The Gathering Storm within the GOP
Though all conservative hands must be on deck for Mitt Romney between now and November 6, there is little doubt that from that day forward, America will witness the final foundation-shaking battle in a long war -- namely, a fight for the heart of the Republican Party. Either the current, longstanding GOP establishment will finally cede control of the official banner of political conservatism, or the traditional two-party system, and with it the American republic, will dissolve.
That there is a GOP establishment ought to go without saying, although this self-evident fact has been vehemently denied by a few of the establishment's most prominent representatives. These denials ought to be a heartening source of amusement to anti-establishment conservatives, as they confirm the extreme degree to which the old guard fails to recognize its exposure, and the severity of the light that has been cast upon it of late.
The definitive quality of an establishmentarian is, of course, the quality of being "established." Being established, in general usage, means having a secure place, and being firmly entrenched in one's respected status within a social structure. Being a member of a political establishment entails being aligned with, and firmly entrenched within, the presiding power structure.
The primary argument used to deny the existence of a Republican establishment is to point out that there are differing opinions among its alleged members. In fact, internal disagreement does nothing to countervail the reality of an establishment, as it is a given that any broad group of people in the business of creating, advocating, and defending policy positions will be beset with factionalism among its members.
No one but a dyed-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist believes that the establishment is literally a homogeneous group, a club with initiation rituals and a secret handshake. Rather, the establishment is that collection of men and women who have had prominent and "respected" roles in directing party platform and policy for a generation or more, along with those who have subsequently been absorbed into the higher reaches of the party's intellectual and electoral structure through a gradual and implicit vetting process carried out by the various party elders within the existing framework.
These people, collectively, define the parameters of the Republican Party, which party, in turn, serves as the official representative of conservative principle for electoral purposes -- i.e., for the purposes of voicing conservative aspirations within the realm of law-making and leadership. In short, the Republican establishment has a monopoly on defining conservatism at the all-important levels of public policy and mainstream discourse. Thus, the hopes and concerns of non-establishment conservatives and libertarians are given, at best, a muted hearing in Washington, whether within government proper or among the professional conservative pundit class. Under present circumstances, this means that the truest voice of constitutional republicanism -- which ought to be the dominant concern on all sides of a proper American political establishment -- is being choked out in favor of the "go along to get along" model of political survivalism that has typified the Washington GOP for several decades.
Let's be perfectly clear about this. The problem is not the existence of an establishment, per se. There will always be an establishment; it is the nature of human social endeavor gradually to elevate certain people or schools of thought into pre-eminence. Societal development requires this.
The problem is the nature of the current establishment, and its recalcitrance to fundamental change. More bluntly, the problem is the current establishment's refusal to accept responsibility for its failure, and to step aside for the good of the country.
Playing by the present GOP establishmentarians' rules, almost without exception, for forty years (I am referring to the actual men who constitute today's establishment, not the broader GOP trends which of course go back much farther), has brought America to the brink of complete national collapse. America is no longer financially tenable; it is teetering on the edge of moral dissolution; it is today only nominally a constitutional republic; and through milquetoastism in the face of a determined leftist assault on America, the GOP has relinquished the societal reins to a man whose mentors, advisers, and cohorts include numerous Marxist and post-Marxist revolutionaries.
Such a prolonged, abject failure as is embodied by the GOP establishment is possible only in the sphere of electoral politics, in which entire viewpoints are represented monopolistically by one party. Imagine, by analogy, hiring a contractor to build your house. Now imagine that it is forty years later, and you return to the property to find that the builders have thus far erected only parts of two walls, which they are in the process of tearing down for the eleventh time, as they have yet again forgotten to lay the foundation. This predicament is impossible in ordinary reality, of course, at least until the left completes its fundamental transformation of the U.S. economy. And yet it pretty closely approximates the nature of the GOP establishment's performance in defense of individualism, liberty, and the Constitution over that same forty-year span.
As many have pointed out, it is absurd that the fate of liberty in the United States of America should hang in the balance of a 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court. Consider, however, that even if Romney is able to defeat Obama in November, and thus prevent the full implementation of the radical "social justice" agenda that Obama has promised for his second term, his margin of victory will be even slimmer than that 5-4 ratio that everyone was hoping for from SCOTUS. In addition to, and almost regardless of, winning elections, the increasingly emboldened leftists who now constitute the Democrat Party establishment are winning the broader culture war, through a combination of corrupt education, media, and entitlement-inducing policy.
This is where America's soul resides, all wishful thinking aside, after forty years on the present GOP establishment's watch. And in response to the laying of the last straw in this breaking of America's back, the GOP establishment has turned not against the left, but against the supposed extremism and instability of the Tea Party and its preferred electoral representatives. They are making an Ivy League plea for "sobriety," for avoiding "intemperate" characterizations of the left and its intentions, and for a stoic resignation in the face of national demise that masquerades as intransigent optimism. This in spite of the fact that it was precisely such GOP sobriety and temperance in 2008 that made possible the presidency of Barack Obama, with his well-creased Ivy League trousers.
The reason for this strange twist -- the GOP trying to quell the enthusiasm of its, and the nation's, potential saviors -- is as old as man, and as clear as the meaning of the word "established." Those who see themselves as privileged, who have long enjoyed (or just recently come to realize) the benefits of being men of consequence and the vanity-stroking perks of pre-eminence, are loath to give them up. And then there is the extraordinary public shame of having one's near-cataclysmic failure thrown so unceremoniously at one's feet. The long-privileged class can hardly be expected to take this well.
And as the two-party system grants them the strategic advantage of a monopolistic hold on public conservatism, they can attempt to withstand the Tea Party threat to their privilege by challenging grassroots conservatives to a game of "king of the hill." As they are the ones at the top of the hill, the long war of attrition greatly favors them. In practical terms, they have the elected offices, the bureaucratic offices, the national airwaves and op-ed pages, and all the perceived legitimacy that such things bring, while their opponents are, by definition, outsiders who lack these trappings of respectability.
Constitutional conservatives will not win through a third-party challenge -- or at least not in the foreseeable future. This is not to defend the entrenched two-party system as such. The first president sounded the proper warning in his farewell address against precisely the form of party politics that has evolved.
Practically speaking, however, the danger of allowing Democrats to win elections in the short run -- given what the Democrats have become -- is simply too great to afford constitutionalists the slow gestation period that a viable third party would require. The only reasonable hope is to overwhelm the GOP establishment with sheer steadfastness and the intransigence of rationally supported truth. The obfuscating establishment, morally and intellectually weakened by its own sense of entitlement, has nothing with which to resist a well-reasoned argument. So keep offering those arguments. And keep looking for men and women to run for public office who can articulate those arguments, and who truly believe them. It will not take another Jefferson, Washington, or Madison. It will merely take generations of intelligent men and women with a courage enlivened by the memory of those great early patriots.
Somehow, the current establishment must either accept its failure and seek to make amends through radical change, or be pulled off that hill atop which it has too long presided. What is needed, and immediately, is a new Republican establishment, one comprising people who value George Washington over Washington, D.C., individual liberty over party privilege, and the Framers' conception of America over their own all-too-clever stratagems for an incremental surrender masked as "conservatism." In short, America needs a Republican Party establishment that values the Constitution over cocktail parties.