

In addition to the endless breast-beating over who is the true conservative, Mittens, Newt, and Ron (yes, he's still out there) have allowed Rick to focus the discussion on topics that may resonate with the hard-core right, but will be losers in November. Abortion and contraception were hot button issues 30 years ago, but simply don't resonate with the vast majority of Americans today, regardless of how many minutes we wait.

Poll after poll shows that Americans approve of abortion, sometimes with restrictions. The CBS/New York Times poll (+/- 3%) has asked the question 24 separate times since 2003, and in every instance 70-79 percent favor "Generally available" or "Available under stricter limits". "Not permitted" only reached 25 percent twice in that time, and since August 2008 has not exceeded 23 percent. The ABC/Washington news poll (+/- 3.5%) found that, in four polls taken since June, 2009, no more than 18 percent of respondents felt abortion should be illegal in all cases.

The Gallup Poll (+/-4%) is even more revealing. In 12 polls since 2001, an average of about 48 percent identified themselves as pro-choice. About 46 percent said pro-life. But between 77-82 percent of those same people said that abortion should be legal "always" or "sometimes", and only 15-23 percent believed "always illegal". Clearly, an anti-abortion stance is not a popular one nationwide, even among self-identified conservatives.

The general concept of contraception is so rooted our society that it isn't even the subject of polling. However, the issue was temporarily ignited when President Obama made it part of his new health plan. Public Policy Polling conducted a national survey of 1,085 registered voters from February 3-5. (+/-3.0 percent). Additionally, an oversample of 359 Catholic voters was conducted (+/-5.2 percent).

56 percent of voters generally support the birth control benefit, while 37 percent are opposed. Independents strongly favor it, 55/36, and a lot more Republicans (36 percent) support it than Democrats (20 percent) oppose it. Women (53 percent of the electorate) are for it by a 63/29 margin.

Only 39 percent of voters support an exemption for Catholic hospitals and universities from providing the benefit, while 57 percent are opposed to one. There is a major disconnect between the leadership of the Catholic Church and rank and file Catholic voters on this issue. The oversample of almost 400 Catholics found that they support the benefit overall, 53/44, and oppose an exception for Catholic hospitals and universities, 53/45. 58 percent of voters oppose Congress trying to take the benefit away, while only 33 percent are supportive.

Abortion and contraception are simply not winners for Republicans nationwide. The poll numbers have been solidly against them for over a decade. Unfortunately for Rick, they are his defining issues. He is unhappy with the compromise over the Catholic institutions' health care plans, arguing that birth control "shouldn't be covered by insurance at all." He claims that contraception is "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." This is a repetition of statements in his 2005 book, "It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good," where he opposes both contraception and abortion, even in the case of rape.

Yet despite his very questionable electability, Rick still has a real shot at winning the February 28 primary in Mittens' birth state, Michigan, since Mittens infamously voted against the auto industry bailout. You don't make friends in Detroit undermining unions.

Republicans need to put aside the old, divisive issues, and rally behind the one battle cry that could resonate throughout the entire country - the economy sucks, it's Barack Obama's fault, and the GOP will fix it. And, that is the major reason why successful businessman Mittens, with all of his flip-flopping faults, and Romneycare baggage, is the only visible GOP hopeful. He is The Least Objectionable. At least this minute.

If Republicans persist in letting Rick's ice wagon social issues headline the parade, say hello to Four More Years.