The always worth reading Jay Cost has a great article today on Larry Craig in Real Clrear Politics' Horeserace Blog, which he uses to highlight the limits of party politics. I urge you to read it all and offer up this excerpt to whet your appetite:
In light of this, we can tease out a larger insight from the Larry Craig Problem. Larry Craig is not responsible to the Republican Party. He can essentially do what he wants - and the GOP has very few ways to control his behavior. So it goes with all legislators. Accordingly, is it any surprise that conservatives would eventually find that the Republican Party is behaving irresponsibly toward them? The party cannot control the behavior of its members - so how can it make members adhere to conservative principles? What can the "Congressional GOP" do? Ultimately, it is at the mercy of its own members and their electoral ambitions. The "Congressional GOP" is little more than a heuristic device for the 250 or so individuals in Congress who have chosen to stick an "R" at the end of their names.
Ultimately, we see here the shortsightedness of the electoral strategy of today's office seekers. Office seekers have a short term electoral interest in making it seem like they are in some sense responsible to a broader entity like "the party." Not all voters like this idea, of course. But some voters do. So, the legislative strategy that the professional office seeker chooses is to tell the voters who like the idea of the office seeker being responsible to the party that he will be responsible to the party, and to tell those who do not like the idea that he will not be.
To those who like the idea of responsibility, the sales pitch "The Republican Party stands for tax cuts and limited government!" has a great deal of meaning. The implication behind it is that if you vote for individual members of that party, you are empowering the party itself. But in fact you are not really doing that at all. To think that you are is to commit the fallacy of composition. You are falsely infering that the party is something more than the aggregation of individuals elected to Congress who happen to carry this party label. So, in the long run party leaders cannot enforce members to adhere to any kind of party platform. Those members "cheat" on that platform whenever it is in their electoral interests to do so. And, sooner or later, the platform becomes a dead letter, having been overwhelmed by the number of times the members of the party played a hand in defeating their own platform. And, you the voter who believed the initial campaign pitch are left disappointed.
My friend Rick Ballard says this is why McCain will never be the party's nominee by which I think he means McCain has always "cheated"--placed his personal political interests first --and therefore cannot credibly claim a party mantle.