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COHEN: GOP primaries driving off best candidates

  • (NICK ANDERSON / Houston Chronicle)

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination. He beat a future president, George H.W. Bush, two future Senate majority leaders, Howard Baker and Bob Dole, and two lesser-known congressmen. This year Mitt Romney won the GOP nomination. He beat a radio host, a disgraced former House speaker, a defeated Senate candidate, a former appointee of the Obama administration, a tongue-tied Texas governor, a prevaricating religious zealot who happens to serve in the House of Representatives and a cranky libertarian doctor.

Where did all the talent go?

Until the Republican Party can answer this question, it makes no sense to continue to carp about Mitt Romney and the startlingly incompetent presidential campaign he’s running. His faults as a politician are manifest. He is robotic, unknowable (his own wife asserted at the national convention that “he made me laugh” and then failed to cite a single humorous moment), ideologically incoherent and severely out of touch with the average American. He is his party’s nominee because, like the one-eyed man in the valley of the blind, he is just the best of the worst.

Since Republicans are so focused on the individual and not on the system that produced him, they miss what the real problem is. The system in this case is the series of incredibly damaging primaries and caucuses that in the crucial early stages produce a candidate who could sweep Bavaria. The Iowa caucuses alone take the GOP so far to the right that it all but dooms the winner. Romney had to vow to stop thinking. He had to virtually declare himself anti-Hispanic (criticizing Texas for providing tuition discounts to the college-age children of illegal immigrants) and while he has now moderated his approach, it is a bit late. Hispanic is not Spanish for Stupid.

Across the board, Romney pandered to the right. He did so on guns, abortion and even Iran. A GOP candidate has to oppose same-sex marriage, deny global warming and insist — against all evidence — that local control of education is the best.

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