Breaking news: Republicans have found their long-sought alternative to Mitt Romney.

Surprisingly, it’s Mitt Romney.

Remember the old Mitt Romney? That white-shoe Republican who was all for health care mandates? Who favored reproductive choice and who was no enemy to gay rights — that Mitt Romney?

He’s dead, a casualty of the political wars in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida.

The new Romney is a tough-talking, fire-breathing “severe conservative” who makes Rush Limbaugh look like a liberal wimp. Not only is he now against all those things he used to be for (and vice versa), he celebrated his Florida victory by announcing that he’s “not concerned about the very poor.” That’s no surprise to anyone following his campaign. But it was something of a shock to hear it said right out loud. What’s the matter? Was his hypocrisy machine broken?

To be fair, he also said he wasn’t concerned about the very rich either. They could take care of themselves, he said, resurrecting a philosophy once satirized by Anatole France. The Nobel-winning author wrote of French justice: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.”

(Jason Reed / Reuters)

(Jason Reed / Reuters)

That statement sums up those endless Republican debates.

I’ve watched politicians make fools of themselves for well over 50 years, but I’ve never seen any group of candidates engage in more vicious spats over who more lovingly embraces the muddle-headed ideas of an unthink tank like the Tea Party.

Fire government workers to create more jobs? Oh sure.

Repeal that recent landmark effort to expand access to health care? Coming right up.

Reinvade Iraq? Not a bad idea.

Deny women abortion rights, regardless of the circumstances? Check.

Increase the already bloated military budget? Bulls-eye.

Cut taxes on the very rich, reduce services for the poor, deport undocumented immigrants (and their children and grandchildren), get government out of our businesses and into our bedrooms, starve our public schools, poison our clean water, forget global warming, make our Middle East policy hostage to Israel’s most reactionary forces, put a colony on the moon…

Why not?

Each of those ideas was rolled out at one time or another by at least one leading GOP candidate, and each received respectful attention. The only exception to this enthusiastic support in the debates I watched was when Ron Paul suggested that we stop trying to win the hearts and minds of people by bombing them. That infuriated audiences and drew scornful laughter from his colleagues up on the stage with him.

You know you’re in dangerous political waters when the crazy guy in the boat is the only one who makes sense.

It seems pretty much certain now that Mitt Romney will be the eventual nominee. He all but finished off Gingrich in Florida by inundating the Newtster with an avalanche of negative ads.

Sure, he hit a speed bump in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado (Rick Santorum was the bump), but that doesn’t mean much. Minnesota once elected a professional wrestler as governor, a professional comedian occupies one of its Senate seats, and Rep. Michele Bachmann has won several elections there. Minnesotans like a good joke. Colorado and Missouri? Who knows.

Anyway, the new Mitt Romney and his allies (especially his Restoring Our Future Super PAC) spent an estimated $15.5 million on television ads in Florida, 92 percent of them negative and aimed at Gingrich. Gingrich, on the other hand, only had $3.7 million to spend.

You’d almost feel sorry for Newt, except for the fact that he pioneered the political concept that if you can’t say something nasty about someone, you shouldn’t be running for office.

I find that a grotesque perversion of the democratic process.

You ask why we don’t have better candidates? The Republican primaries provide an eloquent answer: Guys wearing white suits don’t play in sewers.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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