Arrow-right Camera

Opinion

SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2011

Dana Milbank: GOP waiting for the adults

Hollywood is reportedly at work on a remake of the 1991 film “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.” This, however, is unnecessary, because a remake is already playing. It’s called the Republican presidential primary.

In the original, a mom leaves her kids with a baby sitter for two months. When the baby sitter dies of a heart attack, the children fend for themselves for the summer.

The GOP nominating contest so far follows a similar plot. With the grown-ups (played by Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels) out of town, the field has been left in the custody of caretakers (played by Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich). When even the baby sitters fail to show up at the first debate of the season, the juveniles run the thing themselves.

At Thursday night’s debate in South Carolina, libertarian Rep. Ron Paul explained why heroin and prostitution should be legal and why the Department of Homeland Security should be eliminated.

Retired pizza executive Herman Cain explained why the IRS should be abolished and why people who would allow abortion in cases of rape and incest are “pro-choice.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson argued for eliminating the minimum wage and corporate taxes, and cutting Medicare nearly in half.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum attempted to explain why he criticized “radical feminism” for working women and why he said Islam was “stuck in the seventh century.”

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared the United Nations a “pathetic organization.”

On a day when President Obama placed a wreath at ground zero, some of his would-be presidential opponents looked adolescent. Half an hour into the debate, Johnson interrupted moderator Chris Wallace. “It’s, like, nine questions for all these guys and none for me,” he protested.

If there’s any good news for the Republican Party to come out of the first presidential debate, it’s that the Associated Press and Reuters didn’t cover it.

In the absence of adults, the first presidential debate favored the most flamboyant. Cain, a man who wants to return to the gold standard, had the best line of the night when he defended his inexperience.

“I ask people, ‘Most of the people that are in elective office in Washington, D.C., they have held public office before. How’s that working for you?’ ” the former Godfather’s Pizza boss said. “We have a mess!”

GOP pollster Frank Luntz, doing a focus group for debate-sponsor Fox News, reported that he had seen a massive shift toward the man from Godfather’s Pizza. “This is unprecedented!” Luntz proclaimed.

Contrast that with Pawlenty, arguably the only one of the five men on stage who has a chance of winning the nomination. He elicited boos from the crowd when he tried to explain his shift away from a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions. “I was wrong. It was a mistake and I’m sorry,” he pleaded.

Pawlenty’s explanation: “If anybody is perfect, come on up here and stand by this podium, because we would like that person to be running for president.”

At this point, the Republicans would settle for somebody well short of perfect. There remains a hope that a white knight will arrive to rescue Republican primary voters from this lackluster field, but there is growing concern among party elders that such a person may not exist.

There’s Romney, but he’s the paternity-denying father of Obamacare. There’s Trump, but he’s the midwife of the birther campaign. Gingrich has been rejected by his peers and married three times.

Could it be that Herman Cain really is the best they’ve got?

There certainly is something intriguing about him. Consider, for example, his Afghanistan plan: He doesn’t have one.

“No,” Cain admitted when asked if he had a policy. He explained that “at this point, I don’t know all of the facts.”

In their opposition to Obama, the five men were in agreement. What they couldn’t agree on was a consistent counterargument. Cain defended his claim that Obama’s action on gay marriage is “bordering on treason.” Paul defended his proposed end to all foreign aid, including Israel’s, saying it’s not as if “every Jew in this country believes we ought to have the policy we have.”

Midway through the debate, Santorum was asked about a suggestion by one of the missing grown-ups, Daniels, that Republicans should call a “truce” on social issues. “Anybody that would suggest that we call a truce on the moral issues doesn’t understand what America is all about,” Santorum inveighed.

We’ll just have to let the kids fight it out on the playground.

Dana Milbank is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is danamilbank@washpost.com.


There are 10 comments on this story »


Blogs



Parting Shot — 3.23.17

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski (24) grabs a rebound next to West Virginia forward Nathan Adrian (11) during the first half of an NCAA Tournament college basketball regional semifinal game today ...