It appears that we can finally say that the race for the Republican presidential nominee is over (all but over, anyway) and that congratulations to Mitt Romney are in order. (Update: Drop the “but.” Rick Santorum just announced he’s dropping out.) As I look over the past year, I find myself thinking that we’ve been watching a modern rendition of The Great Gatsby.
In this version, Romney plays Tom Buchanan, Rick Santorum is Gatsby, and Daisy is the Republican voter.
Tom has every reason to be cocky. He is tall and square jawed, he has boatloads of money and a sense of entitlement that is a mile wide, and he’s married to Daisy—which is to say, he has been seen as the inevitable candidate ever since last summer when Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry crashed and burned. To be sure, Daisy hasn’t married Tom yet in our version. But people have been announcing their nuptials at least since December. So let’s say they’re effectively married.
Only then Gatsby comes along.
I’ll admit that there are many ways in which Santorum is no Gatsby. We could start by mentioning Gatsby’s extravagant parties and his money and his charisma. And whereas Gatsby has scores of beautiful shirts (which so captivate Daisy), Santorum has sweater vests.
But Santorum does have some of Gatsby’s earnestness and some of his idealism. He even has a bit of his sordid past. Not with the mob but in the way he opened his Senate office to lobbyists.
Anyway, for a little while it looked like he could have a crazy love affair with the woman of his dreams. Tom Romney may have status but Jay Santorum has energy. Like Gatsby, Santorum comes across as a wannabe who never quite belongs. Some of his fury at Romney appears to come from class envy, which gets bound up with resentment. That’s why he, and many who have voted for him, loathe Romney.
But in retrospect, Jay Santorum never had a chance at Daisy. Sure, she was willing to have a fling with him. She was willing to drive fast and wrecklessly for a while, managing to run down the middle of the road voter (hapless Myrtle Wilson) in the process.
In the end, however, Tom’s money prevails (Romney has outspent Santorum 10-1 in some states). All he has to do is drop a hint and someone else does the dirty work. In the book, Tom tells George Wilson that Gatsby was driving the car that killed Myrtle and Wilson shoots him. In Romney’s case, maybe he drops a hint to a SuperPac and they finish Santorum off. Although actually they are perfectly capable of doing the dirty work without a hint (which would be illegal anyway).
So now we have narrator Nick Carraway delivering Gatsby’s eulogy, even though Gatsby insists he isn’t dead yet. Nick looks at poor, pathetic Santorum and sees him as a great man in that he had great dreams. But as is the fate of America, the faster he ran after it, the more quickly the dream receded. West Egg and the Republican establishment have won yet again.
Such is politics. Such is life.