woody zimmermann 120This article could easily be subtitled “Fumbling the Ball at the One-yard Line.” Of course, this happens not only in sports. For a political example we need look no farther back than the 2012 presidential election, when Republicans fumbled a sure win over a riotously-failed presidency by putting up a milquetoast candidate who performed a very credible Mr. Rogers-impression. (“Will you be my neighbor?”) The GOP let Democrats stomp Mr. Romney’s exemplary character and smear his party as villains in a fanciful War on Women. Unanswered and un-deflected, the flung doo-doo stunk up the election so badly that voters forgot what the stakes were. Minorities and women – including many who had no jobs – turned out in great numbers to keep their “champion” in office, while millions of disgruntled Republicans stayed home to rearrange their sock-drawers. What should have been a GOP walk turned into a rout. Mr. Obama sailed into a scandal-ridden second term whose motto should have been “You ain’t seen nutthin’ yet!”

But Republicans don’t have a corner on fumbled elections. In 2000, a soaring economy due to balanced budgets produced by the first Republican Congresses in 40 years should have given Vice-president Al Gore an easy win – and a triumphant Clinton “third term” – over George W. Bush. But Mr. Clinton couldn’t keep his pants on. He was caught dallying with a 21-year-old White House intern in the Oval Office. The Clinton Machine tried to deny it, but the evidence was beyond dispute. Special Prosecutor Ken Starr also found that Mr. Clinton had committed perjury and tampered with a jury during a trial on charges that he sexually harassed state-employee Paula Jones while he was governor of Arkansas. These violations became articles of impeachment, passed by the House of Representatives in December 1998. The president beat the rap on party-line votes in the Senate (February 1999) – with not a single Democrat voting to convict him on charges that would have sent any ordinary citizen to jail. But his presidency was mortally wounded.

Party apparatchiks valiantly tried to cast his survival in triumphal terms, but it was no use. The public would not countenance his conduct. Mr. Clinton limped on to the close of his second term, while Mr. Gore tried to pick up the pieces by highlighting Mr. Clinton’s successes. (“Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”) Mr. Gore also damaged his own campaign by wearing earth-tones and absurdly trying to pose as Macho Man to attract the women’s vote. Ultimately, he lost the election by just 500 votes in Florida. Democrats’ subsequent attempt to conduct selective recounts in four Florida counties was blocked by the U. S. Supreme Court in mid-December, giving the election to Mr. Bush.

This year the election is clearly there for the taking by Republicans. The Obama-presidency is even more disastrous than it was in 2012. The economy is practically at a standstill. Millions of Americans are either under-employed or not working at all, with record numbers no longer even counted because they have stopped looking for work. Food-stamp recipients number an all-time high of 49 million. Illegal immigrants are pouring across our borders to work jobs that should be going to American citizens, while Democrats openly advocate a fast track to citizenship for millions of them. Young people are on the verge of open revolt because they can’t find good-paying work to pay off college-debts of over $1 trillion. And the Obama administration seems determined to destroy the country’s energy-industry to save the world from climate-change for which no clear causal evidence exists.

On the world stage, Islamic terrorists are running wild; Iran has extracted a “deal” that gives it a path to obtaining atomic weapons; and a nuclear-armed North Korea is testing intercontinental ballistic missiles that could deliver atomic warheads to the United States mainland. China is building new islands for military bases in the South China Sea. Russia is aggressively expanding its control over neighboring countries, while Mr. Obama continues to promote “neo-isolationism” for us. Nearly a million Syrian refugees are threatening to bury European economies under a mountain of welfare debt that could change those countries forever.

These brief paragraphs hardly scratch the surface of the complete disaster of the eight-year Obama presidency which Americans so devoutly wanted – twice. A caller to a radio talk show articulated perfectly the attitudes of many when he admitted: “Yeah, I voted for him, but I never thought he’d screw up this badly…”

To make matters even worse for Democrats, their voters are offered a “Devil’s choice” between a superannuated socialist, or (arguably) the most corrupt politician in American history, for their presidential nominee. Bernie “The Commie” Sanders, whose model of an ideal society is Cuba, wants to tax the “top 1%” of income-earners to death to fund the trillions in giveaway programs – including free college – that he promises to his mostly young fans. His harebrained Marxist ideas have been discredited by failed socialist experiments all over the world for a century.

His opponent – the wigged-out grandma, Hillary Clinton – tries to pose as more “responsible” and far more politically able than Senator Sanders, while promising much the same largess to the “gravy-train brigade” that floods her and Mr. Sanders’ rallies. A truck – figuratively speaking – is needed to carry all of Mrs. Clinton’s “baggage.” Currently, the FBI is investigating her possible compromise of national secrets while she used a private server to conduct her business as Secretary of State. She airily waves it away as “just politics as usual.” Large percentages of voters in her own party say they do not trust her, yet she is widely expected to win the nomination. She’s all they’ve got.

