Hopefully, tonight we will receive primary results from Michigan and Arizona [moments after posting, Romney was declared the winner of both]. These contests are the newest states to be hailed by the media as exceptionally important and potentially deadly for Romney. It is hard to say if this is truly accurate. The most consistant aspects of this race have been unpredictability and rapid changes of fortune. However, Romney is and has been in trouble since he lost both Iowa (after a recount) and South Carolina in rapid succession. But, his trouble started long before even that, as polling showed huge (but temporary) swings behind virtually every “non-Romney” candidate in the race. More and more, the narrative of this race seems to be the story of how Mitt Romney somehow did not become the GOP nominee. Despite these troubles, the widespread declaration of Romney’s inevitability was not based on flimsy logic. He is, and continues to be, the only reasonable and responsible choice that the republicans have. His inability to secure a victory is the result of trends within the GOP that have come to a head over the last three years.
David Brooks‘ last column was largely a personal lamentation on this subject. My interpretation of his column is that the GOP has retained two destructive trends that have only grown larger and more destructive. Primarily, the republicans have adopted an increasingly pragmatic attitude in their practice of politics, and a willingness justify means with ends. Ironically, this has resulted in the adoption of increasingly impractical rhetoric that they calculate helps them win elections. Those who refuse to adopt this rhetoric are publicly vilified.
That which composes the checklist of positions considered to be part of the new rhetoric or “republican purity test” that Brooks refers to is inconsistant, often archaic, and requires a great deal of cognitive dissonance to accept. The principal origins of conservatism/republicanism have been perverted into slogans and boiled down talking points that no longer represent the application of a once nuanced system of logic and values. The party of principals has transformed into a party that represents little more than a confused tapestry of populism.
In congress, this system can have tremendous results for the GOP. The party is more cohesive and members are less willing to break rank. I suspect this is often because many members see their reelection and potentially permanent incumbency as a near certainty if they remain within the protective enclosure of their party’s rhetoric. But in the presidential primary, as Books said, “It’s a series of heresy trials in which each of the candidates accuse the others of tribal impurity.” The practical results of this are undeniably bad for the Republican’s presidential prospects. The fragments of republican party, which have now been conditioned to never accept compromise, find it impossible to coalesce. This a problem of the GOP’s own design.
When Obama was elected, many of the more mentally maleable pundits suggested that the Republican party had reached a point of such weakness that there was great potential for it to devolve into an impotent regional party. Those statements were asinine and never repeated after the emergence of the Tea Party and the GOPs many congressional victories. That is, until now. While it is extremely unlikely that some sort of regional and neutered GOP will emerge in the near future, its current path is untenable. If Romney fails to be the nominee these trends will only get worse before they get better in the “not democrats” party.