The longer that this nightmare circus of a GOP primary goes on, the more it looks like either Ben Carson — I’m not putting “Dr.” in front of his name; whatever alien worm is controlling that man’s brain didn’t put in the work — or Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee, which is a really depressing sentence to have to write in 2015.
Carson just usurped Trump for the first time in a national poll — 26 percent to 22 percent, with a 6 percent margin of error, but whatever — so at least there’s some movement at the top; seeming shoe-ins Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz are still wallowing in the single digits, Chris Christie has gone all but AWOL and I think I saw Scott Walker shooing away pigeons on the Capitol Square the other day, declaring his front lawn “open for business.”
It’s bad news for a party struggling for relevance in today’s real political climate. Not that the GOP, on paper, is going extinct or anything; when you have a two-party system, that’s not gonna happen. But if Carson or, every god forbid, Trump is chosen as the 2016 nominee, it seriously damages an already damaged brand.
There’s a very good Washington Post article that popped up yesterday, pegging the 2008 race and the Republicans’ selection of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate as the point at which everything really began to go south in terms of the party’s credibility. It is, I think, fairly accurate; that year really signaled the Republicans’ preference of style over substance, effectively going hard in the paint with the same principles that got George W. elected.
In the middle of all this, the GOP is faced with having to defend 24 congressional seats within the same cycle. And one of them, in the stupidly high-profile Illinois, is perhaps not only the most indicative of the plight in which the GOP currently finds itself, but also the most representative in the battle for its own soul.
Senator Mark Kirk is currently, actively, defending his seat in Illinois against the potential threat of either Tammy Duckworth or Andrea Zopp. Kirk is one of the dying breed of moderate Republicans: fairly balanced on social issues, hawkish on foreign policy, he champions Bernie Sanders as an ally and has vehemently railed against the potential defunding, and government shutdown over, Planned Parenthood.
He recently received an “F” from the National Rifle Association, which should be a ringing endorsement for voters and, while he’s not a champion tree-hugger or anything, he recognizes the importance of a healthy environment when it comes to his constituency: right now, he’s actively introducing legislation that would ban sewage dumping in Lake Michigan because, as he puts it, “it’s the source of our drinking water.” He’s also pushing for better armed forces pay; someone, somewhere, is probably calling him a Socialist because of this.
While Kirk might be a blip on the radar — and establishment Republicans might be already writing him off — his position is an important one, and presents a conundrum for both sides of the aisle. On the one hand, Democrats obviously want/need to get him out of there; it’s an easily gettable seat and, though Kirk might be fairly centrist right now, who knows what kind of pressure he might eventually get from the loony base or establishment figures to fall in line. On the other hand, Democrats could use an ally on the other side of the aisle, though whether or not they’d be willing to sacrifice a full seat for that is up for debate.
On the Republican side, the current establishment tends to want their foot soldiers to fall in line and acquiesce to the base, so sacrificing Kirk and a seat in the short term might be to their long-term advantage; on the other hand, if they want to retain any sort of credibility in the future, getting behind Kirk and retaining his presence in the Senate is crucial.
It really does highlight a problem for anyone who cares about the political future of this country: do you fight for supremacy or do you try and reach a middle ground, hoping that the other side is equally as willing? It’s a question that hasn’t been answered yet, and one that we’d all do well to ponder.