Byline: Paul Begala
By tacking ever further to the right, Republicans are blowing their best hope of beating Obama.
Despite president Obama's rising poll numbers, the tough economy suggests that the 2012 Republican nominee should be an even-money bet to be the next president. Why, then, the paucity of talent seeking the nomination? Why is the roster of Republicans who took a pass so much more impressive than the list of those who took the plunge? This is not just the usual grass-is-greener humbug. Yes, each candidate is outstanding in his or her own way. But that's like saying each Supreme Court justice is sexy in his or her own way.
My suspicion is, the reason the cream of the GOP crop is sitting out 2012 is not because they're worried they can't beat Obama straight up. It's because they're worried that their base is so crazy they'll be dragged so far to the right in the primaries that Obama will capture the center in the general election and make it impossible for them to win.
The story of the Republican Party in the last half century is a nearly unbroken march to the right. Nixon was more conservative than Eisenhower. Goldwater was more conservative than Nixon. Reagan was more conservative than Goldwater. Gingrich was more conservative than Reagan. And George W. Bush was more conservative than Newt.
Today's GOP? Heck, there is nothing--nothing--that's too conservative for them. Don't just analyze whether government regulations confer benefits that outweigh their costs; stop all federal regulations. That's what Texas Gov. Rick Perry has proposed. All of them--like those that protect the air we breathe or the water we drink or the toys our children play with or the nursing homes our grandmothers live in. Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out.
Don't just reassess whether the new rules of the road for Wall Street are working; repeal them, all of them, right now. That's what Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich propose. Don't just pledge to outlaw a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion; push to ban all funding for contraception because, as Sen. Rick Santorum says, "It's not OK. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how …