The “Me Too!” Factor

At the Plum Line this morning, Paul Waldman took on the topic du jour (the proliferation of the GOP presidential field) by making a basic but important point: all these candidate options for the GOP obscure a remarkable uniformity in policies:

They all want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut taxes, reduce regulations on corporations, increase military spending, and do essentially nothing about climate change. There may be some differences here and there — Rand Paul is a little less eager for foreign military adventures than most of the other candidates, for instance — but the disagreements that exist aren’t connected to those demographic differences in any way. The two Latino candidates say the same thing about immigration (secure the border first!) as everyone else. Scott Walker may love shopping at Kohl’s, but he cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations as governor, just like Jeb Bush did. Carly Fiorina is no more in favor of women’s reproductive rights than her male counterparts.

There are a few other variations, such as the negative noises Huckabee’s making about globalization and free trade, or the arguments Santorum and Walker have offered about legal immigration. But basically, Paul’s right, which means among other things that the candidates are going to have to find other things to argue about on the campaign trail. Phony baloney disputes generated by the campaign itself will supply side grist for the mill. And there is in fact a pretty robust debate over electability under way–it’s actually more explicit than any I can remember in a good long while–that will matter to Republican “base” voters and conservative media even if it’s inscrutable, boring or even crazy-sounding to everybody else.

But even with such material at hand, Republicans should be thanking their lucky stars that before this cycle the RNC moved to reduce the number of televised candidate debates. Having 15 candidates or so up there saying the same things over and over is going to be must-not-watch TV after a while. And yet it will be difficult if not perilous to begin raising the bar for who gets up on the stage, particularly if it knocks out the only woman, the only African-American, or the only Asian-American in the field. If, God forbid, I was a Republican poohbah, I’d be devoting a lot of attention to debate formats and moderators. This field’s going to need some help.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.