If conservative Republicans are serious about making former House Speaker Newt Gingrich their presidential nominee, one has to conclude that they never meant much of what they professed to believe in -- from personal responsibility to humility to integrity.
All their attacks -- on President Bill Clinton for his womanizing, on
Vice President Al Gore for his boastfulness, and on various Democrats
for profiting off their insider status -- were not serious critiques at
all, just talking points for winning elections.
Mix in Gingrich's inveterate lying -- such as his risible explanation that his $1.6 million consulting deal with mortgage giant Freddie Mac was for his skills as a "historian" -- and it's hard to discern what ethical standards conservative Republicans actually stand for, short of wanting power for "their side."
So, are conservative Republicans simply hypocrites or is something else involved? Clearly part of the problem is that they can't stomach voting for an endless shape-shifter like Mitt Romney, and the rest of the presidential field makes them queasy, too.
It's not like they haven't speed-dated some of the other contenders, from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann to Texas Gov. Rick Perry to pizza magnate Herman Cain -- not to mention, flirting with almost-candidates such as real-estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump.
Though there were many reasons why those brief flings flamed out, what many conservative Republicans may have found unacceptable was the level of know-nothing-ism regarding basic information, especially facts about the Revolutionary War and world affairs, two areas where the Right views itself as more sophisticated than the Left.
Yes, it's true that the GOP Right often revels in denying empirical evidence, from rejecting the science of global warming to embracing failed economic experiments like "supply-side economics" to stubbornly believing that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
But the Tea Partiers also fancy themselves as inheritors of the spirit of the American Revolution, dressing up in period costumes and waving yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags. Abject ignorance about those facts can be devastating for candidates.
Knowing the Revolution
Bachmann and Perry may have stumbled over the lowest hurdles for measuring competence, but they did themselves in by displaying jaw-dropping ignorance about the Revolutionary War.
Bachmann thought the first shots were fired in New Hampshire, not Massachusetts (apparently confusing Concord, New Hampshire, with Concord, Massachusetts), and Perry put the Revolution in the 16th Century, 200 years before it actually began in the 18th Century. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Rick Perry's Revolutionary War "History'"]
Similarly, Cain -- who actually rose in the polls while fending off accusations of sexual harassment -- sank his own campaign when he couldn't respond to a simple question about Libya, as his pre-packaged talking points were "twirling around" in his head.
Granted, the Right is often contemptuous of nuanced opinions about foreign policy, but Cain's transparent ignorance about a major issue like Libya was embarrassing, not just for Cain but for conservatives who had supported him.
The Tea Partiers also have their own fictionalized view of the Revolutionary War and what the Founders believed. For instance, Tea Partiers don't seem to know that the coiled-snake "Don't Tread on Me" flag was aimed at the British Empire and the banner that targeted other Americans was one of a snake cut up into pieces with the warning, "Join, or Die."
The Founders' chief concern was to unify the 13 colonies, not promote hostility to an American central government. When Samuel Adams (who helped organize the original Tea Party in 1773) and his cousin John Adams traveled from Boston to Philadelphia in 1775 for the Continental Congress, they were not there to resist a union of the 13 colonies but to demand one.
Contrary to the Tea Party's view that the Founders were big advocates of states' rights, most of the Founders -- both before and after the Revolution -- favored a "robust" national government.