|The role of extremists – arch
conservatives and progressives – is
nothing new. They've always sought to move the needle in their direction and
then, when push came to voting, rallied around the candidate of their party.
If they didn't it was ruinous, as in 2000 when Ralph Nader mounted a third-party
challenge from the left, causing the defeat of Democrat Al Gore.
So in 2012, which extreme group will rally and which will revolt?
The conservative right, increasingly bound to absolute positions and refusal
to compromise, may be gaining enough strength to derail the Republican Party’s
chances in ’12. Two of its front-runners, Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele
Bachmann, are pitching a brand of extremism that works in primaries but has far
less chance of success in a general election.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board worries that Bachmann seems “less
principled than opportunistic” and Perry has too much “muscular religiosity” among
other negatives. It dismisses Mitt Romney as simply “weak,” and wishes
that “someone still off the field will step in and run.” That someone
would presumably be less beholden to the extreme right, perhaps New Jersey Gov.
Chris Christie, who is said to be reconsidering entering the race.
Meanwhile, although President Obama has nothing to fear in the nominating
process, he is being pecked by progressives. Vermont’s Bernie Sanders,
the Senate’s most liberal member, said recently it would be a “good
idea” if Obama faced primary challenges. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin called upon
progressives to be more outspoken in criticizing the president.
Some liberal talkshow hosts and opinion writers are even less restrained in
showing anger, claiming that Obama hasn’t done enough to retain the support
of those who worked so diligently on his ’08 campaign. Compared to the
far right, however, which has virtually captured the policy-making wing of the
Republican party, the far left is fragmented and has limited influence.
The true objective in presidential politics is to elect a party rather than
a person. Idealists on both edges wish that were not the case. They hate giving
ground to candidates and causes that don’t fully measure up to their vision.
What should worry Republicans is that its extreme right has been emboldened
by no-holds-barred, no-chance-of-compromise positions. Tim Pawlenty, once thought
to be a serious GOP contender, said as he abruptly dropped out, “I brought
a rational, established, credible strong record of results, but the audience
was looking for something different.”
Pawlenty is conveniently ignoring his underwhelming performances in two debates,
but his assessment of those currently crafting the Republican message is spot
What should worry Democrats is that the far left has been discouraged, if
not paralyzed, by Obama’s failures – despite the fact that most were
caused by Republican obstructionism. A half-hearted campaign effort by disillusioned
liberals could be enough to tip the election the wrong way.
Progressives wish for a president who would speak more forcefully on controversial
issues without worrying so much about appeasing the other party. Conservatives
wish for a president who could be unyielding on issues that have stirred so much
anger within their ranks.
As 2012 draws near, both extreme factions should be careful what they wish
(c) Peter Funt. This column was orginally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.