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The GOP is in distress

| Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Decide on some imperfect Somebody and you will win, because the truest truism in politics is: You can't beat Somebody with Nobody," said William Safire, the revered political columnist, who died in 2009. In his later years, his sagacity was questioned, mostly regarding his support of the war with Iraq.

But Safire was sharp on the mechanics of politics. He campaigned with Richard Nixon, in defeat and victory. Once on Nixon's White House staff, he wrote speeches for Vice President Spiro Agnew, coining the phrase "nattering nabobs of negativism" for Agnew and magically elevating that scoundrel to national prominence before his disgraceful fall.

A self-described libertarian conservative with an acid tongue, Safire would never hesitate to smack around any conservative who strayed from the libertarian path. In that regard, he would have had an ideological field day with the current crop of Republican presidential aspirants.

And Safire's response to the parade of imperfect nobodies who are seeking the Republican nomination -- instead of the imperfect somebodies he believed could win -- would have made good reading. In a recent CBS News poll, 56 percent of Republicans said that they are not enthusiastic about any of their party's current contenders.

It is an embarrassment of meagerness. Only 9 percent were enthusiastic about Mitt Romney, the leader of the pack, and he was followed by Mike Huckabee with 8 percent, Donald Trump with 7 percent, Newt Gingrich with 5 percent and Sarah Palin with 4 percent.

And Trump, every Democrat's dream opponent, has already done enough damage to the legitimate Republican agenda with his "birther" claims that you have to wonder if he is a double agent, secretly working for the Democrats. Even with President Obama's release of his long-form birth certificate, Trump remained the punchinello, not ready to admit the error of his ways.

Sometimes these crazy claims work, for a while. In the early 1950s, Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin started an anti-communist witch hunt that created a momentary burst of popularity for his flagging political career. He was re-elected in 1952, but in short order, his lies and misdirection exposed, he fell from grace and public favor.

After McCarthy's ignominious demise, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, who had resisted the red-baiter when he could, enjoyed saying that "McCarthyism" had become "McCarthywasm." By then, McCarthy and his conspiracy theories were a millstone around the neck of the Republican Party.

And while "birtherism" will now surely become "birtherwasm" for most Americans, some Obama haters will never give up this fight. But at least the president has tried to create a little more room for honest debate of the great issues Americans must face.

In the words of another Republican president, Herbert Hoover, "Honest differences of views and honest debate are not disunity. They are the vital process of policy making among free men."

Safire's grip on the nature of politics became obvious when he said: "To 'know your place' is a good idea in politics. That is not to say 'stay in your place' or 'hang on to your place,' because ambition or boredom may dictate upward or downward mobility, but a sense of place -- a feel for one's own position in the control room -- is useful in gauging what you should try to do."

Democrats could not pay Trump enough to enter the Republican primary and act the way he has been acting.

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