It’s been over a week since Eric Cantor got thumped in the Virginia GOP primary. In the time since, I’ve read pieces from dozens of pundits. They typically run along one of two themes:
- The Tea Party is killing any chance of Republicans returning to national power.
- Conservatism is at war with itself.
This is because the establishment GOP – who have taken to calling themselves “Movement Conservatives” or “Reform Conservatives” (the conservative part of the label is questionable, at the very least) – cannot imagine a political party that exists without the benefit of their favorite cronyist pals; Big Finance, Big Oil and military contractors. And they very much would like to pry away Big Tech from the Democrats. The idea of “their” party – which has been bought and paid for by those interests for two decades now – returning to the coalition built by Goldwater and Reagan and actually putting those ideals into action scares the living snot out of them.
That palpable fear was perfectly expressed by Greg Sargent:
“Almost all the internal preoccupations of the Republican Party — in primary battles, intra-movement arguments, conservative media tropes — have nothing to do with the party’s main external challenges: appealing to young people, to the middle class, to the working class and to rising demographic groups.”
For some reason, this argument is the establishment’s favorite: that a principled, conservative approach to governance can’t attract voters. The idea that those under 30, those in the middle class (or aspiring to the middle class) and legal immigrants can’t find common ground with a party that actually works towards reducing the size and scope of an overreaching government, or a party that actively works to strengthen national security is absurd on the face of it.
Don’t let anyone fool you. The GOP establishment, or movement wing, or reform wing, or whatever other hair-brained name they decide to call themselves, is not conservative. Oh, they all talk a great game about reducing the size of government, getting our debt and deficit under control, blah, blah, blah. But let’s not forget it was the Republican Party of GWB that shredded the Constitution by passing the Patriot Act, that exploded the size of the federal government by creating the Department of Homeland Security, that passed No Child Left Behind, that first proposed TARP. It was establishment figures like John McCain, Lindsay Graham and John Boehner (and yes, Eric Cantor) who first proposed legislation that would legalize criminal border crossings, and establishment, “conservative” pundits from Ann Coulter to David Brooks who told us Mitt Romney was just a s conservative as, well, Ronald Reagan. Somehow, the fact that Romney had introduced a socialist medical care system in Massachusetts* didn’t matter. For all of the evils Barack Obama has visited on American liberty, he couldn’t have implemented them as quickly and with as little backlash as he has without the Republican Party of 1993-present first laying the groundwork to make it happen.
But having spent 20 years becoming, essentially, the Democrat Party, the party bigwigs are in a tizzy with a true conservative movement afoot. Yes, you read that right: establishment Republicans are no different from establishment Democrats. The only difference is who signs their paychecks. Dems are signed by Big Labor and Big Tech. Republicans are signed by the groups I mentioned above, along with Big Religion. Neither party actually stands for the groups Sargent outlines. The difference between 2012 and 2000 is simply that the Republicans let themselves be played in the last election. How? By running a candidate that exactly fit the narrative Dems created: that conservatives are nothing more than Big Business hacks out to screw the common man.
Yet, here’s the funny thing: the common man knows he’s getting screwed by the government AND Big Business AND Big Labor. And he’s getting tired of it. Doesn’t matter if he’s 18 or 72, black or white, rich or poor – he wakes up every morning knowing that somebody in “authority” is going to do their best to undermine his best efforts. He knows those forces arrayed against the common man are conspiring to make mere survival almost impossible, much less actually getting ahead. Those are the people that voted to turn Eric Cantor out of office.
And those are the same people that voted the last true conservative into the White House. In 1980, the political class – especially the entrenched Republican interests – thought the Reagan Revolution was suicide for the party. But Reagan captured the votes of the young. He got majorities of traditionally Democrat voting blocs, including Big Labor. He won a majority of the Latino vote, the last Republican Presidential candidate to do so. And he did so by campaigning on a platform of conservative values. Unfortunately for the nation, Reagan made one HUGE mistake in 1980 when he accepted George Herbert Walker Bush as his running mate. The establishment had their backdoor into the seat of power. By 1988, Bush was being touted as a conservative, and the label hasn’t meant what it did for Reagan since then.
This, if anything, is the disconnect that the pundits and professional pols haven’t come to realize. The rise of the Tea Parties in 2009 was less about Republican voters who had decided to become activists. I was about conservative voters who were tired of being lied to and taken for granted becoming activists. Conservatives have found their voice. The genie is out of the bottle – and the phony conservatives populating the Republican Party are unhappy.
