David Brooks Transformed

In which David Brooks reports from New Hampshire and realizes that the public isn't buying the GOP talking points that Hillary Clinton is the Devil incarnate, and that the Republicans are up Shit Creek in 2008.
The biggest story of this presidential campaign is the success of Hillary Clinton. Six months ago many people thought she was too brittle and calculating and that voters would never really bond with her. But now she seems to offer the perfect combination of experience and change.

She’s demonstrating that it really helps to have lived in the White House. She can draw on a range of experiences unmatched by her rivals. She’s dominated most of the debates. She’s transformed her position on Iraq without a ripple. Her measured, statistic-filled speeches rarely inspire passion, but always confidence.


Clinton’s performance will also have an effect on the Republican race, though many Republicans are only now beginning to realize it. When you ask Republican presidential candidates about Clinton, a smile of professional respect comes over their faces.

But their world is transformed. The one thing Republicans had going for them was the head-to-heads. Bush, the war and the party could all be unpopular, but individual G.O.P. candidates beat Clinton because her negatives were so high. But she is changing that. People who’ve said they would never vote for her will take a second look once they see her campaign.

That means in 2008, Hillary won’t save the G.O.P. An orthodox Republican will not beat an orthodox Democrat. If Republicans want to have any chance next year, they have to go for broke.
Everything to David Brooks is a revelation; it's like he's hung around the Oracle of Delphi huffing the sulfur fumes and he's suddenly seeing the Cosmic Trooth. But then he realizes that he has to offer some shred of hope for the True Believers, so he offers flashes of brilliance for the gasping hopes of the GOP.

One occurred at a McCain event Wednesday. In Washington, the McCain campaign is considered dead, but somebody seems to have forgotten to tell the people up here. A man at one packed event rose to vent his outrage at Washington. He ignited something in McCain, who started talking about what he’d learned from the failure of immigration reform. McCain worked himself up, recounting one failure and disgrace after another, culminating finally with an angry bellow, “Nobody trusts us to do what we say we’re going to do!”
Uh, yeah, that's not exactly the kind of thing you want to use as a sales pitch: "Hey, we really suck, but give us a chance to do it again!" No wonder Sen. McCain's media team and the rest of his top advisers all got in their Edsel station wagon and took off.

This dearth of inspiration from the Republicans leaves the door open for [drum roll] the Savior: Newt Gingrich. This thrice-married and admitted adulterer who now proclaims himself as paragon of virtue and the rest of the GOP field as a pack of pygmies is just dying to enter the race so he can vanquish the last vestiges of the Clinton era, a task he failed at miserably in his last attempt in 1998 when, among other things, he tripped over his own self-righteousness, lost House seats, and provoked the raging ire of his own House leadership to the point that they not only forced him out of power as Speaker of the House, they ran him out of Congress. (What is it with the Republicans and P.R. with their own people? Between them it sounds like a Don Rickles/Buddy Hackett cage match.) So now ten years later he thinks he can run and win in the Republican primaries by demonizing Hillary Clinton? His sense of entitlement is only outweighed by his ego. The great fun this fall will be watching Newt Gingrich's attempt to capture the country's imagination collapse like a rotting pumpkin.

The other candidates are stumbling, too. Seeing it happen to John McCain is slightly pathetic; like watching King Lear as he rails against the storm and you feel sorry for him, but not too much, knowing that he brought all of this on himself. Mitt Romney, as Mr. Brooks notes, gets all introspective about how government works and what we can do with it:
Romney had slipped away from the policy chunks of his stump speech and was talking about his success in business and in running the Olympics. He was talking about how you assemble a team of people with complementary skills. How you use data and analysis to replace opinion. How you set benchmarks and how often you should perform self-evaluation.

It wasn’t impassioned or angry (he doesn’t do anger). But it was Romney losing himself in something he really cares about, and it opened up a vista of how government might operate.
This is the kind of navel-gazing that the Republicans used to mock when they heard it from people like John Kerry and Jimmy Carter, and it also harks back to the disastrous idea of running the government like a business and hiring a CEO for president. Let me remind him that we've tried that and we've got a little less than eighteen months left to go with that little experiment.

This sounds like Mr. Brooks is warming up for a weekend of punditry -- he often recycles his Friday column into his talking points on The Newshour and anywhere else he lands on Sunday morning. But it also sounds like he's bracing himself for the inevitable news that he'll have to break to his readers: the Republicans are going to lose the presidential election in 2008. Remember, you heard it here first.

Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.

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