Imagine a successful two-term Republican governor with a credible small government record, a demonstrated commitment to civil liberties, skepticism about foreign wars, a longstanding determination to right America's fiscal ship, evidence of competent management skills in the public and private sectors, and an utter lack of ugly populist rhetoric during the whole of his substantial time in public life. You'd think he'd be a God send for tea partiers and civil libertarians, a possibility to win the GOP nomination in 2012, and an appealing alternative for those of us who think that given a sane alternative Barack Obama doesn't deserve another term.
That attractive, reality-based Republican exists! His name is Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico.
He goes on to say that Johnson has an uphill battle with regard to name recognition and fund raising. But the elephant in the room (if you'll pardon the expression) that Friedersdorf neglects to mention is that Johnson is an outspoken drug war skeptic. And I think that puts him out of the running as firmly as Mitt Romney's Mormonism and Rudy Giuliani's cross-dressing.
The American right today is not a political movement, it is a cultural one, and one that is still fighting the culture war of the 1960's. It isn't that most Republicans actually believe marijuana is harmful (too many of them have smoked it themselves, and know better) or that they actually think the war on drugs is good policy (because no reasonably intelligent person still believes this, and I don't think most Republicans are actually stupid). It's the counter-culture that drugs (and marijuana in particular) are emblematic of.
For the establishment right, it isn't about good policy, it's about sticking it to "the elites", "the intellectuals" and yes, to "the hippies". Understand that, and you understand why the the GOP looks so completely, utterly bonkers these days.