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Democrats Should Not Root for Gingrich

January 28, 2012

There’s a temptation that’s especially strong when your party’s candidate is facing strong headwinds, to root for the most extreme candidate in the other party.  The idea is that the wing-nut in the other party will be the easiest for your party’s candidate to beat.

So not surprisingly, a lot of Democrats are rooting for Newt Gingrich right now, on the theory that he’ll be easier for President Obama to beat than the more moderate Mitt Romney.  But I urge my fellow liberals to resist that temptation.

In 1980, Jimmy Carter faced headwinds similar to what President Obama faces today.  George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were the lead competitors for the Republican nomination, along with John Anderson, Bob Dole, Howard Baker, and John Connally.  Ronald Reagan was easily the most conservative of them.  He was a liberal joke – we called him Ronnie Ray-gun, and we laughed about a Time Magazine article that said he lounged around in his pajamas until about noon.  I rooted for him to win, thinking he would be easier for Carter to beat than Bush or any of the others, since he was off to the right, espousing what Bush called “voodoo economics,” questioning social security, opposing a woman’s right to choose abortion, and so on.

As you know, I got my wish – the Republicans nominated Reagan.  And as you also know, it doesn’t matter whether he beat Carter by less than the other candidates would have – what matters is that he beat Carter.  And, from a liberal point of view, the damage of that election was enormous, and continues to this day.

So I for one have learned my lesson:  I root for the Republican who will be least bad for the country if he or she wins the election, not for the Republican who will be easiest to beat.  The Republican nominee may end up being the President.  Those stakes are too high to play politics with.

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