The Travails of the GOP Establishment

George Will recently said that there is "no GOP establishment," and that there hasn't been one for a long time. Will said on ABC's online "Green Room" segment, "In 1966 its house organ -- the Republican establishment’s -- the New York Herald-Tribune died. The establishment itself died two years earlier in Cow Palace in San Francisco with the nomination of Barry Goldwater.”

Will has fallen out of favor on the right wing because...well, just because. Because he's from D.C.; because he criticizes Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and other GOP insurgents; because he refuses to acknowledge the inherent wisdom of the Tea Party in Republican politics; because he is a civilized, witty, urbane, educated, well-read, bow-tie-wearing public intellectual and Washington insider.

Any one of those crimes against the right wing would be enough to sentence Will to the outer darkness -- a RINO hell where all compromisers, unbelievers, and Chicago Cubs fans eventually end up. And Tea Party Perdition is getting awfully crowded with Reagan-era conservatives like Will -- the "extremists" of their day. It's not that they've moderated their philosophy. It's that these apostates don't possess the uncompromising fervor of righteous certainty in their views and pedal-to-the-metal hate for their political opponents that grips a large segment of the right.

No matter. Will is dead wrong anyway. Of course there's a GOP establishment and he's Exhibit A. The existence of the Republican Party as a political entity demands there be some kind of establishment from which leaders are chosen, favors dispensed, and conduits created so that ideas can be channeled into the most productive venues and nurtured and incorporated. And the nature of political society demands that there be a conservative establishment also for much the same reasons. Whether one listens to or obeys establishment figures is another story, but whether you wish to marginalize them or ignore them, you can't destroy them. Knock one off, another will take their place. The establishment is dead. Long live the establishment.

The establishment doesn't refer to Obama as a "Communist" (although they may refer to his "socialist policies"), nor do they make reference to Obama as a "dictator." What mostly defines an establishment member these days is the level of disdain exhibited toward Tea Partiers, the evangelical right, and the anti-science Luddites and anti-intellectual galoots who make up a sizable minority of the GOP base and who threaten to determine who will face Barack Obama in 2012.

The prospect of denim-wearing, dirty-fingernail, rank-and-file activists actually having an impact on the nominating process for the GOP presidential candidate has the establishment wringing their hands and scrambling to find another candidate more in line with their idea of governance. Take their money? Sure. Direct their energies into volunteer efforts for candidates? Absolutely.

But let them decide who should represent them as a candidate for president? Perish the thought.

Politics will have its way with them. If they nominate someone unacceptable to the establishment but  who wins anyway, their wisdom will have been proven correct and their influence will grow. On the other hand, if a Tea Party-supported candidate gets clobbered, they will be taken down a few pegs and, as happened in 1968 following the Goldwater drubbing, a more establishment-oriented candidate will probably emerge next time around. In politics, nothing succeeds like success and the push-pull between Tea Party and establishment will work its way out at the ballot box.

This doesn't solve the establishment's current dilemma. While the Tea Partiers see Mitt Romney as the darling of the establishment, the button-down set isn't sold on him. They might like the cut of the former Massachusetts governor's jib but he changes his top sail too often and his spinnaker is often left flapping to port.

As for the other frontrunners, Politico's Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith write, "The problem, in shorthand: To many conservative elites, Rick Perry is a dope, Michele Bachmann is a joke and Mitt Romney is a fraud." Hopes were first dashed when Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels declined to enter the race, and then salt was poured on that wound when Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan refused to answer the call.