That’s a good thing.
*BTW, RomneyCare has turned into such a colossal failure the state has asked the feds to take it over.
Well, you knew it was coming, right? Establishment Republicans, as I’ve pointed out before, are determined that Mitt Romney will be the party’s Presidential nominee this November and will brook no compromise on the matter. Since last summer, I fully expected the party would do it’s best to eliminate anyone who dared get in the way of that result. After rising in the polls in early December, Newt Gingrich faced a potent barrage of negative coverage that dropped him to fourth place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Then came the drubbing Gingrich delivered Romney in South Carolina and a 31 point swing in Florida polling, along with the two men virtually tying in national polls.
Cue the extensive establishment machinery. This morning, it seems every Republican-leaning pundit opened up on Gingrich in what seems suspiciously like a coordinated broadside aimed at derailing his campaign. Among the articles that stood out:
Ann Coulter, writing on her blog:
“To talk with Gingrich supporters is to enter a world where words have no meaning. They denounce Mitt Romney as a candidate being pushed on them by “the Establishment” — with “the Establishment” defined as anyone who supports Romney or doesn’t support Newt…
“This is the sort of circular reasoning one normally associates with Democrats, people whom small-town pharmacists refer to as “drug seekers” and Ron Paul supporters.
Romney is the most electable candidate not only because it will be nearly impossible for the media to demonize this self-made Mormon square, devoted to his wife and church, but precisely because he is the most conservative candidate.”
Former Senator and failed Presidential candidate Bob Dole:
“In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year. Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty bucket in his hand — that was a symbol of some sort for him — and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it, and I’m not certain he knew either.”
Rich Lowry, in an article damningly entitled “Gingrich: The Republican Clinton“:
“Newt is the Republican Clinton — shameless, needy, hopelessly egotistical. The two former adversaries and tentative partners have largely the same set of faults and talents. They are self-indulgent, prone to disregard rules inconvenient to them, and consumed by ambition. They are glib, knowledgeable, and imaginative. They are baby boomers who hadn’t fully grown up even when they occupied two of the most powerful offices in the land.”
In a similarly themed article in The American Spectator, Emmett Tyrell’s writing is nearly syllable-for-syllable:
“Newt and Bill are, of course, 1960s generation narcissists, and they share the same problems: waywardness and deviancy. Newt, like Bill, has a proclivity for girl hopping. It is not as egregious as Bill’s, but then Newt is not as drop-dead beautiful. His public record is already besmeared with tawdry divorces, and there are private encounters with the fair sex that doubtless will come out. If I have heard of some, you can be sure the Democrats have heard of more. Nancy Pelosi’s intimations are timely.”
Perhaps no author sums up the Establishment’s “Fear of Newt” better than Eliot Abrams. Abrams, in decrying Newt’s penchant for publicly disagreeing with policies he views as flawed:
“Presidents should not get automatic support, not even from members of their own party, but they have a right to that support when they are under a vicious partisan assault.”
Comparing Gingrich supporters to Ron Paul supporters and Democrats is ignoring the fact that unlike either of the latter, Gingrich’s support has waxed and waned weekly. You can attach many adjectives to Newt’s supporters, but “fanatical” would be the most disingenuous. Of course, anyone willing to call Mitt Romney “the most conservative candidate” has already escaped the bounds of reality. The remaining establishment attacks seem to focus on two themes.
The first is that Newt is the ultimate RINO, willing to abandon the party in order to further his own views. This probably is an accurate depiction, but not much of an attack. Abrams’ attack line is viewed by most Americans as a positive – we prefer our Representatives to vote their conscience and not the party line. In a year when the electorate is largely disgusted with the way the party establishment has failed, attacking a candidate for preferring to vest in his own beliefs over orthodoxy is probably not a smart play. The base wants a candidate who’s willing to shake things up a bit – that certainly isn’t Romney. It could be Ron Paul, but by pointing out that Gingrich has a history of breaking with party orthodoxy the establishment allows him to claim that mantle.
The second is that Gingrich is flawed in character; volatile in nature and unable to lead. This line of attack is similar to the one employed in December with success. The problem is that line of attack isn’t new. Voters are well acquainted with Gingrich’s peccadilloes from the 90’s. If they’re as willing to overlook them in Florida as they were in South Carolina, the establishment is likely out of bullets.
