GOP on the brink, but of what?
Dr. James Joyner, writing at Outside the Beltway, tackles a question which is currently raging in media battles pitting Limbaugh vs. Haley, Coulter vs. Hannity, and brother against brother in Republican households across the nation. The soul of the GOP seems to currently be up for grabs, at least if you listen to the 24 hour gab festivals on cable news networks. Is the party surging toward ever more solid, principled, hard core conservative warriors or melting down into a lukewarm puddle of sticky sweet RINOey goodness? Joyner is responding to a piece by Andrew Sullivan, for reasons never fully explained. First, Sully:
This now is the party of Palin and Gingrich, animated primarily by hatred of elites, angry at the new shape and color of America, befuddled by a suddenly more complicated world, and dedicated primarily to emotion rather than reason. That party is simply not one that can rally behind a Mitt Romney.
If Newt Gingrich wins the Republican nomination–a notion that seemed absurd to anyone not named Newt Gingrich two weeks ago–the trend will have reached its logical conclusion. And the GOP will be where the Democratic Party was during the period from 1968 to 1988, a niche party out of touch with America and unable to win the presidency in anything but the most exceptional circumstances. Obama-Gingrich would likely be a landslide akin to 1984 and 1988.
On the other hand, the odds are still at least 50-50 that Romney rallies to win the nomination. While he’s bland, unexciting, too bashful about his wealth, and plagued a history of inconsistent stances of key political issues, he’s not a self-destructive egomaniac with a history of melting when he gets too close to the sun.
What then? Would it prove that the Republican base is something other than the party of Limbaugh and Levin? That it’s actually interested in nominating sane candidates who can govern? Or would it simply be written off as Romney’s good fortune in having particularly weak opponents?
There are some awfully big assumptions being made here on both sides, none of which I'm entirely comfortable with. But that doesn't mean that there isn't an underlying question which could give many of us pause. The major problem we encounter in tackling it is that the debate hinges on two separate pairs of possibilities as well as the dead end one always reaches when arguing hypothetical queries which can only be answered in alternate universes.
First there is the question not of who the GOP should nominate for president, but what? We are asked to accept the media driven premise that we face a choice between two devils we know... the Mitt and the Not-Mitt. The default assumption is that Romney is the squishy, wavering, and much more to the point, centrist cum moderate, northeastern Republican. Facing off with him in the arena is the red meat, fire breathing, budget cutting, gun toting, war mongering, unborn baby defending, tax slashing, Alinsky slaying, never apologizing for America, dyed in the wool conservative. In today's freeze frame of the 2012 primary battle we are reliably assured that this is Newt Gingrich.
After only a moment's examination of those descriptions, you are not to be blamed if an uncomfortable scratching sensation is noted under your eyelids. At least one of these names doesn't seem to entirely fill the bill. Personally I could take issue with both, but for the purposes of addressing Dr. Joyner's question, let us strap on our blinders and accept the definitions given.
The second half of the equation requires a time machine, since we need to know what happens in this November's election when the eventual nominee faces off with Barack Obama at the ballot box. And more to the point - depending on the outcome - where does the GOP go from there?
In the first scenario, let's assume that the Republican candidate succeeds in ousting Obama from office. If that person happens to be Mitt Romney, it might be nice to conclude that Americans - at least the Conservative and right leaning independent segment - are satisfied with a centrist course and the concept of "working together in peace" to get things done. But if it's Newt, we might draw the conclusion that what Real Americans want is an uncompromising warrior promoting God, guns and greasy, deep fried foods who will step away from the inaugural ball to dispatch John Bolton off to Tehran to punch Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the nose just because he doesn't like that look on his face.
And if Obama wins? Then the opposite scenario could be inferred, indicating the need to swing either further right or more toward the center, depending upon which name winds up on the ballot. But this is where the "what happens next" question falls apart. Even if you get what you want there will always be others who will exclaim, "Yes, but it could have been even BETTER if..." And if you lose, the naysayers will claim, "We told you so. If you'd done what we said we could have..."
It's the same as the never ending argument over the stimulus. Democrats claim that things may be bad, but had we not done it things would have been worse. Republicans counter that had we not done it, the markets would have found their own bottom and we'd be well on our way to full recovery. But lacking a laboratory with a nifty jalopy crafted by H.G. Wells, we can't test the premise to see who is right.
The same applies to the upcoming questions over the scenarios outlined above as to the selection of the Republican nominee. But are either of these the most likely outcome in terms of the future of the heart and soul of the GOP?
Doubtful, at least from where I stand. If Romney wins, a suitable amount of calm will likely fall across the base at large, mostly in relief from the fear of a second Obama term. But I imagine there would still be a sense that we simply "got lucky" and the carping will begin as soon as Mitt does something which doesn't strike the faithful as being suitably confrontational with the remaining Democrats in Congress. He'll be supported for a second term, but the temperature in the pool will be tepid at best.
And if it's Newt? Well... the purge prior to 2006 will look like a picnic and the RINOs and moderates will once again be pushed the brink of extinction. (That, you may recall, was when the New York Republican delegation dropped to precisely two out of 31 seats.) But it will be dramatic and emotional and the sounding of the Horns of Ragnarok will echo gloriously across the land. Unfortunately, the GOP share of seats in Congress will tail off the way they did six years ago. This isn't gloom and doom prognostication... it's just history.
But what if Obama wins? Just take the two previous scenarios and reverse them. Either way, nothing is settled in the battle for ideological control of the party. Why? Because the real fight actually has very little to do with who wins the contest against the Democrats, and everything to do with who wins the ongoing civil war in the Republican Party. But much like a debate, this isn't a game where you actually get to cut out the still beating heart of your enemy and pin their scalp to your wall. The enemy keeps coming back, again and again. It simply doesn't end, and the results of the 2012 elections aren't going to change that, no matter who gets sworn in next January.