Trying to customize candidates
Post-Perry, the Republican 2012 field seems stuck. You could tell by the bleats at Paul Ryan’s announcement Monday that he wasn’t yet willing to run for president that everyone is not overwhelmingly enthused by the current prospects. Instead of hosting any of the candidates, “Meet the Press” welcomed Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on Sunday.
“Ending is better than mending.” That’s a key adage from Aldous Huxley’s dystopic “Brave New World,” and it fits the GOP primary contest to a T. Try to deal with the candidates in the race? Give them a buff or two? Urge them to speak calmly and reasonably, to stare in the general direction of the camera and to avoid looking as though they’ve just been addressed in commanding tones by a demonic rabbit? That sounds like a lot of work! Can’t we get Chris Christie over here?
But it’s hard to blame the electorate.
We live in an era in which everything has customizable features except our presidential candidates. (That’s a regrettable oversight that I’m sure will be fixed in beta.) We like to have options, to be able to swap out the relevant components at a moment’s notice. Could we get someone with Jon Huntsman’s hair who doesn’t want to raise the debt ceiling? How about someone with Ron Paul’s ability to be ignored by the media and the raw charisma of Teddy Roosevelt? (Although, if you mean “the raw charisma of Teddy Roosevelt in the sense that Roosevelt has been deceased for several decades,” Rick Santorum is already in the race.)
By the time we are done reconstituting the ideal candidate out of components, we wind up with a lurching, teetering Frankenstein’s Monster Candidate who looks suspiciously like Ronald Reagan’s reanimated corpse.
At what point is enough enough? Are we actually trying to get Sarah Palin to run? She might not realize that everyone was joking, and then where would we be?
Republicans might like someone with Mike Huckabee’s human touch and Mitt Romney’s business acumen - but they generally get the converse.
And so the strategists are scrambling. Ron Paul? Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart is the only media personality who takes him seriously. Paul Ryan? He just said he wouldn’t run. Rudy Giuliani? You know it’s bad when people go back to suggesting Giuliani.
“We need someone who won’t scare off moderate voters but who can run plausibly to the right for the primary,” everyone says. “Someone tall. Someone photogenic. Someone with private-sector experience. Someone with executive experience. Someone who does not not believe in science, because fun as that may be initially it tends to cloy once you emerge from the shadow-cave of the primaries into the sunlight of the general. Someone who doesn’t say wild, unhinged things.”
“Er, guys?” says Mitt Romney. He has been waiting here all along in the rain, holding flowers and looking vaguely contrite, like the male protagonist of a Jane Austen novel.
“Not you!” everyone insists. “Someone with all your features who isn’t you.”
“And possibly not Mormon,” the People Who Decide These Things cough delicately into one sleeve, hoping Mitt will not overhear this in case Chris Christie doesn’t come swooping in on a white horse later in the season.
I’m amazed Mitt hasn’t quit yet. He has been attempting to reconstitute himself in accordance with what he perceives to be specifications for the past half-decade. And no one has yet embraced him.
“Don’t change,” everyone says. “No, maybe change. No, wait, change less. Unchange.”
This field is a bad haircut. More to the right. No, less to the right. Something more traditional. Something edgier. Let’s shave it all off and start over again.
ALEXANDRA PETRI is a member of The Washington Post’s editorial page staff.