This is just a sampling of the pile-on that seems to be taking place. Fear is in the establishment air, understandably so. Gingrich already leads in delegates. Florida is the first “winner-take-all” primary; adding another 50 delegates to his total guarantees that Romney can’t get the lead in the delegate count until March. What the establishment still hopes to sell the party – that Romney is the only electable candidate – would be forever gone as an argument. Because of that, fully expect party leaders to turn up the heat even further on Gingrich until January 31. They can’t risk having a “rogue” candidate win.
The Republican establishment is suddenly confronting the very real possibility that their horse in the Presidential race is more broken down nag than thoroughbred. A week ago, Mitt Romney seemed assured of sweeping the first three primary votes and virtually locking up the nomination – before the race even began.
Then came a dismal debate on Monday night, in which Newt Gingrich gained a standing ovation and Mittens was left grasping at straws. That was followed by Texas Governor Rick Perry dropping out and endorsing Gingrich, and the Iowa GOP declaring that Rick Santorum was the actual winner in their caucus. The next night, Gingrich delivered another bravura debate performance while Romney did his best Porky Pig impersonation.
Suddenly, a 14 point lead turned into a 12 point loss. And as of this morning, Romney’s 22 point lead in Florida has turned into a 9 point deficit, a 31 point swing in 2 days. The establishment is understandably freaking out. It’s understandable because Romney represents the time-honored tradition of candidate-in-waiting. Oh, and the little fact that they have poured millions of dollars into his campaign thus far – a very real investment on the party leadership’s part. If Romney fails to secure the nomination, it will rank right up there with Solyndra in the history of investment strategies. And finally, there’s the very real possibility that Gingrich will win the nomination. Let’s face it, there is absolutely no love lost between Gingrich and the party elite, many of whom worked diligently over the past 25 years to bury him. To see Gingrich rise like a phoenix from the ashes of his political career has to be particularly galling to people like Karl Rove and Ann Coulter.
But their problem is less with Gingrich than it is with Romney. If Romney were a truly leading candidate, odds are Newt wouldn’t have had a prayer. The fact is they bet on the wrong horse. Even if he survives to claim the nomination, he will be too battered and bloodied to win the Presidency. Romney’s greatest attribute as a candidate was the “I can WIN” argument; losing two of the first three contests (and getting his tail handed to him in the most recent) doesn’t lend much credence to that claim. In fact, after the first three nominating votes, Gingrich leads Romney in the delegate count, 26-19. In point of fact, Romney is closer to third place (Santorum has 13 delegates) than to first.
For all of his money, establishment backing and slick TV commercials, Romney suffers from a very real problem: he isn’t believable. It doesn’t stem from his constantly changing policy positions (Gingrich is equally culpable of that crime). Rather, it comes from a simple observation of the man himself. When you look at Mitt, you see a Presidential candidate straight from central casting: good looking, with perfect hair. Good looking wife and kids. Donates to his church and community. No skeletons in his closet. No skeletons in his family’s closets. Wealthy son of self-made immigrants.
In all of this perfect bio and appearance lies Romney’s essential problem, and it isn’t something that can be corrected in a 60 second commercial or even a 30 minute interview with Barbara Walters. No, Americans know genuine when they see it. Genuine is not a life that would make Ozzie and Harriet jealous. American’s know that real people have trials and travails. They fail, they pick themselves up; they screw up and make amends. They are the guys you hang out at the bar with on Friday night after work. The ones you go bowling with on Wednesday. They are most definitely not Mitt Romney. Every time Romney talks about how $375,000 in speaking fees “aren’t that much” he just comes across as a little more unauthentic; every time he hides something (tax returns, destroyed computer hard drives) you’re left wondering what it is he’s hiding. Because we all know he has a skeleton somewhere – we all do, even if we never talk about them. And we expect our Presidents (and the people who aspire to be President) to at least be human enough to admit they aren’t perfect.
Americans like failed heroes, especially ones who have managed to rehabilitate themselves (see: Rob Lowe or Newt Gingrich). We can relate to making human mistakes, asking forgiveness and starting again. We can’t relate to people who are perfect (or imagine themselves to be). Therein lies Mitt Romney’s problem. And I don’t think he can fix it before January 31.