Pundits Have a 'Messiah' Complex with the GOP

It's the favorite way to talk about the Republican fantasies of a perfect 2012 nominee

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The cliché: Tuesday morning, Ian Millhiser at Think Progress wrote, "Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) was supposed to be the Tea Party’s messiah," but after he took too many liberal positions, "leading conservatives spent most of yesterday proclaiming their new savior: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Before the GOP anoints Christie as their new Chosen One, however, they might want to take a moment to consider..." That afternoon, Dave Weigel at Slate titled a post, "Christie Our Savior: Why this week's Republican messiah is no better than last week's." Hours later, Michael Tomasky's Daily Beast column went online with the headline, "Christie's no messiah." All of these writers aptly note that Republicans have been jumping from undeclared dream candidate to candidate for much of this campaign season. But they've packaged it with some subtle mocking as a futile search for the Messiah.

Where it's from: It echoes the McCain campaign's criticism that Obama fancied himself a messiah. (The argument was that he took himself too seriously and that people like Oprah were calling him "the one.") Messiah is, by the way, from the Greek/Hebrew for "anointed one" referring to the prophesied savior of the Jewish people (For Christians: that's Jesus. For Jews: TBD.) It was a nickname that has stuck throughout Obama's presidency. Before Obama's candidacy though, the left was already derisively referring to President Reagan as the Republican messiah. There's been a lot of (dare-we-say-Messianic) invoking of Reagan during this GOP campaign so while the "search for a Republican messiah" bit is most immediately a reference to the Obama-as-Messiah narrative of '08, it could also be a quick hat-tip to the Gipper.

Why it's catching on: The convention of telling Republicans not to wait for the Messiah seems to stretch back to an era before Republicans were even terribly disastisfied with their candidates. On January 11, as the media recovered from the 2010 midterm elections and started to prep for 2012, National Journal's Amy Walter wrote, "Sure, having a messiah appear and begin converting voters would be great, but the hard reality is this: For the GOP to succeed in '10 and '12, it needs President Obama to fail." Her commentary sounds a whole lot like the numerous articles we read this week, just backdated nine months. The narrative gained strength of course as Republicans fulfilled Walter's prophecy that they would be satisfied with nothing less than perfection by repeatedly setting their hearts on a candidate before tossing him or her aside.

Why else? Religious matters have been on display quite a bit in this week's political coverage. The New York Times ran a column claiming that right-wing Republican candidates might get a boost from voters who worry that the end is nigh, and yesterday, a heckler outright called Obama the anti-Christ. So with all this outright serious consideration of Jesus's presence in the world being tossed about, politics has been pretty Biblical of late. Also, we'll say it: Christopher Christie might have the most Christ-y name of any candidate ever.

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