The message of the GOP establishment is clear even if they soften it slightly behind flowery language. If you’re a conservative, the only way to get a seat at their table is to surrender your principles in exchange. Join up, and they will throw you a bone or two, and if the Republican establishment sees you as a candidate who could be elevated, they’re apt to offer to help “bring you along” as an up-and-comer. They don’t view themselves as “RINOs,” because it’s their belief that they are the core of the Republican party. Now they’re telling conservatives that this race is over, and they’re now in a full-court-press mode, asserting that now is the time to unite behind Mitt Romney. They fear a brokered convention, and all of this talk about “uniting behind Romney” is aimed and shutting this down before a floor fight at the convention becomes a reality.
I’ve asked the question before, but let me ask it again: Are conservatives prepared to sit down, shut up, and do as they are told?
The problem rank-and-file conservatives face is simple: They don’t have the monetary resources to back a candidate like the establishment can. Instead, they express their support by showing up, voting, working as volunteers, and doing what they can by means of their efforts. They don’t make thousands of dollars in donations, and they’re not able put up a flurry of cash in support of a campaign, so what frequently happens is that they field a candidate or two who are underfunded and unable to make their way into the fight. Worse, since the establishment of the GOP will always have at least one well-funded, supported candidate, what they are able to do is dominate the process despite the fact that their candidate is not particularly popular with the majority of the party. This is our situation now, and all too often, it’s the situation in which conservatives find themselves by the time the convention comes along.
The party establishment may deny their own existence, but it’s undeniable that they have the ability to push a candidate that suits their aims, and all too frequently, that candidate is like Mitt Romney, who is not a conservative, and not widely accepted as such. Instead, the establishment must cajole and convince conservatives into supporting their guy, because the truth is that the one thing their money can’t buy is the votes of conservatives. Votes are the commodity they need, and it is the only bit of leverage the conservatives in the Republican party possess, but the frightening truth is that they are often placed in the position that they must choose between voting for whomever the party establishment chooses, or withholding their votes altogether. Many view the latter as unconscionable, and so they dutifully troop down to the polls to surrender to the establishment on election day. This tactic is effective to a certain degree, but it hardly solves the problem because too many conservatives simply will not be goaded that way.
The GOP establishment’s answer is ever the same: “If you don’t vote for our guy, you’re the problem. You call us RINOs? Where were you on election day? It’s your fault we lost the election because you didn’t show up.“ I reject this argument in its totality, because what it asserts is no different than the argument sorry competitors in any market will make to excuse their own failures. Imagine you’re the head of General Motors, and you’re trying to get customers for your latest product, the Chevy Volt. If consumers don’t buy it because the car has made a bad first impression, is heavily subsidized by government, is ultra-expensive even with the subsidies, and worst of all, has practical problems that make it worthless for 90% of American drivers from the outset, you might well blame the customer, but that won’t bring you success, and it won’t help your bottom line. Your only option is to destroy your competition so that consumers have no choice but to buy your product since there is no alternative.
This is the problem the Republican party suffers when it insists on nominating candidates who are in many ways incompatible with the views of most conservatives. Mitt Romney is a liberal Republican, and there’s really no disguising this, and while those in the establishment hate cultural conservatives, they also know they need their votes to win. You would think that at some point, the establishment would catch on, but I submit to you that they have on occasion. George W. Bush maintained an image of having moral views more compatible with cultural conservatives, and that’s why they helped elect him. In stark contrast, however, we have Mitt Romney, who in substance is no worse than George W. Bush, but for the fact that he is not palatable to cultural conservatives. If he were, Rick Santorum would have long ago been put away, but the problem for Romney is that he’s not even capable of convincingly faking it.
The other problem conservatives face is that the establishment would just as soon lose as nominate a conservative of any description to the top of the ticket. They’re not happy with conservatives generally, and the reason is that they favor a progressive polity that is more in line with FDR’s than Ronald Reagan’s. For those in the Republican establishment, Barack Obama may be bad, but Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain would be infinitely worse. The very idea that these should have any chance is more a matter of the establishment humoring the conservative base in order to permit them to believe they’ve actually had some say. The idea laid upon the table by the establishment is that at some point, conservatives must become more ‘practical’ when those choices disappear.
In the last few days, the establishment has begun to push the narrative that “it’s all over, and it’s time to begin to focus on Barack Obama,” but I don’t see why we cannot do both. I do not accept the notion that we must cast off our alternatives to Mitt Romney simply on the say-so of the Republican establishment, and I’m not even slightly influenced by their insistence that it’s now time. Americans don’t really begin to pay strong attention until the conventions anyway, so I don’t understand the rush to close off debate, except that they fear a floor fight in which the establishment candidate might not prevail. For me, that’s all the more reason to continue to have the fight within the party, because at the end of this trail, however it ends, it’s we who will have to live with it, but also with ourselves. The establishment will say that it had been our fault if their candidate gets the nomination, but fails to win in November, either because we had forced a brokered convention, or having had the establishment candidate shoved down our throats, instead simply walked away. If they give us the Chevy Volt of candidates as our only choice, I don’t see how they can dare to complain if we aren’t willing to be electrified. Whose fault is that? Ours? Or theirs?