Tonight's the night the music stops, if only for a pause, and the Republican game of musical chairs eliminates several candidates who have outlived their welcome in living rooms across the land.
Spin rooms will be awash in losers' arguments that momentum — "the big 'mo,' " as George Bush the elder famously called it — is more important than actually winning, that what American voters are really looking for is a good also-ran. But nobody gets to cash the ticket of an also-ran, not at the racetrack and not anywhere else.
On Wednesday morning we won't have to listen to either the horse-race pundits, with their three-for-a-dime predictions, or doom-crying candidates of desperation. We'll have the results to thin the bloat.
The smart money is on Mitt Romney, the castor-oil candidate, where the smart money has been since the primary season opened an eon ago. Castor oil tastes awful, but Grandma insists it's good for you, and the best a lot of Republicans are counting on is that Granny shows up with a small spoon.
The Pundit Primary is mercifully behind us now, no more debates before the actual voting begins, and a lot less trivia. From here on, beginning next week in New Hampshire, presidential politics is for the grown-ups. After South Carolina on Jan. 21 and Florida on Jan. 31, the suspense is likely to be over. The Republicans will have their opponent for Barack Obama.
While everyone else was having fun rummaging through Newt Gingrich's baggage, Herman Cain's date book, and listening to Ron Paul's endless funeral dirge for America, the minions at the White House and at Republican headquarters in Washington have been hard at work on catalogs of stuff the candidates only wish would go away. The candidates and their campaigns are about to feel the pain of the meanest, vilest, lowest-down trick you can do to a candidate - reciting his own words back to him, accurately. Since nearly everything a modern president says is captured on tape, there's an abundance of material.
One particularly dirty trick to be employed in a campaign commercial will reprise President Obama's appearance on the NBC "Today" Show in 2009: If he couldn't fix the economy over the next three years, he says on camera, "then there's going to be a one-term proposition."
There's a clip from an ABC-TV interview of only two months ago of the president reprising Ronald Reagan's famous challenge to voters to ask themselves whether they were better off after four years of Jimmy Carter. Speaking of his own administration, Mr. Obama tells George Stephanopoulos, "I don't think [Americans are] better off than they were four years ago."
The president's dilemma, Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, tells The Washington Post, is that "he made so many promises in so many places." The Republican campaign intends to arm as many local reporters, bloggers and ordinary voters with the president's own words so they can say to him when he returns to Scranton, Columbus, Cleveland and other scenes of the crime, 'Hey, we're armed here with information about the last time you were here, and we want you to answer to yourself.' "
Once upon a time, a politician confronted with himself could merely deny himself. More recently, he could decry the awful crime of his remarks being taken "out of context," though this was usually regarded as confession and confirmation. But in the age of the Internet, with video cameras and tape recorders the size of a package of cigarettes, no rogue, rascal or scoundrel is safe from exposure on the front page, the evening news and YouTube.
A candidate armed with good writers and a gift for synthetic eloquence and the ability to fake sincerity is best advised to stick to playing the violin — sweet, pretty and not necessarily original. Mr. Romney, who looks like a president, is particularly effective playing a violin against the backdrop of flags, as in his closing television commercial in Iowa:
"When generations of immigrants looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time, one thing they knew beyond any doubt ... is they were coming to a place where anything was possible; that in America, their children would have a better life ... the American ideals of economic freedom and opportunity need a clear and unapologetic defense, and I intend to make it, because I have lived it. ... We stand for freedom and opportunity and hope. The principles that made this nation a great and powerful leader of the world have not lost their meaning — and they never will."
Try throwing that back at him.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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