Republicans: Why stop lying on the way to the White House?
As my colleague Dan Turner noted previously, GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann's worst blunders have less to do with historical trivia than her willingness to propagate outrageous lies, including the myths of President Obama's "death panels" (which she didn't invent but was happy to retell) and that lavish trip to Asia that supposedly cost taxpayers $200 million a day. Bachmann isn't alone among fellow 2012 GOP hopefuls. Separately, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee entertained conspiracy-like theories related to Kenya; Sarah Palin midwifed the "death panels" canard; and Rick Santorum, he of "man-on-dog" infamy, accused the president of supporting infanticide.
Mythomania aside, what do they all have in common? (No, it doesn't involve Fox News' payroll.) According to a new Gallup poll, those five bomb-throwers have the biggest shares of devoted followers among the 2012 GOP field:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee leads the field of possible GOP presidential candidates in "positive intensity" among Republicans nationwide with a score of +25 among Republicans who are familiar with him, followed by Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota with a score of +20. Huckabee is recognized by 87% of Republicans, compared with Bachmann's 52%. A number of other possible Republican presidential candidates trail these two in Positive Intensity Scores, including Sarah Palin, who is the best known of the group.
It's tempting to dismiss the poll as a symptom of early-primary politics, which often favor a party's less centrist elements (Howard Dean, anyone?). John McCain, after all, was the subject of numerous political obituaries before coming back to snag his party's nod. But the hopefuls in the 2012 GOP field have something important in common with McCain: They're running against the incumbent. McCain had always traded heavily on his willingnes to oppose a fellow Republican in the White House, which served him well politically (in the primaries, anyway) when that Republican's poll ratings dipped to Nixonian lows.
The 2012 race shaped up into a contest on the incumbent not long after Obama emptied his boxes in the Oval Office. The Romneys, Pawlentys and other less galvanizing technocrats can try to wait out this wave of GOP populism, but it has been the hyperbole and, yes, lies from the Bachmanns and Palins that have added weight to the president's falling poll numbers. In playing a huge part in weakening the incumbent and boosting the chances of Mitt Romney et al in the general election, the "tea party" favorites have turned themselves into formidable opponents for their more qualified Republican pragmatists to overcome.
With results like these (so far, anyway), why quit fibbing?
-- Paul Thornton