The odds of a Gingrich presidency returned to safe levels last night with Mitt Romney’s decisive* victory in Florida. The former Speaker/Grand Inquisitor of the House has promised to continue his campaign into the summer, “unless Romney drops out sooner,” but that’s like the way Mr. Mxyzptlk threatens you as he’s getting sucked back to his home dimension. Perhaps Newt’s retreat will extend through the spring. Eventually, though, he must return to the mountains of Georgia to slumber and feed.
So the danger has passed, for now. Obviously, things will not be okay forever. During the third reconciliation, Newt returned in the form of a giant Slor, so democracy is a fragile experiment. But at least thus far, the American system does not allow a man whose sole principle is that he should rule over everyone to, you know, rule over everyone. The spirit of arrogant mendacity will have to choose a new host body.
While we wait for Newt Gingrich to respawn, we might consider what is left in this election to divert us. Obama v. Romney promises a rollercoaster ride from civility to testiness, with the President hoping the economy improves and Romney spreading his message that government should run like a business—for example, by giving people an opportunity to resign. Surely the 2012 generals will occasion plenty of dicketry, but the odds of either man matching the sheer megalomaniacal insanity of the early Republican contest seem low. The fun part is probably over, is what I am saying here.
Two narratives are also no good to us anymore. The first is the conceit that Republican voters were desperately searching for an alternative to Mitt Romney. It turns out they were mostly just voting for Mitt Romney. Such behavior belies the second narrative, which holds that the Republican Party is gripped by some yellow-flagged ultraconservatism. Only a quarter of them are, and while those people exercise unrivaled dominance over internet comments sections, they do not control the party.
Mitt Romney may be conservative by historical standards—we live in a conservative time—but Republicans have gone with the moderate. The Tea Party lost. The notion that America swings toward redneck fascism with each vote is now demonstrably untrue; America swings toward dudes with one billion dollars. For those of us who enjoy thinking of Republicanism as a culture, it is perversely bad news. It is definitely good that the GOP did not elect the blind god-king Gingrich to rule the nation. But it is now harder to dismiss one of the two political parties as stupid.
Back when their number-two guy was promising to put kids to work and build a base on the moon, the Republican Party was overtly committed to shock and bombast. No one actually believed in Newt’s damn moon base. They just thrilled to hear him say it, in the same way they thrilled to the unfalsifiable theory that the President was not an American citizen. That is an irresponsible way to conduct a nation—politics as sport, politics as rebel posture. But it is fundamentally not serious, and in the end only a dismal portion of even today’s Republican Party actually voted for it.
Instead, they went with the thoroughbred. A former governor and governor’s son, a billionaire who made it by investing his inherited fortune, Romney represents the real aristocracy that the pretend idiocracy disguises. Sarah Palin pulls viewers, but the people who watch her follow politics because it’s on. Those people do not run stuff. The people who run stuff are not going to protests at the post office because they are too busy buying and selling corporations. They pay less capital gains tax than their parents, who turned their own parents’ modest fortunes into multi-generational wealth. They run against the estate tax.
Mitt Romney is a captain of the second generation of American aristocracy, and he presents a more serious problem than the guy who only has the courage to break up with a woman when she’s sick. He will pit his wealth against a President who, last time around, ran the best-funded campaign in history. This unrefereed money fight will take place against a backdrop of persistent economic decline, for an audience that includes the first Americans in memory who expect to be poorer than their parents. The United States has problems. The people who suffer theme seem to have less say each year in how they will be solved.
I am secretly sad to see Newt Gingrich lose the nomination. I would not like to eat in his Red Lobster, much less live in his country, but I wouldn’t mind being reassured that an evident weirdo who promises to do a bunch of crazy things could still approach the top in this country. Now at the bottom of the ocean, dead Cthulhu lies dreaming. The thing that vanquished him is at once banal and bleakly more powerful, like an ATM.