The GOP Establishment candidate is…?
That’s a question that has divided Republicans during this primary season, with charges meeting levied counter-charges, allegations meeting recriminations. Whatever an Establishment Republican is, during the Tea Party’s first primary no one wants to claim the mantle. The denials have become so heated some have claimed there is no establishment; it’s all a fevered dream of talk show hosts and demagogues. Unfortunately, the establishment is real, active, and suicidal, willing to throw the next presidential election in order to maintain control of “its” party.
George Will likened the existence of the party establishment to the Loch Ness Monster. Michael Barone, the walking encyclopedia of on-the-ground politics whose own views are neoconservative, agreed, offering some pretty unusual criteria by which to measure its demise:
My understanding is that “the Republican establishment” was a term coined to refer to the mostly New York, WASPy types — lawyers, journalists — who swung the Republican presidential nominations to Wendell Willkie in 1940, Thomas Dewey in 1944 and 1948, and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.
They were fiercely internationalist on foreign policy and willing to accommodate the New Dealers and unions, somewhat, on domestic policy.
It’s been a long time since people like this made decisions for the Republican Party. I think it’s hugely anachronistic to refer to “the Republican establishment” any more.
By Barone’s standards, the mark of the establishment is an internationalist foreign policy and willingness to accept the New Deal. The last Republican president sent us nation-building in two Muslim countries, had the United States rejoin UNESCO, and created the largest new entitlement in decades. Have Republican presidential candidates committed to withdrawing our troops from “West” Germany? Has a single elected Republican president reversed the Great Society, much less the New Deal?
There’s a reason every GOP ticket for 20 years had a Bush or a Dole on it. (And then we got McCain.) Yes, Virginia, there is a Republican establishment, and it’s increasingly out of touch, not just with America, but with its own membership.
The good news is, unlike years past, picking an Establishment candidate was not obvious. Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour chose not to run. The elite shifted gamely to Tim Pawlenty, the candidate who “had it all,” only to see him drop out of the race before anyone realized he had dropped in.
Mitt Romney is not their first choice. They do not really believe he can pull it off — not because he is insincere, but because he looks insincere. They value deception, not insincerity.
Newt Gingrich gives them pause. In conservative media, they pretend it is because his record is not reliably conservative — which it is not. His real liability from their perspective is that he is is a creative thinker who has shown no signs of self-censorship. And after a conversion to Catholicism, he seems to have thrown in his lot with the hicks in flyover country. He invokes America’s religious heritage, and no one has so lambasted the judiciary since George Wallace. (Newt will not appreciate the comparison, but it is historically accurate.) He has creative solutions — many of them not to my liking — to problems the establishment would prefer remain unfixed. There is no room for an intellectual when the country clubbers want to appoint a company man.
Two candidates absolutely frighten the GOP Establishment: Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul. Whenever their names are uttered, they invariably precede the words “can’t win.” Michele Bachmann “can’t win,” although she won the only 2012 primary election held to date in Iowa. Ron Paul “can’t win,” although he appears poised to win the next one. “They can’t win” means, “We don’t want them to win.”
In fact, two GOP strategists, Ford O’Connell and Matt Mackowiak, wrote an article for Thursday’s Daily Caller entitled, “Ron Paul Can’t Be Allowed to Win Iowa.” (Allowed?) In a none-too-veiled threat to Iowa’s GOP voters, they write, “Helping Paul win a victory in Iowa will not only be a wasted vote, but it will likely challenge the party’s wisdom of permitting the Hawkeye State to hold the first nominating contest in the future.” Not to be outdone, National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote, “Iowa caucus-goers are protective of their preeminent place in the nominating process. If they deliver victory to a history-making Ron Paul, no one should take them as seriously again.”
Translation: give us an insider at all costs, or else.
Like clockwork, enter Jeb Bush. On Monday, Jeb wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Capitalism and the Right to Rise,” blasting various unnamed politicians for curtailing economic freedom:
The right to rise does not require a libertarian utopia to exist. Rather, it requires fewer, simpler and more outcome-oriented rules. Rules for which an honest cost-benefit analysis is done before their imposition. Rules that sunset so they can be eliminated or adjusted as conditions change. Rules that have disputes resolved faster and less expensively through arbitration than litigation.
The Democrats went too far, he seems to write; we need to go just-a-little-bit less-far, to provide “an echo, not a choice.” That’s the winning formula that propelled Presidents Landon, Willkie, Dewey, Ford, Dole, and McCain into the White House.
David Catron wrote an embarrsingly supplicatory article in The American Spectator begging Jeb Bush to “suffer himself to be lowered onto the political stage in order to resolve the ridiculous plot dilemma the Republicans have written for themselves.” After all, he has “name recognition.”
That he does. Barack Obama could scarcely hope for more than to face the brother of the man who, in his cadences, “drove this country into a ditch.”
Some Republicans counter another Bush is exactly what we need. After all, Jeb would remind people how the George W. Bush administration was much better than people remember: unemployment was lower than it is now, the deficit tiny by comparison, and gas prices averaged less than they do today. This is largely the same argument the GOP establishment made in nominating George W. Bush in 2000. “Clinton fatigue” has set it, its wise men said; people are longing for the days when the only lie a politician told was, “Read my lips, no new taxes.”
And so it goes. The GOP establishment destroys the Republican brand by nominating or electing a kinder, gentler version of the Democrats; that president ensures the election of a far-Left Democrat for four or eight years; then the Establishment clamors to remind the nation how its socialism isn’t as bad as the Democrats‘ socialism.
Pardon me if I refrain.
There is cause for hope, however distant or uncertain. This is the first primary since the rise of the Tea Party. Candidates the Establishment would have foisted on the party with ease in the past can get no traction today, and those who do will feel compelled to pay lip service to small government principles. If Mitt Romney wins the nomination, he will have to name a vice president as conservative as Sarah Palin to secure his own base.
And it probably won’t work. A recent poll conducted by ConservativeHQ.com found more than one-third of conservatives will not vote for a liberal Republican, “even if my candidate of choice were to get the VP nomination.”
If one of the more conservative candidates — especially Bachmann or Paul — should become the nominee, RINOs will do everything they can to sabotage the candidacy, up to and including supporting a third party candidate. (Look for Jon Huntsman to take the Americans Elect party line with the support of No Labels.) They openly declared war on Barry Goldwater in 1964, and liberal Republican John Anderson ran a third party campaign against Ronald Reagan in 1980. The Beltway brahmins prefer four more years of Obama’s misrule over the country than four years of outsiders ruling “their” party.
Barack Obama has cratered this country so badly, any Republican in the race, including Huntsman, could beat him. That’s all the more reason not to abandon conservatives in the primaries now.
And as my friend Leslie Carbone has said, “Read my lips: no new Bushes.”
– from Ben Johnson at The White House Watch.