Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Coming GOP Crackup

Maybe I should pose the title with a question mark, like this: "The Coming GOP Crackup?"

Crackup or not, the churning of the party's a good thing, although journalists like Molly Ball, at the Atlantic, are probably more eager to eschew the query form.

Here, "Portrait of a Party on the Verge of Coming Apart":
Perhaps the GOP’s chaos is just normal pre-primary tension, when an active contest naturally creates an air of conflict, and candidates have an incentive to warn against their rivals in urgent terms. But for many Republicans—the ones not living in fantasyland—the current battle for the party, between the nihilistic forces of Trump and Cruz on the one hand and the uninspiring conventional politicians on the other, feels like something deeper. It feels like a duel from which only one participant will walk away. It feels like the party is on the brink of breaking apart.

With just two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the prospect of Trump or Cruz as the Republican nominee is no longer distant enough to be ignored. “I’m surprised that it’s lasted this long,” says Cheryl Leonard, a 63-year-old elementary-school speech pathologist, here with her husband and a friend. “I thought that the showmanship would have died down and somebody real would come forward. But maybe that won’t happen.” She agrees with some of the things Trump says about immigration—we can’t let everybody in—but she’s horrified by his divisiveness. “It’s dangerous for the party, the way he’s alienating people,” she says.

Leonard’s husband, Gary, is leaning toward Kasich now that Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who might have rivaled Kasich as the most liberal candidate in the field, has dropped out. “But I think he’s probably too intelligent to win,” he says ruefully. “If we don’t change right now, there are going to be repercussions.”

On a wall under a high shelf holding shiny amber bottles of bourbon hangs an enormous sign reading “A Strong America Is a Safe America.” The newest Kasich slogan represents his only notable attempt to cater to his party’s fearful mood and lust for machismo. Kasich is introduced by the local state representative, Chip Limehouse, a big, beefy-faced man in a suit, who says: “He’s the adult in the room, and we need an adult running this country!” Among the candidates, only Kasich, Limehouse says, has what it takes to defeat Hillary Clinton in November. “If we nominate the loudest, most outrageous person in the room, we will lose. There’s no two ways about it,” he adds.

Kasich takes the microphone in a blue V-neck sweater and open-collared shirt and does his dorky-dad routine for a few minutes, invoking his mailman father, saying “You’re a doll” to a cherubic 11-year-old girl. He talks about the Ohio budget and bringing people together. “It’s not just about winning an election—it’s about being a uniter, being part of the healing process in our country,” he says. For this crowd, that’s red meat.

Afterwards, standing on the sidewalk outside the bar, I ask Kasich what he thought of Haley’s speech. Trump’s defenders on the far right decried it; which side is Kasich on? He says he didn’t see it—he was out fundraising in California. (Kasich, who has an iPad but not a smartphone and doesn’t use email, doesn’t seem to follow the headlines very closely: A couple of weeks ago, he told reporters he was unaware of the militia standoff in Oregon that was all over the news.) I try again: What does he think about the idea that we should resist the voices of anger? Kasich guffaws and says, sarcastically, “What, we ought to be angrier? Are you kidding me? I don’t think that’s going to fix the problems in our country.”

Kasich has something to add: You may not be able to tell, but he is having the time of his life. “Most people, they get kind of loose and have fun once they lose, and then everybody says, ‘Why didn’t they have fun before they lost?’” he says. “I’m having it right now.” At that, the governor of Ohio turns on his heel and heads for his waiting car.

Trump and Cruz are the outsiders, it’s said, while the other candidates—the ones promoting some version of old-school governance—represent the party establishment. If you’re looking for the establishment, you might expect to find it  at the quarterly meeting of the Republican National Committee, which convened on Thursday in a swank downtown Charleston hotel.

“It’s like the NFL,” says Ron Kaufman, the thin-mustached, Boston-accented committeeman from Massachusetts, a longtime lobbyist and fixer who’s worked for Republicans from Reagan to Romney. (Partisans in each state elect a committeeman and committeewoman to serve on the RNC.) “There are two leagues: the centrist-conservative league, and the right-wing league. We’re in the semifinals to see who’s going to represent each league in the finals.”

Kaufman is for Jeb Bush, who he thinks has an “off chance” to surprise in New Hampshire. The centrist candidate, by his reckoning, has won every Republican primary since 1980; Reagan was only retroactively adopted by the conservative movement, which largely worked against him at the time, according to Kaufman. “I’ve been around since 1865,” he jokes, “so I’m kind of sanguine about the whole thing.” He doesn’t believe that perhaps this year the old rules won’t apply anymore.

If Trump or Cruz does win, he will have laid bare the vacuum where once sat the Republican establishment. Yes, there are the donors, people who give the party a lot of money and think this ought to get them something in return; Trump is running against them. (No less a GOP bigwig than Charles Koch recently lamented his lack of influence on the party.) There are the lobbyists and consultants, but Trump doesn’t listen to them either. There are the elected officials, but they are held hostage by their constituents. There is no smoke-filled room where the poo-bahs could go to work out a deal and end this. In an age of radical disintermediation, parties can’t tell the people what to do...
There's no "off chance" for Jeb. He's through. And Kasich is an also-ran, a footnote in the monstrosity of an anti-establishment realignment.

It's amazing. And exciting!

Still more, FWIW.

Ms. Molly seems wistful at how all the old political firmaments are breaking away.