Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012 and the Fractures in the GOP, In the Real World: There Are Only 3

The Republican Party, 2012
Since Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party for 30+ years has existed as a coalition of groups that have just enough in common to unite (sometimes) behind a common candidate for President.  Prior to Reagan, the GOP was a Northeastern establishment party, a party of fiscal responsibility (not always low taxes, but certainly anti-deficit), but a party that was largely socially progressive.  Ronald Reagan changed the game by putting forward an agenda that was heavy on defense, heavy on tax cuts and brought a new brand of social conservatism into the mix.

There have been more or less four wings to the party ever since, and we see them loudly and clearly in this primary cycle, as each has its representative members.

(1) Establishment Moderates
This wing of the party tends towards social conservatism, but not drastically so.  They are more fiscally conservative than Democrats, but tend to be more concerned with low deficits than with low taxes.  They are pragmatic moderates on foreign policy - they tend to be for relatively larger defense spending but are hesitant to use military force except were imminent risk to US interests are at stake.  In spite of the Reagan revolution, most GOP Presidential candidates since have fit this profile.
George W. Bush was an establishment moderate.  So was Bob Dole.  John McCain fit this description, although at times in 2008, he attempted to shed it.
This cycle, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are carrying the banner for the establishment moderates.

(2) Small Government Libertarians
This group joins the GOP because they hate government in almost all forms.  They are military non-interventionists, still believe the New Deal and the Great Society social programs were a mistake and carry the banner for individual liberty, both socially and economically.
Small government libertarians have rarely done well in GOP primaries.  You have to go all the way back to Barry Goldwater to find a true small government libertarian that got the nod.  Arguably Pat Buchanan fit this bill in 1992. 
This cycle, Ron Paul carries the banner for this group.

(3) Social Conservatives
Evangelical Christians and socially-oriented Catholics that oppose abortion and gay rights make up this group of very-active Republicans.  Straight social conservatives rarely win the nomination but often make waves, Pat Robertson in 1988 being one of the most obvious members of the group to make noise in a nominating process.
This cycle, Rick Santorum runs as a social conservative.

(4) Foreign Policy Hawks
The "strong on defense" crowd focuses its efforts around pushing for American activism on the world stage, increased defense spending and an aggressive foreign policy.
George W. Bush was a foreign policy hawk.  Arguably, it was Ronald Reagan's single biggest issue. 
This cycle, after over a decade of war fatigue, in a stunning reversal, no one is carrying this banner.

The coalition of these 4 groups work when they find a candidate that can more or less align the 4.  But when the group's key interests collide, chaos ensues.

Mitt Romney is unacceptable to Small Government Libertarians and Social Conservatives because of his universal health care plan in Massachusetts and prior support for abortion rights and gay rights.

Jon Huntsman angers everyone but the establishment moderates as he has supported civil unions, has a far less aggressive target for reducing government than other candidates and a less interventionist view of foreign policy.

Rick Santorum is loved by the social conservatives, but angers libertarians with his interventionist view of government and his support for social programs (such as Bush's prescription drug program), bank bailouts and earmarks and scares the heck out of establishment moderates with his extreme social conservative views.

Ron Paul is loved by the small government libertarians but angers social conservatives over his support for gay rights, infuriates foreign policy hawks over his non-interventionist views and is probably most scary to moderates.

Newt Gingrich doesn't fit cleanly into any category but has something for everyone to hate - past support for Cap and Trade makes the libertarians mad, his personal life angering social conservatives and his caustic slash and burn approach to politics maddening moderates.

So, can one of these candidates unite the party?  If Romney gets the nod, libertarians and social conservatives may have to suck it up and vote for him, although Romney almost certainly has to fear the prospect of a third party candidate from the right if he gets the nod.  The same can be said for Huntsman.  The other 3 candidates have almost no hope of uniting the party, with "Reagan Democrats" likely to run for the hills and either stay home or reluctantly support Obama.

And where is the Tea Party in all of this?  It's impossible to say, because the Tea Party is actually not a cohesive movement.  If the Tea Party is about small government, then Ron Paul should be their guy.  But a substantial wing of the informally identified Tea Party are not small government people at all but social conservatives that latched on to an anti-Obama movement. 

I've said it many times, but I'll say it one more time...the Tea Party will NEVER be the path to national success for the GOP.  It created noise and energy but ultimately cost the GOP several Senate seats it should have won in 2010 (Delaware and Nevada most notably) and had far more of an impact on the news discussion than it did on general elections.

It all seems like a can't win for the GOP unless the other wings fall in line behind Romney.  They probably don't have another horse that can run close to a still-cagey President Obama.

New Polling Makes It Clear: Three Candidates and Some Also Rans
Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul finished 1, 2, 3 in Iowa in that order, each close enough to win the same 7 delegates. 

New polling indicates that they are likely to finish Romney, Paul then Santorum in New Hampshire.

If the same candidates are top 3 in those two extremely different contests in extremely different demographics, it is clear to me that there are only 3 candidates left worth talking about.

Sure, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are apparently going to make a go of it in South Carolina.  But they can't win if they can't crack the top 3 in either New Hampshire or Iowa.

Rick Santorum could still collapse in the next week as he falls under increased media scrutiny, allowing a Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich or even a Jon Huntsman into contention.   But it is also quite possible that the door is slamming shut on those other candidates.

5 short days to New Hampshire....

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