Does the U.S. really have a multiparty system? The nasty fight for the Republican nomination has exposed divisions which represent three distinct, and in the minds of some, mutually exclusive, factions. These would be “values voters” represented by Christian evangelicals; “true conservatives” represented by the Tea Party; and “the Republican establishment” represented by elected officials, past and present, the “conservative media” and business interests.
It is further postulated by the far right that the “establishment” dominates the electoral process. Thus, in the context of the current primary contest, important questions arise: “Is this characterization correct?”. If so, is Mitt Romney the “hand-picked candidate”, of the “establishment”? If that is so, does it ensure that Romney, wins the nomination?”; and if Romney is the nominee, will that alienate the other factions to the point that it guarantees President Obama's reelection ?
This whole argument is made in some detail by Steve McCann in the conservative on-line journal the "American Thinker", and can serve as a useful basis for analysis. First, the notion of a semi-conspiratorial establishment a.k.a. “elite moneyed interests”, manipulating the nominating process is not just a product of McCann's imagination alone. It is not uncommon for candidates running behind to complain that it is not their personal attributes or policy positions that have them behind, but the machinations of an ill defined and sinister dark force. Thus New Gingrich has charged throughout the campaign that the “true conservative believers” would not let the “establishment” and its money force the “moderate Mitt Romney” on them.
McCann asserts, somewhat illogically, that “ the “Republican Establishment is doing all they can to alienate the vast majority of the the current base of the Party.” This of course contradicts his claim that the establishment's sole purpose is to gain control of the “nation's purse-strings”. Of course, all public policy is dependent on funding and the budget priorities set by the parties in power. McCann's description so far, describes all political factions including his own Tea Party, whose fundamental motive is control of the federal budget. McCann however, expands his definition of the Establishment to include: “many current and nearly all retired national office holders”; “the majority of the conservative media”; “numerous think-tanks; and “deep pocket political contributors and political consultants”.
These groups and individuals certainly exist both in the Republican Party and the Democrat Party, but it is a stretch to make the case that such a vast and diverse group, has a single mind and works together for the benefit of a single pre-selected candidate. All of the original seven Republican candidates had their professional consultants, “deep pocket” contributors, and supporters in the media, without which a candidacy isn't possible.
McCann says that Ronald Reagan was an exception to his theory, as was the Republican controlled House from 1995 to 1999. Why Reagan would be an exception is not explained. In the 1980 election in which Reagan was the nominee and went on to become President, there were several “establishment” qualified candidates, the most prominent being Senator Bob Dole who was the Vice Presidential nominee in 1976, Senate Majority Leader twice, and later, the Republican nominee for President in 1996. Are we to believe that Reagan defeated Dole and won the nomination and the presidency twice without political consultants, deep pocket contributors, and all the rest? Essentially, the unorganized groups which McCann and Gingrich define as the “establishment” observe the early dynamics of the nominating process and coalesce around the candidate that seems most electable in the general election.
McCann's other exception to his theory, the Republican House from 1995 to 1999 just by “coincidence” represents the years that his preferred candidate, Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. In fact, Gingrich fits all the criteria for an establishment candidate himself. He is the quintessential Washington insider: Representative from Georgia for twenty years (1979-99); Speaker of the House (1995-99); political consultant and quasi-lobbyist (1999-present); founder and chairman of several policy think-tanks. But McCann and Gingrich think that the Republican establishment prefers Mitt Romney, a one term governor of Massachusetts, and successful business man on the theory that somehow he would be of more benefit to them than Gingrich. Interestingly, Romney was apparently not the establishment's choice for the nomination in 2008 when he was soundly defeated by John McCain. How he managed to join the club is not explained by McCann.
McCann's conspiracy theory of how Romney has achieved front runner status actually becomes amusing. He says: “There are six primary methods of eliminating potential challengers with the tacit cooperation of the mainstream media, and they have been in full display this primary season. They are to portray unacceptable candidates as:
- hypocrites in sexual matters (Herman Cain); or
- unstable (Michelle Bachmann); or
- ignorant and incoherent (Rick Perry); or
- a religious fanatic (Rick Santorum); or
plain weird and from another planet (Ron Paul); or dangerous and
unelectable (Newt Gingrich). “
The whole “Republican establishment” conspiracy theory is fundamentally based on the view that Republican voters are simple minded puppets who evil doers such as George H.W. Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christy, Senator John McCain, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who have all endorsed Romney, can “maneuver. . . into choosing the previously anointed Mitt Romney”. But Republican voters, like the Republican establishment, want most to defeat President Obama and while such things as likeability, intelligence, presidential demeanor, experience and character, are important factors in voter preference, these become part of the electability equation. Gingrich has his true believers who give him high marks in some of these traits, and Romney has his. Both their supporters and those of the other candidates, while susceptible to the influence of campaign advertising, have plenty of other input from the plethora of personal campaign events and the seeming endless debates on which to form their own opinions.
So will the Republican voters in the non-establishment and so called “anyone but Romney” crowd abandon their support of the party if the candidate is indeed Mitt Romney? McCann thinks so: “The public now sees the length to which the Establishment will go to make certain their hand-picked candidate is chosen regardless of the dire circumstances facing the nation. A number of them (how many is anyone's guess right now) will no longer be willing to support those factions within the Establishment and the Party or to believe what they are told. “
The nominating process has a long way to go but now, after losing in Iowa and South Carolina but winning in Florida, Romney has momentum, money and endorsements. The reason is a plurality of “the public” who McCann feels has now awakened to the “manipulation” and “unfair tactics of the establishment” have not dropped out at all and have simply chosen electability over anger and quirkiness.