If anything makes me feel warmer and fuzzier about the GOP presidential field for 2012 than Sarah Palin, it's when they seriously discuss Haley Barbour, the Mississippi governor, as Fox News has in naming him one of their "12 for 2012" likely presidential candidates.
Yesterday, Bret Baier hosted a segment featuring Barbour. It included this brief and hilariously whitewashed discussion of Barbour's years as a lobbyist and Republican political kingpin:
In the 60s Barbour worked on President Nixon's campaign. In the 80s he was President Reagan's director of politic affairs. In the 90, he served two terms as chairman of the RNC. He joined the ranks of the Washington animal, the K Street lobbyists.
LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: He was one of the premiere lobbyists of Washington, D.C.
BAIER: Larry Sabato says that could hurt Barbour if he were to run.
SABATO: Given the American public's view of lobbyists, it's difficult to imagine he would be elected with that qualification.
BARBOUR: "Washington insider" to some people means corrupt or bad. For other people it means knows how to get things done, can get the ball in the end zone.
Actually, that's not the half of it: Barbour's tenure as RNC chief was made particularly memorable by the incident in which he propped up the RNC by borrowing millions from a Chinese businessman -- and then welshing on the loan:
Twice in two years Hong Kong businessman Ambrous Tung Young bailed out the party at crucial moments: first freeing up as much as $2 million in the final days before the G.O.P.'s 1994 sweep of Congress; then eating $500,000 in bad debts, rescuing Republicans in the last weeks of the 1996 contest. The conduit for the money was a U.S. firm with little income and few assets, but quietly backed by an aviation-services and real estate-investment company controlled by Hong Kong and Taiwanese businessmen. The money passed through a Republican think tank that granted big donors more influence over party policy in return for more money. For Young, the arrangement also opened diplomatic doors. In Washington, Young met face to face with the lions of the G.O.P. just as they were taking over Congress. In Beijing a year later, he escorted G.O.P. chairman Haley Barbour in a meeting with Qian Qichen, Foreign Minister for the People's Republic of China.
How a Chinese businessman came to prop up the G.O.P. is a story that began in 1993, right after Bill Clinton's election. Barbour had just taken over as G.O.P. chairman and created a think tank to generate new ideas. He called his group the National Policy Forum, and although its operations were two blocks and a few legal documents removed from Republican headquarters, it was just an extension of the party. Barbour was chairman of the forum; G.O.P. officials set its $4 million annual budget and coordinated fund raising. The forum circulated 600,000 questionnaires to identify the hot-button issues that were later assembled into the Contract with America.
The forum had a hidden purpose: to tap into a new stream of cash from corporations. G.O.P. fund raisers discovered in 1992 that there was only so much soft money available; most donors had given all the money they could to campaigns. But because corporations set aside other tax-deductible money for research, Barbour's idea was to create a nonprofit think tank that could attract that cash.
Instead the think tank started to cost the party money. Corporate America turned out not to be very interested in the forum, so by the summer of 1994 it was heavily in debt, largely to the R.N.C., which had loaned the forum several million dollars to get started. With the pivotal midterm elections bearing down, the party needed money to attract voters to the polls with a burst of TV ads.
... But by mid-1996 the forum was strapped again. The last thing the party wanted that summer was to bail out a think tank just when the campaigns for Congress were heating up. So Barbour decided that the forum would simply stop repaying the Signet loan. He tried instead to get Young Bros. to foot the bill. Through its lawyers, the company refused.
And then Signet called in the loan. At first Barbour refused to pay the $1 million balance due. When the Youngs' lawyers threatened a lawsuit, the forum paid up $500,000, but that still left an angry Young with a $500,000 loss--sparing the R.N.C. from having to dip into campaign finds to pay off the rest of the debt.
Barbour told TIME last week that the guarantee and settlement were "perfectly legal and totally appropriate."
It's kind of funny, actually, how Barbour has managed to resurrect his career from the wreckage of that fiasco. But let's not forget how he managed to do that: by openly consorting with white supremacist organizations and promoting the Confederate flag, then winking and nudging when finally called on it.
Why, he sounds like just the ticket. I would especially look forward to the visuals of the corpulent, corrupt Barbour with his Mississippi drawl running against Barack Obama.
If only we could be so lucky.