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 to heated some have claimed there is no establish; 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. They 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 appears to be 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 my 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.
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