The worst part about living through 2010 was not the outcome of the election but the preferred media narrative of the Tea Party ushering in some kind of sea change in the GOP. In reality, their overwhelming losses in 2006 and 2008 gave the Republicans a good opportunity to re-brand their party, perhaps even to come up with a new idea or two. Instead they chose simply to double down on the same selective interpretation of Reaganism that they've pounded like a drum for the past thirty years. The Tea Party was tangential, just a bunch of inchoate anger and nonsensical demands that happened to benefit the GOP at the polls. Business as usual meets populist freakshow. The result is that the GOP of 2012, despite the major domestic crises of the past four years, is not different in any meaningful way from George W. Bush's Republican Party. Look no further that the Iowa Caucus results (and impending Romney blowout in New Hampshire) for proof: the prize in these primaries goes not to the daring, but to the one who does the best job of reciting the Commandments of the faith. The party can theoretically choose anyone, and in Iowa they chose two candidates who, although different, are essentially carbon copies of the most recent GOP president.
Rick Santorum, who is likely to disappear shortly after his 15 minutes of being Not Mitt Romney, takes Bush's unwavering social conservatism and combines it with a total lack of intellectual curiosity on domestic issues – where his policy position is essentially "Steer it as far to the right as possible, then go a little further" on any given issue – and hard neocon foreign policy (Israel! Israel! Israel! Also fuck Iran!) Like Bush, Santorum has the ability to hold totally insane, occasionally terrifying policy positions but look to primary voters and TV viewers to be a nice, sane fellow. Seriously, watch Rick Santorum on a talk show. He seems nice. He sounds normal. He isn't. Contrast him, for example, with the visibly deranged Michele Bachmann to see how important this quality is in the modern GOP. Be crazy, but look sane. Don't scare everyone.
Romney, on the other hand, is like Bush in that underneath the marketing (Remember "compassionate conservatism"?) he is nothing but the classic "pro-business" corporate shill brand of Republican. He appears to care about nothing much politically, hence his numerous flip-flops on social and foreign policy issues, except cutting taxes, starving the government, and making America safe again for the ludicrously rich. Other Republicans hate him not because of this political stance; indeed, he is in perfect concert with most of them on economic issues. They hate him because he is a Mormon, and an insincere glad-hander, and an opportunist, and a pretty boy, and generally an all-around sissy. He's not a Man's Man, not a Real Christian Jesus-fearing red-blooded American. Or, more accurately, not one who can or cares to fake it. GW Bush's ridiculous cowboy act was semi-believable, at least enough to fool the rubes. Romney looks like the white bread, prep school asswipe he is.
And these are the two candidates the process appears to have chosen to duke it out. If they could somehow combine Romney's staggering wealth, fundamentally elitist economic ideas, and non-threatening self presentation with Santorum's militant social conservatism and Real Guy authenticity, they'd have the perfect candidate. That is, they'd have George W. Bush again. They rejected the glib Perot-like straight talk of Cain, Bachmann's American jihad, Perry's frat boy insincerity, the reanimated corpse of 1994 in Gingrich, and the old school liberal New England Republicanism of Huntsman. Ron Paul, as ever, is just an old coot with a devoted but insufficiently large cult of true believers. They chose Santorum (who is fundamentally unelectable, being insane) and Romney (who no one actually likes and most actively loathe).
Hey, you know who's stupid? Tim Pawlenty. He dropped out on account of a meaningless straw poll won by Michele Bachmann almost a year ago. Were he running, he would be killing it right now. The primary voters are desperate for anyone who isn't Romney, but all of their existing alternatives are obviously flawed. T-Paw is as bland as they come, an empty vessel with the requisite devotion to Reaganomics. He wouldn't be much of a general election candidate, but I bet he'd be neck-and-neck with Romney right now.
So, the GOP staggered out of 2008 with an opportunity to take the party in a new direction. Instead they punted. Refusing to come up with a single new idea, they chose the path of least resistance, the sweet spot in their comfort zone. They chose the two candidates who reminded them the most of Dubya, who was the candidate who reminded them the most of Reagan, who was the candidate who reminded them the most of Barry Goldwater. It would be bad enough if they were nominating second rate Reagan clones, but this year this appears to be a competition between two pale imitations of George W. Bush. Rather than write anything new, they're covering a cover song. With the GOP so adamant in its refusal to change and the balless, corporate Democratic Party offering only the illusion of opposition, it is no mystery why everyone can see that our ship is heading straight for the rocks but we seem to be unable to change its course.