An article in today’s NY Times by Jonathan Martin nicely illustrates the verbal circumlocutions mainstream journalists utilize in dealing with the extremism of today’s Republican Party.  

The article recounts how so-called “establishment” Iowa Republicans are concerned about the apparently declining importance of the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses, as the caucuses become little more than a test of right-wing sentiment: “Establishment Republicans fear that conservatives have become such a dominant force in the nominating process here that they may drive mainstream presidential candidates away.”

“Establishment” Republicans?  What establishment?  “Mainstream” candidates?  What mainstream?

I constantly wonder at commentators who refer to the Republican Establishment without identifying what that establishment consists of.  They don’t because they really can’t.  They use the term “establishment” Republican as a synonym, more or less, for “moderate,” which really means conservative-but-not-crazy.  (For all practical purposes, there are no moderates left in the Republican Party.) Once upon a time, it was reasonable to talk about a Republican establishment, centered on the mostly Northeastern business-oriented elites who almost invariably were able to impose their relatively moderate choices on Republican presidential nominating conventions.  Those days are long past.  Republican governors, many of them pragmatists because forced to deal with the real-world problems of governing, were also often identified with the establishment.  That time too, has passed; now is the time of the Perrys, the Scotts and the Walkers.  

Mainstream journalists like to cling to the fiction that there is a Republican establishment, relatively moderate, that is fighting desperately to keep their party from being swallowed up by the crazies.  The problem is that that putative establishment doesn’t exist. It is the relatively pragmatic conservatives  who are the insurgents, trying to restrain the more extreme impulses of the radical right, which is now the driving force in the party.  Thus, the Times’ Martin points out that backers of Ron Paul now control the Iowa state Republican Party, but still he cannot concede that in Iowa, the Paulites are the establishment; that status he continues to associate with the (relatively) sensible Republican governor Terry Branstad.  

The expressed fear that “mainstream” Republican candidates might be deterred from competing in Iowa is similarly amusing.  The implication is that “mainstream” candidates would be relatively moderate--as opposed to the Santorums and the Bachmans.  But, while there certainly is a Republican mainstream, it is anything but moderate.  The Republican mainstream is dominated by the radical right, but the norms of “objective” journalism prohibit the Times from saying so.  

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