Andrew Sullivan has a fascinating post about the nature of today’s Republican party in the wake of Newt’s win in South Carolina. Noting the tension between what is often called the “Republican establishment” and the largely ignorant rank-and-file they must appeal to, he states the obvious:
Let us now play the tiniest violin for what is called the “Republican Establishment”. I’m not sure what this phrase means or represents any more – the Chamber of Commerce? John Boehner? The Bush family? But the concept of a responsible, sane, pragmatic party leadership able to corral or coax or manage a party’s base is, it seems to me, a preposterous fiction on its face, as we are seeing.
The Republican Establishment is Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, and their mainfold products, from Hannity to Levin. They rule on the talk radio airwaves and on the GOP’s own “news” channel, Fox. They have never quite reconciled themselves to Romney since he represents a gray blur in a stark Manichean universe they have created for more than a decade now. In this universe, there is only black and white. There is only them and us. Anyone who diverges an iota from this schematic is speaking without a microphone in front of a revving airplane engine.
Listen to Limbaugh, the GOP’s chief spokesman. How does a Romney channel that level of viciousness and rage? Listen to Hannity. How does a smooth manager reach a base that wants the same Manichean approach to foreign policy, in which there is only one ally (Israel) and enemies everywhere else (Europe, China, the Arab world, Russia)? Read Mark Levin. There are only two options now on the table, as he sees it: freedom or slavery. And a vote for Obama is a vote for slavery.
This is the current GOP. It purges dissidents, it vaunts total loyalty, it polices discourse for any deviation. If you really have a cogent argument, you find yourself fired – like Bruce Bartlett or David Frum – or subject to blacklists, like me and Fox…
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. He too knows what he has to say – hence his ludicrous invocation of Obama as some kind of alien being. But it doesn’t work. He believes it – since he seems capable of genuinely believing in anything that will win him votes and power. But he doesn’t have the rage to make it work. And that rage cannot be downward, as Romney’s often is – toward hecklers or interviewers. It has to be upward – at vague, treasonous elites. It has to have that Poujadist touch, that soupcon of contempt, that sends shivers up the legs of the Republican faithful, reared on Limbaugh, propagandized by Fox, and coated with a shallow knowledge of a largely fictionalized past.
But frankly, I still think Mitt Romney is going to win the primary. And it won’t be because the “establishment” won by coaxing the voters to along with what they want, it will be because organization and money matters more than bellicosity.