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.

What about Jon Huntsman, you ask? Don’t. The former Obama ambassador to China’s deer in headlights debate performance along with his rather curious ideas about making the Democrats’ case for them against the other Republican candidates have many in the establishment tip-toeing away, hoping nobody noticed their boosterism for a guy who makes Bob Dole look exciting.

Is there hope for a new establishment candidate to make an entrance into the race when we’re barely five months out from the start of the nominating process? Pollster Nate Silver thinks so:

One seismic factor affecting Republicans’ decision is that Barack Obama is now exceptionally vulnerable for an incumbent president. If you’re a Republican and you think you can become president, that’s doubly important for you; not only does it mean that those aspirations are more likely to be fulfilled this time around, it also means that they’re less likely to be realized in 2016 or 2020 because there’s now more chance that some other Republican will already occupy the Oval Office by then.

So real estate in the Republican primary field has become more valuable. And, despite Mr. Perry’s entry, there’s still some available for the taking. Not much of it is prime real estate, but like the nooks and crannies of Manhattan, it may still be in demand.


Silver thinks most of the “real estate” is of the center-right variety. Three candidates have been prominently mentioned and would almost certainly meet with the establishment’s approval to one degree or another: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former New York Governor George Pataki, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Unfortunately for the Ralph Lauren set, both Christie and Pataki have declared themselves out of the race, while Guiliani is still mulling things over. Besides, even if they changed their minds, the challenges facing each of them would be immense.

Each candidate would be starting from scratch with no organization, little money, and not much chance of catching fire in Iowa. For Giuliani and Pataki, their abortion rights position would be difficult for conservative voters to ignore. Christie has his own problems with the right with his denigration of their positions on global warming and teaching evolution in schools, as well as problematic stances on gun control and Muslim coddling.

Christie has said he would rather commit suicide than run, and Pataki  has now officially declined to enter the race. Giuliani’s plans are unknown. Some suspect he is maintaining his name on the active list in order to keep his speaking fees high. His personal baggage is almost as bad as Gingrich, his gay rights stand actually angers social conservatives, and it’s not clear where he can differentiate himself from any other Republican on budget and fiscal issues.


George Pataki might have been the establishment favorite of the latecomers. He might be considered  a poor man’s Mitch Daniels. Not as policy oriented or wonkish as the Indiana governor, Pataki nevertheless offered some intellectual heft not seen in some other GOP candidates. He is a thoughtful man, prudent in his public pronouncements, and has an enviable track record of accomplishment in a very Democratic state. For the establishment, what’s not to like?

Well, a dead fish would give him a run for his money in a personality contest for one. And his oratory has been recommended by doctors as a sleep aid. Other than that, the establishment had to ask itself if the ghost of Tim Pawlenty is someone they seriously wanted to back.

So while there may be room for more candidates in the GOP field (Sarah Palin may eventually stop her “Dance of the Coquettes” and declare one way or another), the bad news for the establishment is that there is no one on the horizon who could fill their aching hearts and heal the breach in their souls as they survey the 2012 Republican field.

They are stuck with dopes, jokes, and frauds and they better get used to it.

Also read: All signs point to a Palin run.


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