Home > Current Affairs, Politics > Race and the Race: The Politics of the GOP Presidential Campaign

Race and the Race: The Politics of the GOP Presidential Campaign

Almost exactly one year out from the next American Presidential election, the contest for the nomination for the Republican Party is beginning to coalesce around a smaller and smaller cadre of top contenders. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s evident polish and policy grasp continues to put him at or near the top of the regular (if unreliable) polls, even if his relative moderation, inescapable reptilian slipperiness, and Mormon-esque eagerness to please has repeatedly sent the GOP loyalist base (which many still insist on referring to as “the Tea Party”) flocking to more rightist candidates.

What's all this about sacred underwear?

After previous Teahadist favourites proved either too limited in scope (Michele Bachmann), too marginal (Rick Santorum), too unserious and non-political (Donald Trump, Sarah Palin), or simply too dumb and mean (the floundering Texas Governor Rick Perry) to earn the sustained support of the base, the hard-conservative anti-Romney movement had begun to harden around former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and radio talk show host Herman Cain. At least, until the last week or so.

The recent avalanche of accusations of serial sexual harassment made against Cain (his response to which has been woefully inadequate even in the casually misogynist milieu of his party of choice) may have dented his wider appeal, true. But Cain’s corporate-derived confidence and facility with the sort of superficial talk-radio bromides that the Republican base considers to be sound governing philosophy should keep him in the forefront of an admittedly poor class of candidates for some time to come. Furthermore, the perception of martyrdom that is assumed in Cain’s forthright denials in reply to the accusations taps straight and deep into the siege mentality that is so central to conservative political culture.

And his running mate will be Little Caesar, thank you.

But Cain, one cannot ever forget, is African-American, and the rules of public discourse and political shaping are always already different for America’s eternal minority. Is there an element of what conservatives would derisively dub “liberal guilt” to Cain’s popularity with Republicans, I wonder? In addition to the terms of his appeal discussed above, are the GOP rank-and-file responding to the perceived racist underpinnings of the Tea Party’s ideological rhetoric (or the right wing’s long and fraught relationship with minorities of all kinds)? Are they establishing the tolerant bona fides that they always claim for themselves and pillory the progressive left for assuming a monopoly on? Are they embracing Cain as a way of offering an alternative model of black executive leadership to that offered by Barack Obama, which the right obviously finds extremely wanting? Or is this preference of some voters in such a high-profile race for the highest office in the country a true, shining example of the fabled “colour blindness”?

In the larger, horse-race-politics calculus of the race, perhaps it matters little. Romney (or “Mittens”, as he has been delightfully nicknamed in internet wonk quarters) has always seemed like the only figure who can marshal the sort of corporate and party elite support as well as appeal to an electorate wider than the primary campaign die-hards who want fences to keep out immigrants and cheer for executions like an Elizabethan English rabble. Cain’s poll numbers have already shown more staying power than the previous Tea-fed flashes in the pan, but a rapidly expanding sex scandal such as the one inflicted on Cain (inflicted, if the charges prove true, by only himself) is practically never something that is survivable in the American political theatre. The much less interesting Romney is the likely nominee, but whether he can challenge Obama’s incumbency remains to be seen.

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Categories: Current Affairs, Politics
  1. Lorraine Langager
    November 11, 2011 at 2:25 am

    Cain’s clueless and incriminating response to hounding media types about the sexual harrassment charges were revealing: “What part of no don’t you understand?”

  1. December 4, 2011 at 10:37 am
  2. January 17, 2012 at 11:19 pm

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