The past couple of days have seen the GOP Establishment begin to defend their turf at all costs. Contrary to popular beliefs, it is not pro-lifers, evangelicals, the religious right, the Tea Party, or guys named Bubba, who sabotage the Republican Party when they don’t get their way. No, only the Establishment does that and they have honed their technique over the years to the point where they can engage the apparatus with little fanfare.
The first time I observed this up close was in the 1994 Virginia Senate race. LBJ son-in-law Charles Robb was a battered and bruised incumbent due to his penchant for dalliance with women not his wife, and the fact that he was also wooden in many other ways including between the ears. Oliver North had gained celebrity from his testimony before Congress regarding Iran-Contra and he was considered the front-runner for the nomination to oppose Robb.
This sent the establishment into a tizzy. Virginia Republican Senator John “Jawn” Warner, perhaps the biggest bag of wind this state ever sent to Washington, was especially offended by the idea of having North as a fellow member of the world’s most exclusive club. A former Budget Director under President Reagan, a political bumbler named James Miller, was recruited to oppose North and all the “good” people quickly lined up behind him. Miller however was no match for North’s star-power and was easily defeated at the convention in Richmond.
This did not sit well with Senator Jawn and so he and his fellow travelers then recruited a two-time loser for governor and mushy moderate J. Marshall Coleman to run a third party campaign. At the same time a media campaign began that was meant to discredit North. Secretary of State, for a drink of water, Lawrence Eagleburger was the messenger used to poo-poo North’s record and dismiss him as a mere underling. I well remember one interview where Eagleburger pompously declared (paraphrasing) “Oliver North sat back against the wall while senior officials discussed policy and made decisions” .
It was understood that Coleman had no hope of winning and thus his sole purpose was to siphon off enough right of center voters to re-elect Robb. It worked. That November Robb won with 44% against North’s 42%. Coleman drew 11% and thus Charles Robb had another six years in the exclusive Senate play-pen, thanks to sitting Republican Senator (and Elizabeth Taylor’s 7th husband) John Warner.
We see this process beginning anew in the current presidential race. Mitt Romney started the narrative with the reference to Ronald Reagan’s diary entry on Newt. Then yesterday Elliott Abrams (who was ironically a colleague of Oliver North during Iran-Contra) had a smear piece in National Review Online that furthered the “Newt was a mean doofus” storyline.
Minor actors such as Eagleburger and Abrams fill these roles in service to the Establishment for very obvious reasons. Peer pressure. Invites to the A List cocktail parties, and future appointments to sub-cabinet positions or perhaps a minor diplomatic post, hang in the balance. No one wants to be the guy or gal whose name is crossed out because you didn’t toe the Establishment line.
In 2012 the Establishment wants Mitt Romney and only Mitt Romney. The reasons are several and how many you credit probably depends on how organized you think these people are.
#1. The Establishment acts first and foremost to protect its prerogative. It is willing to lose in the general election to maintain control of the party.
#2. The Establishment doesn’t like Newt Gingrich or trust him to be sufficiently pliable in office so he must be stopped.
#3. The Establishment doesn’t believe Gingrich can beat Obama and they fear he will also take down the GOP House majority and a likely Senate GOP majority.
#4. The Establishment doesn’t think Romney can win either but in case he does at least they will have one of their own in the White House. This uses the same template as 1996 and 2008.
#5. The Establishment is willing to lose to Obama with Romney because he won’t threaten the Congressional majorities.
#6. The Establishment doesn’t feel the financial pain the average American does during a lousy economy. Very wealthy, they can comfortably survive four more years of Obama especially with a GOP Congress to limit the damage.
#7. If Obama is re-elected this year, it sets up a golden opportunity for the Republican Party in 2016. Running as the opposition nominee after the “in” party has served eight years is a plum spot. It takes a really poor candidate like Michael Dukakis to blunder away a sweet set-up like that.
#8. Every effort will be made to smooth the way for a very well connected candidate in 2016.
#9. Jeb Bush.
The Republican Party Establishment would rather lose to Barack Obama than lose to Newt Gingrich.