Douthat has penned a column that is downright charming in its futility. His is a kind of charge of the light-headed brigade, a foray into the GOP presidential primary melee in which he endorses the view that not just two factions--the establishmentarians and the tea partiers--will be on bloodied display, but four--centrists, the moderately conservative, the socially conservative, and the very, though more secular, conservative.
I suspect that Douthat has cheerfully doubled his party's factions only to give the appearance of complexity and nuance to a party that long ago flatlined into undifferentiated madness; nonetheless, such is Douthat's working thesis, and from it he heaves forward (sort of) to the amusing speculation that none other than ... Marco Rubio! will "win" the dubious prize of losing the general election.
And that, right there, is what's so charming about Douthat's column: he uses words like "win" and "victory" to sketch a primary contest that's going absolutely nowhere, excepting mammoth humiliation and lop-sided defeat. He analyzes, he adds and subtracts, he contrasts and compares, he wargames the multiple candidates and their sundry factions in their pursuit of that holiest of political grails--yet he utterly neglects the epic reality that the grail is altogether unattainable. He's Gen. Rundstedt mapping the Battle of the Bulge; he's Errol Flynn biting the Crimean dust.
You want pathetic? I'll give you pathetic, or rather Ross does: "[W]ith Christie weakened, there are suddenly almost as many paths as there are plausible candidates. The New Jersey governor could still follow McCain’s 2008 path to victory, but...." McCain's path to what? Yes of course, the booby prize--a doomed nomination.
And there's this: "Then there’s the potential Ted Cruz coalition, which could look like Reagan redux: secular conservatives plus religious conservatives to start, and then just enough moderate conservatives to win." Again with the "win" word--and a Cruzian "Reagan redux" to boot, which may be a stiffening thought in Douthat's conservative fantasy, but back to the real world ...
... in which the GOP nomination will mean nothing, nothing at all, except the tenebrous honor of a really nasty defeat.