WASHINGTON — If pessimism is not creeping on little cat's feet into Republicans' thinking about their 2012 presidential prospects, that is another reason for pessimism. This is because it indicates they do not understand that sensible Americans, who pay scant attention to presidential politics at this point in the electoral cycle, must nevertheless be detecting vibrations of weirdness emanating from people associated with the party.
The most recent vibrator is Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who won the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa and reached that year's national convention with more delegates than Mitt Romney, and might run again. Huckabee, now a Fox News host, was asked by Steve Malzberg, a talk radio host, this:
"Don't you think it's fair also to ask (Barack Obama) ... how come we don't have a health record, we don't have a college record, we don't have a birth cer — why, Mr. Obama, did you spend millions of dollars in courts all over this country to defend against having to present a birth certificate. It's one thing to say, I've — you've seen it, goodbye. But why go to court and send lawyers to defend against having to show it? Don't you think we deserve to know more about this man?"
Huckabee should have replied, "I've seen paranoia, goodbye." Instead, he said:
"I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough. And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya. ... "
Huckabee thereupon careened off into the (he thinks) related subject of Obama having sent back to the British Embassy in Washington a bust of Winston Churchill that Obama's predecessor had displayed in the Oval Office: " ... a great insult to the British. But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists."
The architects and administrators of the British Empire were imperialists? Perish the thought. A contemporary of William Jennings Bryan once said of the three-time Democratic presidential nominee, "One could drive a prairie schooner through any part of his argument and never scrape against a fact." But an absence of facts means there is no argument.
A spokesman for Huckabee dutifully lied, saying his employer "simply misspoke": "The governor meant to say the president grew up in Indonesia." Obama did not really grow up there — he spent just five of his first 18 years there and the other 13 years in Hawaii. But obviously Huckabee, with his dilation on the Mau Maus, was deliberately referring to Kenya. Unless Huckabee thinks the Mau Maus were Indonesians, which he might count as another "one thing that I do know."
Republicans should understand that when self-described conservatives such as Malzberg voice question-rants like the one above, and Republicans do not recoil from them, the conservative party is indirectly injured. As it is directly when Newt Gingrich, who seems to be theatrically tiptoeing toward a presidential candidacy, speculates about Obama having a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" mentality.
A magazine article containing what Gingrich calls a "stunning insight" is "the most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama." Gingrich begins with a faux question: "What if he is so outside our comprehension" he can be understood "only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior?" Then Gingrich says this is not just a question, it is "the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior."
To the notion that Obama has a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview, the sensible response is: If only. Obama's natural habitat is as American as the nearest faculty club; he is a distillation of America's academic mentality; he is as American as the other professor-president, Woodrow Wilson. A question for former history professor Gingrich: Why implicate Kenya?
Let us not mince words. There are at most five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Utah Gov. and departing ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr., former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
So the Republican winnowing process is far advanced. But the nominee may emerge much diminished by involvement in a process cluttered with careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates to whom the sensible American majority would never entrust a lemonade stand, much less nuclear weapons.
George Will's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.