John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Class Warfare Within the GOP

Posted on February 1, 2012

Mitt Romney won a big victory and that win should propel him to the nomination sometime by June, given the vagaries of the proportional delegate system put in place by the Republican National Committee.

But Romney shouldn’t feel that comfortable with his position in the party or with the state of his party at the moment.  Sarah Palin can be dismissed as a goofball and an idiot for continuing to embrace Newt Gingrich, despite the former Speaker’s trouncing in the Sunshine State.  But she speaks for many of the goofballs and idiots who make up a fairly large chunk of the Republican/Tea Party base.

And those goofballs/idiots could make up the critical difference between winning and losing in next November.

The Republican Party is a grand coalition of upper and upper middle class mainline Protestants and Catholics, evangelical Christians, white working class Catholics, a smattering of Cuban Americans in Florida, a smaller smattering of black conservatives, an even smaller smattering of Orthodox and conservative Jews, and a few other folks.

The party has now divided into two camps:  The Republican establishment and the Tea Party faction.  The Republican establishment (which is mythical in its influence) tends to trend wealthier, is better educated, tends toward the Chamber of Commerce in its outlook politically, and probably has survived pretty well during the Great Recession.  They probably have pretty warm feelings towards the Bush Administration, and while they didn’t like all the government spending, they are pragmatic about government spending that they find useful.

The Tea Party tends to trend more evangelical, is not as well educated, and tends to be populist in its political leanings.  Tea Party members most likely have been hit hard by the Great Recession, and are angry as hell at Washington, at Wall Street, and at the local Republicans who have been working in the political system for decades.  Many of these political newcomers learned a lot about political history from Glenn Beck and they listen carefully to Rush Limbaugh.  They are mad as hell at both Barack Obama and George Bush, and they feel the political system has screwed them and continues to screw them.

The Republican establishment (and I cringe when I use that word) either supports Mitt Romney openly or finds him an acceptable alternative to Barack Obama.  The Tea Party folks find Romney an elitist and a symbol of all that is wrong with our political system.  More than a few of them also have strong objections to his religion.

Thanks to the wonders of the social media world, you can see the angst of the Tea Party sympathizers.  They are despondent over Romney’s win.  They see themselves as special “patriots” and they can’t understand why the rest of the party doesn’t see the world in their terms.  They blame Mitch McConnell and John Boehner for the fact that the Senate isn’t doing anything (missing the point that because of Tea Party candidates, Harry Reid is still the Majority Leader).  They are impatient.  They are radical.  And they want results now.  And they believe that because they are now involved in politics, they should get their way.

The Republican establishment is probably more patient than it ought to be.  They don’t buy into the Beck dystopian view of America.  They don’t believe that the country is necessarily going to Hell in a hand-basket.  They don’t necessarily believe that the government has no role in creating jobs.  Much of the establishment used to revolutionaries in their own right twenty years ago, but they have been mugged by reality.  They know the limits of our representative government.

Mitt Romney can’t ignore this cadre of Tea partiers.  He can’t hope that they just go away.  They don’t have a majority of the party, but they are crucial to his plans to beat Obama.  And while it is true that they hate Obama, they doesn’t necessarily mean that they will come out to vote against him.  Remember Pat Buchanan’s pitchfork brigades in 1992.  They stayed at home (or voted for Ross Perot), and allowed Bill Clinton to waltz into the White House over George H.W. Bush.

Romney has to do two things, in my estimation.  He has to pick an inspirational number 2 for his Vice President.  Marco Rubio is the top choice, of course, but Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Rob Portman and Kelly Ayotte would also be good choices.

Most importantly, he has to offer a real reform agenda.  The first priority has to be tax reform because Romney has proven to be extremely vulnerable on the tax issue.  Republicans can’t lose the tax issue and expect to win the election.  Romney has to say that something is wrong when he pays a smaller percentage in taxes than most Middle Class Americans, and that is why the tax code must be reformed.  He also needs to talk about how is going to reform the government writ large, make it more user friendly, more taxpayer friendly and more frugal with the taxpayer’s dollars.

It still might not be enough to please the angry masses that make up the Tea party base.  But Romney has to take some steps to insure that these folks don’t bolt and follow a Sarah Palin into a third party that will deliver a second term to Barack Hussein Obama.