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Raking Fire on the Stern: The GOP’s Kaleidoscopic Primary Gets Serious

While reading a tale of adventure and combat on the high seas, say a novel by Patrick O’Brian or C.S. Forester, I can recall a vivid description of two ships of the line, engaged in a deadly duel, in which one of the vessels manages to inflict a particularly crushing fusillade on its opponent, described in a phrase both gripping and terrifying: “raking fire on the stern.”

Since all the guns in the ships of the Napoleonic era were on the sides, the stern was particularly vulnerable and the continuous fire brought to bear on it was devastating. Of course, if the attacker was not careful, he might be outmaneuvered and find himself at the mercy of his previously vulnerable opponent.

For reasons not very hard to fathom, thoughts of raking fire and other unpleasant things seem to impinge on my consciousness while considering the Republican presidential primary.   

The GOP contest is getting serious. Amateur night is over. There are basically two contenders, meaning no disrespect to Senator Santorum who has conducted himself honorably while articulating values important to this writer at least. 

However, we also have a contender who, like Napoleon, has been in extended exile for many years, and now has returned to Paris, scratch that, South Carolina and points south, to rally the populace against an opponent he seeks to smear as the embodiment of money-grubbing capitalism who, horrors, does not pay more taxes than the law requires of him. Moreover, that opponent, the capitalist that is, was a successful one who garnered efficiencies, generated growth, multiplied jobs and created value for investors — including pension funds which, gentle reader, you may have some stake in seeing prosper.

It is obvious, but nevertheless important, to note that our latter-day Napoleon does not cite any violations of law or ethics that would anyway impugn the integrity of his target. Still, he generates a lot of smoke to create the impression that something must be wrong, after all, the fellow made a lot of money, right? He has become a stalking horse of Obama and the Democrats.

Of course, this neo-Napoleon also made a lot of money, although a lot less than the target of his demagogic attacks. But just about every dollar he earned, with the exception of a few books he coauthored, was basically built on whatever residual influence, maybe even some insight, he might have in or on our imperial city on the Potomac. What exactly was the value added to the commonwealth by holding hands for various large corporations or playing court historian for the proximate cause of our housing market meltdown — for $1.6 million!

Full disclosure time: In June, on this very website, I opined that “Newt has not yet come to grips with the fact that he is a dead man walking.” I got that one wrong. That comes from living in Washington for ten years, I guess.  In truth, I did not think much of the former Speaker of the House before his most recent tirades against free market actors such as Governor Romney. Here’s a test: of his countless ideas, schemes, programs and other pronouncements, name two of Newt Gingrich’s top ideas which ring your bell. I mean other than his shot at GOP House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) for social engineering. 

In retrospect, Ryan’s retort to Gingrich appears to have been prophetic. “With allies like that, who needs the left,” quipped Ryan.

Newt has certainly risen from the dead, but what we have now is a fellow who is willing to destroy the most crucial argument for removing President Obama and his congressional caucus from power and subvert the fundamental premise of the party of Lincoln: the need to restore primacy to the free market and civil society, without undue burdens of taxation and regulation, which is essential for liberty to prevail in the land of the free.

Even if Newt Gingrich wins the primary, he will certainly lose in November, not just because of historically low approval ratings, but because he has undermined the very rationale for Republican governance.

I live in Virginia where Gingrich did not make it on the ballot, which will relieve me of the temptation to cast a purely negative vote. I will, be voting for Mitt Romney. He has succeeded where the former Speaker did not — in the realms of family and commerce.


G. Tracy Mehan, III, served in EPA in the administrations of both Presidents Bush.

This article was previously published in The American Spectator and Spectator.org and is used by permission.


  • David J. Peterson

    I used to live in Massachusetts. Governor Romney followed GOP liberal William Weld, both were pro abortion and promoted the gay agenda. Romney resembles the Chamelion man in Woody Allen’s film ZELIG, “All things to all people.” It is a sad commentary on America that social conservatives feel they must choose between Mitt and the notorious hipocrite Newt Gingrich.

  • Bill Baltar

    This “capitalist” system in which Mitt Romney has “succeeded” is the bane of our existence. The primary building blocks of society, the family and the local community, would continue to deteriorate under a Romney presidency, as big business will still be seen as the source of our jobs (and one of Planned Parenthood’s primary sources of funds). As Race Mathews implies in the title of his recent book, we want “Jobs of Our Own”, not one of Mitt Romney’s jobs. “Free market”, give me a break! When have we ever had a truly free market?

  • GuitarGramma

    Oh, I hope you will change your mind! Please vote for Rick Santorum. He is a more consistent politician and far more likely to be able to win the presidency than Mitt Romney!

  • Will B. Done

    It is saddening that few of the pundits have done much research on Mr. Gingrich. Much of the criticism dates back 10 to 15 years. Most have capitulated to the relativism of backing a man who worships a “man-diety” in the hopes he is the lesser of two evils. Read of Mr. Gingrich’s conversion over a 10 year period culminating in 2009, and his new life in Christ.
    Look at what God has previously wrought! St. Augustine’s immorality as a young man with a woman and child he sent away! St. Paul’s conversion going on to spread the Good News to the Gentiles. St. Peter’s thrice denial going on to be the Rock of the Church, Jesus’ forgiveness of the adulterous woman telling her to go but not commit these sins anymore. Even the life of the flawed Dr. Martin Luther King and all his accomplishments must be noted.

    Talk about raking fire, our nation and the Catholic Church is under seige! A leader with a fire in his belly and the firepower to lead the PUSH BACK to the constitution and cultural morality is what is needed now. Of course he has sinned, and he has apologized for those sins. Grant him the Christian grace to allow him to grow and move on in his new life.

    A warmed-over liberal self-described as a Republican is not the push back our nation needs now. There is no evidence a “moderate” has ever triumphed and this is no time to speculate. Don’t worry about “independents”. They say they are “fiscally conservative” and “culturally liberal” which simply means they’ll let anyone do whatever they want as long as “the government” (or the rich) pays for it.

    We must address the siege and begin the push back.