GOP contests rumble below surface

April 9, 2012


— Five different political contests are being conducted right now. Only two are evident to the naked eye.

The first of the visible contests pits Mitt Romney against Rick Santorum for the Republican presidential nomination. The results here in Maryland and in Wisconsin last week tell us who has a commanding lead there.

The second visible contest pits Romney against President Barack Obama. That one began this month with their twin addresses to the convention of editors in Washington. Obama has a four-point lead, according to a Gallup poll conducted last week for USA Today.

Now to the three contests below the surface.

One is being mounted by Romney to wrest control of convention delegates most people assumed were the property of Santorum and Newt Gingrich. This is a subterranean game Romney likely will eventually win, quietly, slowly — but decisively.

Battle for character of GOP

The second contest barely beneath the surface is over the character of the GOP. It is part of the eternal struggle between populists and plutocrats. Don’t think of this as a proxy for Romney vs. Santorum no matter how many times the former senator goes bowling. This class struggle began before they arrived on the scene and will continue after their departure. It is the mirror of the struggle among Democrats between the circle around Franklin Roosevelt, rooted in the faculty offices of Harvard, and the Southern Democrats, rooted in county courthouses and in the kennels of the yellow dogs.

The final contest is over the nature of conservatism. It may look like the struggle for control of the GOP, but it’s larger than that. Conservatism is a movement; the Republicans are a party. For many years they lived separate lives and may do so again. The struggle over the character of the party is fundamentally being conducted in the heart, the struggle over the nature of conservatism in the head.

New conservatism

The week that the founding father of modern conservatism, Barry Goldwater, won the 1964 Republican presidential nomination, political scientist Andrew Hacker assessed the new movement — planted in the same soil that created John Kennedy’s New Frontier and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society — this way: “The new conservatism is the result of the democratic process itself: the widening of new opportunities for millions of Americans who have risen to a better location in life and who at all costs want to ensure that they remain there.”

That description now looks antiquarian. Modern Conservatism 2.0 — created in a world where Goldwater is a memory for all but a few, where his protege Ronald Reagan is a symbol but not an intimate presence, and where vast swaths of working Americans have a conservative impulse — has an economic component and a social component. It is chary of government involvement in the economy but open to government restrictions in social and cultural life.

How wealthy a country this must be to afford, or to tolerate, five vital contests at once! But this is a time of economic privation and of political riches; not since the 1930s, when the economy was ailing and the Democrats were remaking themselves, did America have so many parallel contests. And during that period — indeed for much of the era between 1916 and 1960 — the Republicans snoozed, putting up worthy candidates with formidable records (Charles Evans Hughes, Herbert Hoover, Thomas Dewey) but who did not stir the drink, nor roil the waters.

Today, passions among Republicans run high — itself a great departure from the norm for almost a majority of Americans, who recall the GOP as a sleepy outpost of politicians who defined themselves by what they were against (the New Deal, mostly but not always fervently) and what they wanted to promote (prudence and thrift, mostly). When the Republicans of yore held a shootout, it was over the identity of their nominee, not over the ideology of their party. This was true even in the principal ideological struggle of the era, in 1952 between Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower, without any discernible ideology, prevailed.

Packed with passion

Now the party is packed with passion, but not necessarily primed for resolution. Indeed, the emergence of Romney probably postpones the resolution of much of the Republican dispute.

He personifies the managerial wing of the Republican Party, the strain that included Hoover, 1940 nominee Wendell Willkie, to some extent Dewey and certainly both Presidents Bush. But he is at best a convert to movement conservatism and, to some in that movement, a sheep in sheep’s clothing.

Indeed, to conservatives he is reminiscent of Averell Harriman’s 1967 assessment of Maxwell Taylor: “He is a very handsome man, and a very impressive one,” Harriman said, “and he is always wrong.” Probably unfair to both men, but there are no points for fairness in war or politics.

Definition delayed

While the 2012 primaries and caucuses likely postponed the resolution of the battle over the character of the GOP, they intensified the conflict over the nature of conservatism, one that Reagan kept under the lid of the boiling pot but which began to spill over in 1988, scalding conservatives to this day. Santorum is one of the first Republican politicians to electrify both economic and social conservatives, but his hopes in the visible part of this campaign are dwindling.

Santorum may in fact be conducting his last stand in his home state, which ordinarily would be an advantage but in this peculiar year may be peculiarly unfortunate for the onetime Pennsylvania senator, who was soundly defeated in his re-election battle six years ago.

Santorum forces continually point to May for their breakout — the terrain there favors him and the issues will be in his wheelhouse — but his campaign may not endure that long, in part because of Romney’s diligence in one of the invisible contests, the process of peeling away delegates that look as if they are in the Santorum and Gingrich columns but in reality are not settled anywhere.

There is a tropism to politics, and it favors the front-runner. Watch how Romney, who lost the Iowa caucuses in January by a handful of votes, will look like the triumphant conquerer of Iowa in August. The subterranean contests count. Some of them last decades. Some of them choose nominees.

