One of the reasons the Republican Party enjoys any popularity at all is because it is as comfortable as an old shoe: predictable, safe, conservative, and welcoming of those Americans who believe in old-fashioned values like overt patriotism, nuclear families, faith in God, and American exceptionalism. It is not a party of revolutionaries (the Tea Party is more classically defined as a counter-revolution), boat rockers, non-conformists, renegades, or heretics.
This usually makes choosing a presidential candidate a rather staid affair with polite but pointed scrums among the candidates before the first caucuses and primaries until — inevitably — the inevitable candidate who had been backed by the establishment from the start moves ahead in a stately fashion and coasts to victory. The fact that the winning establishment candidate has almost always run for the presidency previously — the exceptions happening three times in the last 48 years (Goldwater, Ford, Bush #43) — also leads to the conclusion that it is his “turn” and that other candidates must wait in line.
Matt Bai, one of America’s premiere political writers, took a shot at defining the GOP establishment in a recent New York Times Magazine article:
Today’s establishment is really a consortium of separate and overlapping establishments: a governing establishment of those who have served in administrations or in Congress; a political establishment of campaign consultants; a media establishment dominated by Fox News or the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal and a policy establishment at organizations like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
If there is any one power center that connects all of these, though, it’s what you could call the money establishment — the group of senior Republicans, many of whom came to Washington as ideological warriors in the 1980s or early ’90s, who now make their living principally through the business of government. They wield quiet power as corporate lobbyists or regulatory consultants or prolific fund-raisers, or often as all of these at once.
The scenario that has run in past campaigns appears to be on track in 2012. Mitt Romney is getting a head start on the “inevitability” riff in this familiar composition. Despite lukewarm support from the Republican establishment, almost dutifully, those movers, shakers, spenders, bundlers, and thinkers who run the party are laying aside their doubts and have begun the drumbeat in the press about Mitt Romney’s “inevitability.”
They picked a lousy time for it. Two recent national polls show Herman Cain ahead of Romney, while several state polls also show the Georgia businessman beating out the establishment’s reluctant choice. But this doesn’t seem to make a dent in what is nothing short of a media blitz to crown the former Massachusetts governor before any challenger can truly make a game of it.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin points out that there are already 1.98 million Google search results for the term “Romney inevitable.” She also notes:
[T]he notion that any candidate’s win is “inevitable” months before votes are cast is silly. Romney is without a doubt the front-runner with considerable momentum and weak opposition. But lots can happen, and there are dangers from attaining not only front-runner but media-denominated “inevitable” status.
Not exactly “silly” if one looks at the recent history of the GOP nominating process, but certainly Herman Cain and Rick Perry would strenuously disagree. As Rubin writes, Romney could easily stumble as early as Iowa and will have a real fight on his hands in South Carolina. Those early contests could easily wipe the patina of “inevitability” from his campaign posters and see the candidate fighting for his political life in relatively unfriendly states like Florida (1/31/12) and Missouri (2/7/12). Another factor working against the “inevitable” candidate this time out is the elimination of “winner-take-all” primaries. With proportional delegate selection, any candidate who is trailing the front-runner can claim a significant portion of a state’s delegates even by losing.