Whatever the GOP field looks like after the Florida results come in tonight, one thing is certain, the Republican race will continue to be haunted by Two Missing Republicans. One of them, of course, is George W. Bush. H.G. Wells couldn't have invented an invisible man as completely absent from view this GOP primary season as W. The idea that Barack Obama could have wrecked the nation as totally as Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich say he did in just three years is pretty hard for even the worst Obama-phobes to digest. So for all intents and purposes, Romney and Gingrich are running against the eleven years of disaster wreaked by a president who is not only pushing the limits of the Constitution in dealing with terrorists and federal appointments --as his critics allege-- but who also appears to be completely ignoring the twenty-second amendment, which limits a president to two terms. (Obama, of course, is doing just the opposite, pretending that, at least when it comes to fixing the economy, he hasn't served even three years but is just getting started .)
The other Missing Republican in this race is the mythical Candidate of the Base. No, I'm not talking the succession of pretenders who sought to pull the sword from the stone of conservatism and are now gone, having failed to show they are the True Heir (Bachmann, Perry, Cain), nor the two who continue to tug away at it without luck (Gingrich, Santorum). Nor am I talking about Tim Pawlenty or Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie, all of whom would have been credible alternatives to Romney had they run or stayed in.
I mean the Republican who does not appear to exist--and never did. Even as Gingrich drags Michael Reagan, the former president's (once somewhat alienated) son, around Florida with him to prove that he, Newt, is the Anointed One, any fiery tea partier who has the intellectual energy to actually take a close look at both Gingrich's //and// Reagan's record will find that both of them were mostly failed conservatives. As my colleagues Naureen Khan and Julia Edwards show today, a Gingrich presidency would probably be further evidence of what a Big Government guy Newt really is. As for Reagan, well, here we go again. It's not just that we have to deep-six the once-famous revelations made by David Stockman. It's also that, although there has been a heated dispute in recent weeks over a chart released by Nancy Pelosi's office purporting to show how little Obama has actually added to the debt, one fact is largely undisputed: 'ol Ron added more to the debt than any recent president.
So.... we're talking endlessly about Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. But not about two more significant Republicans who aren't running--the one who's never mentioned, and the one who never really existed, Mr. Reality and Mr. Fantasy.