— David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Paul R Getto 6 years, 1 month ago

"The second contest barely beneath the surface is over the character of the GOP. It is part of the eternal struggle between populists and plutocrats. " === Very good point and the heart of the issue. Both parties strugle with this perception, but the Republicans have a bigger hill to climb. Romney's choice of a running mate will be fascinating to watch.

JayhawkFan1985 6 years, 1 month ago

Dont forget the contest for the souls of the members of the GOP. They claim to be pro life but are in favor of the death penalty and no limits on gun ownership. Plus they oppose funding for disadvantaged people in our society like the elderly, the infirm, students, immigrants, etc. Basically, they take the same positions the devil would. I'm not saying they are evil, but I am saying they have been duped by people who are evil like Brownback and the Koch brothers.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 1 month ago

Not sure I'd call them evil, but I do object to nearly all their policy positions. The Kochs aren't duping anyone but the Tea Party, who carry their water and don't even know it. The Sheeple can figure this out if they do a bit of research and actually try to see what is happening.

Fossick 6 years, 1 month ago

"Modern Conservatism 2.0 ... has an economic component and a social component."

It also has an international component. It is very difficult to find a conservative today that does not promote a Wilsonian foreign policy - democracy at gunpoint and America as the Great Schoolmarm. Historically, it has been the opposite of conservatism to march all over the world remaking other countries conform to our images. Today it is expected.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 1 month ago

Conservatives who are not wealthy argue against themselves but are not aware of it. They want to end Medicare as we know it, but will need it soon enough. They are opposed to the Social Security programs, but if they are not rich, they will need it. These programs are paid for by individuals, not the government as a handout. But they want to end it anyway.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 1 month ago

+1 Or, "What's the Matter with Kansas," etc..........

Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

The bottom line:

When will democrats realize that the bogus repub party aka RINO's will never get on board for that is their agenda. A RINO Ryan budget is more tax cuts for the 1%.

Then all democrats come around and realize this is the budget must be put forward simply because this is one of substance for the 99%:

The Peoples Budget does everything this country needs = Smart Economics * Reduces Debt by $10 trillion * Creates good-paying jobs * Fully maintains our social safety net * Invests in education * Ends our costly wars * Closes the tax loopholes that have made offshoring jobs profitable * Ends oil and gas subsidies that pollute our country at taxpayer expense * Creates a national infrastructure investment bank to help us make intelligent investments for the future

This fiscally responsible budget represents the future we believe in as Americans, and the CPC really needs our support to keep it on the front burner.

This is one of those occasions we all hope we'll live to see: We really can make a difference right now if we speak up loudly with one voice.

This fiscally responsible budget represents not just common sense; it represents the will of the American people.

These aren't just words on a page or numbers in a table—these dollars and cents mean lives helped or hurt, people succeeding or falling by the wayside, and families lifted up or dragged down.

This is about America.

What this budget does very specifically:





Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

Have voters forgotten who and what put 11 million out of work,out of medical insurance, killed retirement plans and in general wiped out the economy twice in the last 30 years? Yep Reagan/Bush and Bush/Cheney.

Republicans are simply too dangerous to be in charge of OUR money and OUR economy!

No jobs,no medical insurance,retirement plans up in smoke by the party that believes flippin burgers is a great alternative never mind that parents can no longer be home parenting.

This is what I mean:

1, BAILOUT ENTITLEMENT - The Reagan/ Bush Savings and Loan Heist( millions out of work)
Jeb Bush, George Bush Sr., and his son Neil Bush have all been implicated in the Savings and Loan Scandal, which cost American tax payers over $1.4 TRILLION dollars (note that this was about one quarter of our national debt").

The Reagan/Bush savings and loan heist was considered the largest theft in history at the time. George Herbert Walker Bush then took $1.4 trillion of taxpayers money to cover the theft.

  1. BAILOUT ENTITLEMENT - The Bush/Cheney Wall Street Bank Fraud on Consumers(million out of work)
    Yes, substantial fraud was involved. For example, mortgage companies and banks used deceit to get people to take on mortgages when there was no possibility that the borrowers would be able to meet the payments. Not only was this fraud, but this fraud depended on government authorities ignoring their regulatory responsibilities."

3.CRIMINAL BAILOUT ENTITLEMENT - Only 3 major Financial Institutions were at risk in spite of what we’re told ?
"There were just a handful of institutions that were terribly weakened. AIG the insurer, Bank of America and Citigroup, Those three were clearly in very weakened form. Many of the other big banks simply were not.

  1. WALL STREET ENTITLEMENT - Privatizing Social Security Would Place the Nations Economy at Risk
    "Social Security privatization will raise the size of the government's deficit to nearly $700 billion per year for the next 20 years, almost tripling the size of the national debt.

Put simply, moving to a system of private accounts would not only put retirement income at risk--it would likely put the entire economy at risk."

  1. RECKLESS ENTITLEMENT - Still A Bad Idea – Bush Tax Cuts - (DO NOT create Jobs)

The ENTITLEMENT program for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class = tax increases for the middleclass.

  1. CRIMINAL ENTITLEMENT Reagan/Bush Iran-Contra Illegal Sale of Weapons

  2. CRIMINAL ENTITLEMENT The Nixon Watergate - Illegal wire tap of democratic headquarters

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