If ever a scene was set for Republicans to rout their adversaries in a presidential election, surely this is it. As usual, though, the question is: will they seize this golden opportunity, or will they blow it again? As things stand, I wouldn’t put any money on them to win. They are entirely capable of throwing the game. Why is that?

Books are undoubtedly being written on this, so I won’t claim that I can adequately get at the truth in this short piece. Some factors are pretty clear, however. I’ll present brief summaries of several that I believe might disrupt Republican party-unity enough to cost them a third consecutive election.

  • A “fifth column” inside the party that wants big government and business-as-usual – no matter who has to be elected to achieve that goal. These political chameleons will support a Democrat, if need be. Mitt Romney recently showed us that he is one of them. Millions of Republicans who loyally supported him in the 2012 election – despite significant differences with his political views – were shocked and disappointed to learn that his own support of Republican candidates is not absolute. I can’t gauge how many of these “disloyalists” are in the party, but one is too many. They need to form their own separate party, which they could call the Serpents.

  • Establishment Republicans who want only a candidate they can control – no outsiders allowed in the club. Nothing wrong with arguing politics within the party – i.e., you want certain policies, while I think differently – but making it personal to the point of publicly damaging another Republican must stop. I know I’m not the only conservative who is appalled by the ugliness of the primary campaigns this year. Much damage has been done to some good people who could be fine presidents. If the Republican National Committee is going to be of any use, it has to act as a referee to keep the intra-party fighting fair. No “low blows” allowed. The RNC has to start governing its primaries, or every contestant will emerge so badly damaged that he won’t be a viable nominee in the general election. The Democrats’ work will already have been done for them by other Republicans.

  • The rise of conservative populism. This is a relatively new faction in the GOP. Populists have made their home in the Democratic Party since at least Andy Jackson’s time, but increasingly they have migrated to the GOP as Democrats became fixated – some would say obsessed – with minority- and gender/sexuality-issues. Country-club Republicans are having difficulty adjusting to these un-urbane (often Christian) conservatives who insist on having their views represented by the party’s candidates for high office. They won’t tug a forelock and bow respectfully, while their “betters” decide who will represent the party in the councils of the mighty. This is a kind of miniature of the American Revolution, when a fight over who was going to run things burst into a destructive, open conflict. Fortunately for both sides, wise men in the Old Country finally realized that working with these brash “upstarts” would be far more advantageous than fighting them. The GOP gang wearing the two-toned shoes and brass-buttoned blazers need to take note. Make peace and work together if you want to start winning elections.

  • Purists who will support only the candidate who represents their views perfectly. This is a tough nut to crack – especially when factions in the party think they are so “right” that they would rather lose an election than vote for a nominee from their party who doesn’t fully share their views. This is a “suicide pact.” How can it be an advantage to let the other party’s nominee be elected, when you know he/she will do absolutely nothing to advance the issues you care about? It is insane. Yet both “moderate” and “conservative” factions of the GOP seem willing to wreck their party’s chances by refusing to support a nominee who isn’t perfectly aligned with their views. Politics is the “art of the possible.” It is essentially a business-transaction in which everyone gets some of what he wants. Unless you’re with the mafia, you don’t come to a negotiation expecting to get all of the money without delivering the goods – or the other way round. Politics can never be all or nothing – at least, it shouldn’t be. Some of the GOP’s 2016 candidates wouldn’t be my preference, but I’ll support any who becomes our nominee because a win by either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton is unthinkable. I might have to hold my nose, but I’ll vote for our guy because staying home would help the other side. We need to learn what Democrats already know: if you don’t win, you can do nothing. There’s no prize for second place.

  • Low-information voters who don’t bother voting because “they’re all crooks.” OK, let’s stipulate that nobody is perfect. We know this, both experientially and theologically. We’ve seen plenty of political corruption, first-hand, and many of us have some religious background that lets us understand our essential sinfulness. But this is the government-model we have. Imperfect people are our only tools. We’re imperfect, too, but to do our duty as Americans each of us needs to use his best judgment about who can best help the country. Excusing ourselves from that duty because the candidates are imperfect is a cop-out. We’re better than this.

  • “Religionists” who believe they should stay above politics and concentrate on spiritual matters. I’m a religious guy, so I know something about this. In fact, I know some of these people, personally. In Christian circles we say they are “so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthly good.” I believe it’s actually a form of laziness. Various derivatives of it exist among people of faith. Some of my college classmates didn’t study much, but they prayed earnestly for success on exams and assignments. I wouldn’t claim that this never worked, but the Lord does seem inclined to honor hard work and preparation. The Bible says: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) In the profound venue of self-governance, you could hardly find a better principle.

In this election Americans have an opportunity, by making wise choices, to rescue the country – indeed, the entire world – from incompetence, venality and a witless descent into financial ruin. There’s more that could be said about this, but I’ll conclude by reprising Winston Churchill’s famous words from one of Britain’s darkest, most challenging times:

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour!’"