"What you have just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul." This is a line from the comedy Billy Madison, but it really could be directed towards the GOP candidates for president, whose use of off-the-wall and kooky rhetoric has severely damaged their standing with independents, raised alarm bells inside the party, and done significant damage to their chances in November.
The most recent example of this is former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum labeling President Obama a "snob" for wanting all Americans to get a higher education. Santorum is essentially saying that some Americans are not intellectually capable of going to college, so why push them. This is really a bizarre approach to education policy by the senator with three degrees. The vast majority of Americans want to get a higher education because they know it will open doors that will otherwise remain closed. According to the Pew Research Center, 94% of parents expect their kids to go to college. The same poll finds that 94% of Americans aspire to go to college. President Obama isn't being a snob, he's being a leader on this issue. Imagine the reaction from the right if Obama said, well, some people just aren't cut out for college? I bet politicians like Rick Santorum would be attacking him mercilessly.
Unfortunately, Santorum's awful case of verbal diarrhea seems to be terminal. In an interview in October, he warned of the "dangers of contraception" saying, it's "license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." Demonstrating he is an equal opportunity offender, he said that he didn't "want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money." You have to wonder, what decade is this man living in and how in the world is he one of the frontrunners for the GOP nomination?
To answer the second question -- Mitt Romney -- who is running neck in neck with Santorum in this absurd race to the bottom. Romney has been plagued with an epic case of foot in mouth disease which has only advanced the narrative that he is clueless to the concerns of 99% of Americans and will say anything to get elected. Some of my favorites include saying "corporations are people," that he isn't "concerned about the very poor," that he likes to "fire people," and that he, a multi-millionaire, is also "unemployed." He also claimed that folks who supported asking the rich to pay their fair share were envious.
Not to be outdumbed, Newt Gingrich recently claimed that the Administration was forcing Americans to buy certain "green" cars and he used as an example the American-made electric hybrid Chevy Volt. Trying to rev up a crowd he said, "You cannot put a gun rack in a Volt." Really? Is this really the way in which we should determine success or failure of car, let alone one made in the U.S.A.? Whether or not you can install gun a rack on it? In a sea of ridiculous comments, this stands out as one of the dumbest.
Sometimes it's hard to tell whether this is a campaign or a really bad VH-1 reality show. For the Republicans, there is cause for alarm. The establishment figures are getting worried. Rudy Giuliani commented that the GOP seems "like it isn't a modern party, it doesn't understand the modern world that we live in." Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush also voiced serious concerns about the direction the party was headed due to the tone and tenor of the contest.
The public isn't buying this sideshow either. Mitt Romney's favorability rating has plummeted since his scorched earth campaign against Gingrich. President Obama, who was written off as Jimmy Carter 2.0 just a few months ago, has rebounded and is now handily beating every GOP opponent according to a recent George Washington University Battleground poll. More troubling for Gov. Romney is that he is losing independents badly to the president, when just a few months ago he was ahead. The extreme positions the Republican Party is taking on women's health are also causing serious erosion of support among women. A recent AP poll shows the president beating the leading GOP contenders by at least 10 points with women. That same poll showed that since December the president's approval rating with women has increased 10 percentage points, demonstrating the contraception debate was a big loser for Republicans.
A presidential campaign always has its silliness, but this one has been defined by it. In the 2008 Democratic primaries, there was a real debate over the war in Iraq, healthcare, and trade that energized the party and brought in new voters. We aren't seeing that this year. The Republican candidates have abandoned substance in favor of the politics of absurdity. Donald Trump may not be in the race, but his spirit seems to be driving the rhetoric.