Lincoln Would Weep

Lincoln Would Weep

By E.J. Dionne - May 16, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Republicans are unhappy with their field of presidential candidates and yearn for someone who will come along to save them. But here's what the GOP doesn't want to confront: its problem lies not in its candidates, but in itself.

The candidates appear much smaller than they are because the party's primary voters and core interest groups insist upon cutting them down to size. To win a Republican nomination, a candidate has to move right, recant absolutely any past position that violates the current consevative catechism, and never dare to speak the truth that solving our deficit problem will require new revenues -- aka, taxes.

Thus we have Mitt Romney defending the individual mandate to buy insurance that was part of the health plan he championed in Massachusetts, but then denouncing President Obama for imposing a similar mandate at the national level. This shuffle wasn't good enough for the guardians of conservative orthodoxy. It ruled that Romney will merit salvation only by fully repudiating his greatest achievement as governor.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been absolutely abject in declaring his sinfulness for once believing in a cap-and-trade solution to the global warming problem. "I've said I was wrong," he insisted. "It was a mistake, and I'm sorry." Pass him the sackcloth-and-ashes, please.

And then there is Mitch Daniels. The Indiana governor has the advantage of not having joined the race yet, which is why so many in the GOP are turning their lonely hearts to him.

Daniels was lauded for bravery when he called for a "truce" in the culture wars. But in the first test of his commitment to a truce, he chose to break it by signing a law cutting off all state funding for Planned Parenthood. What else would Daniels have to do to win the nomination? He is more conservative than the conventional wisdom now paints him. But what will be left of even the current Daniels once the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, otherwise known as the GOP primary electorate, is done with him?

Even if you accept some pandering to the primary electorate, the Republicans' problem is deeper and it creates huge difficulties for the country as a whole. The reason Washington is paralyzed over the deficit is because most Republicans are petrified to admit that we will never get our budget close to balance without some tax increases. Both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush raised taxes when deficits got too high. Now, Reagan's party would condemn him as a big-taxing liberal.

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Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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