The GOP Primary Decoded
Posted on January 31, 2012
This originally appeared in The Hill
The Republican Party seems to be in a state of complete chaos.
Right-wing conservatives, like Ann Coulter, bitterly attack Newt Gingrich, while Tea Party heroes like Erick Erickson continually eviscerate Mitt Romney. Media heavyweight Rush Limbaugh comes to Newt’s defense, while the venerably conservative National Review takes up the Romney cause.
If you look closely, though, you can find some patterns.
Taking the Venn-diagram approach to this conundrum, four different groups emerge, some of which intersect.
In one circle, there are those who want to beat Barack Obama, no matter whom the Republican candidate happens to be.
In another circle, there are those who believe that nominating a candidate who does not share movement conservative credentials would be a long-term disaster for the party and more particularly for the conservative movement. They would rather lose to Obama than nominate a mealy-mouthed moderate. In this group are also the Romney haters, those who don’t like the former Massachusetts governor for ideological or religious reasons.
In a third circle are those who know Gingrich well and fear what his nomination would do the party and to the country. You could call those folks the GOP establishment, although I think the idea of a Republican establishment is a bit overrated.
In the fourth are those who know Newt only by reputation or from a distance, admire his pugnaciousness, look forward to him debating Obama and think his ideas are creative and brilliant. They see attacks on him as attacks on them.
Obviously, some of these circles intersect. But hating Romney for some doesn’t particularly mean loving Gingrich. And panicking over Gingrich doesn’t necessarily bring with it strong support for Romney.
Some movement conservatives, for example, are hoping that Gingrich can stay in the contest long enough to bring another viable candidate into the race, somebody like a Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie. They see Gingrich less as a viable candidate and more as a placeholder for their savior (politically speaking), whoever that might be.
Other movement conservatives see the real battle not for the future of the country but rather the future of the party. They don’t care if we win or lose the general election. They want a candidate a la Barry Goldwater, who can best articulate their vision for the future and their rage at the political establishment. They would rather settle scores than build coalitions.
Some of the so-called establishment figures are terrified of what a Gingrich nomination would do to the party or, God forbid, what his presidency would do the country. They have seen Newt Gingrich operate up close and personal, and they don’t think he has the temperament to be president, and they don’t want to take the chance that he might get there.
Coulter, for example, actually worked in Congress and remembers Newt Gingrich well. She speaks from real experience. Rush Limbaugh, as informed as he might be from his perch in New York City, never had to sit in a leadership meeting with Newt and has no experience working in Congress. Same could be said of Erickson and Mark Levin (who worked in the Reagan administration, but not in the House during the Newt years). And those gentlemen all have a vested interest in keeping Barack Obama around. Better for ratings.
Newt has some very good friends who want what is best for the country and want him to be president. Bob Walker, the former congressman, is a very smart guy and one of Newt’s closest confidants. He obviously disagrees with his former colleagues about the Speaker’s temperament and thinks he would be a fine president. But Walker’s opinion is pretty rare among those who served with him.
If they are done right, primary elections bring out the best in the candidates, although the usual result is it brings out the worst in campaigns. If the highest goal for the GOP is to beat Obama, the Republican base (whoever they are) better unite with the Republican establishment (if there is one) and agree to work together after the primary season is over. Otherwise, the president will most likely remain president for four more years.