Republicans attacking a fellow Republican for being too successful in business? Cue surprised Scooby Doo noise.
But it sure is fun to watch, isn't it?
First a little history. Some people might be surprised to learn that there was a time in America when the roles of the parties vis-a-vis social issues were reversed: The Democrats were the social conservatives and religious folk, and the Republicans were the progressives. In fact, the Republican party was founded on the very progressive principle that all human beings were equal in dignity regardless of their skin color. The GOP was the party of Lincoln, and had an unbreakable lock on the African-American vote right up until the 1930s. The Democrats remained the party of the Old South, evangelical conservatives (although they were not yet so called), and institutional racism right up until the election of Franklin Roosevelt. Indeed, those elements were not fully purged from the party until decades later.
That's a hard thing to imagine, the Democrats as the conservatives and the Republicans as the liberals. But things were not always so polarized as they are now. It was not so long ago that a creature known as a Liberal Republican roamed the land. Robert LaFollette, Nelson Rockefeller, even Mitt Romney's own father, Michigan Governor George Romney. Even Richard Nixon would be considered a social liberal by today's standards. On the other side, William Jennings Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential nominee, was a man of such hardline Christian faith that he served as the prosecutor in the Scopes Monkey Trial!
But one thing that has not changed is that the Democrats have always been the party of the poor and the Republicans have been the party of the rich. Those were the sides then: The rural poor, the working class, and social conservatives versus the wealthy industrialists, merchants, and social progressives. In a way, that's a more natural pairing. Lower income people tend to be less educated, less worldly, more socially conservative, and more religious. The wealthy, on the other hand, had the luxury to be open minded. Call it the ancestor of limousine liberalism.
But that all changed beginning in 1932. FDR's New Deal lifted everyone, white and black alike. African-Americans realized that the laissez-faire economic policies of the Republican party were keeping them down and flocked to the Democrats. Later it was the Democratic party that embraced the Civil Rights Movement, in the process casting out many old stragglers of the Old Southern Democrats, like Strom Thurmond. Thus began the process of the Solid South, once a Democratic bastion, becoming a Republican stronghold. Basically, the Republican Establishment made a deal with social conservatives: Let us make money, and we'll give you your social issues. At first it was Civil Rights, but eventually they lost that struggle. Now it is abortion, gay marriage, and "family values." But it amounts to the same thing. The Republican party is an uneasy alliance between social conservatives (i.e. evangelical Christians) and fiscal conservatives (i.e. Wall Street and big business). Or, to put it more succinctly, GOP = God and One Percenters.
And it is an uneasy alliance. It's not hard to understand why. Free market capitalism likes liberal societies -- so much more opportunity for making money. You can only sell so many Bibles, after all. But for a few decades they made it work. The rich got richer, and the Bible Belt got Bible Beltier. And Ronald Reagan made his countenance to shine down upon everyone.
Until recently. The fault lines have begun to do whatever it is that fault lines do before an earthquake. Rumble? Anyway, you get the idea. Cracks are starting to show in the previously impregnable GOP facade, courtesy of the Tea Party. Those guys are pretty unhappy with all Bigs, whether Government or Business (although they seem fine with Big Religion). The Republican Establishment successfully harnessed their populist, libertarian anger and rode it to success in the congressional midterms, but they quickly found out that their new allies were not so easy to control. Oh, and they were SERIOUS about that populist bullshit. It wasn't long before the Establishment (read: Wall Street) began to see them as a threat.
Which brings us to the 2011-12 Republican nomination contest. It is, at root, a battle for the soul of the Republican party. The Establishment, or, as we have come to call them, the One Percent, are fighting the Teavangelicals for control of the party. And they appear to be winning. Their guy, Mitt Romney (an Establishment type if ever there was one), has won the first two nominating contests and looks poised to take South Carolina under his belt. With all three in his pocket, he will roll into Florida's much bigger and more expensive media market with momentum, money, and organization. It's hard to see how anyone beats him there. And that's probably their last chance, because after Florida comes a string of Romney-friendly states until March. It is not out of the question that we could go into Super Tuesday with Mitt Romney having won every primary and caucus to that point. Who among his more ideologically "pure" rivals will even be left by then?
Social conservatives rightly distrust Romney. Their instinct that he s not one of them is correct. Whatever his personal views, Romney has proven himself willing to bow to the will of the majority. With a Republican Congress he would be deadly, slashing budgets and pursuing a conservative social agenda. But if the Democrats were in control he would be much more moderate, at least on social issues. He might even sign some things we liked if they made it to his desk. That's who Mitt Romney is: He goes where the political wind blows. And that's exactly what the right is afraid of.
But at this point it doesn't look like there's anything they can do about it. The libertarian Tea Party crackpots are backing Ron Paul in a big way, but their zeal will not be enough to carry him to the nomination. And the evangelicals can't settle between an embarrassment of embarrassing choices. Barring a major gaffe or damaging revelation, Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. They ain't the Establishment for nothing, after all.
They will attempt to placate the hardliners by giving them one of their own for vice president (my money's on South Dakota Senator John Thune), and for a time there will be a ceasefire. The Teavangelicals will, by and large, come out for Romney, even if they're not happy about it. But the fight is bound to flare up again, especially if, as we hope, President Obama is reelected. I can't wait.