Let us now play the tiniest violin for what is called the "Republican Establishment". I'm not sure what this phrase means or represents any more – the Chamber of Commerce? John Boehner? The Bush family? But the concept of a responsible, sane, pragmatic party leadership able to corral or coax or manage a party's base is, it seems to me, a preposterous fiction on its face, as we are seeing.
The Republican Establishment is Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, and their mainfold products, from Hannity to Levin. They rule on the talk radio airwaves and on the GOP's own "news" channel, Fox. They have never quite reconciled themselves to Romney since he represents a gray blur in a stark Manichean universe they have created for more than a decade now. In this universe, there is only black and white. There is only them and us. Anyone who diverges an iota from this schematic is speaking without a microphone in front of a revving airplane engine.
Listen to Gingrich's victory speech. It was completely, fundamentally, organizationally Manichean, if you'll pardon the expression. He limned a familiar battle between independence and dependence, pay-checks vs food stamps, America vs "Europe", the American people vs elites "forcing people" for 35 years not to be American, the traditional America vs the "secular, European style socialist bureaucratic system". There is no gray here. There is no nuance. And there is the imputation to the other side of malign motives, secret agendas and foreignness that has been Gingrich's hallmark since the very beginning, when he assaulted the traditions of the Congress until that institution eventually had to repel him.
Listen to Limbaugh, the GOP's chief spokesman. How does a Romney channel that level of viciousness and rage? Listen to Hannity. How does a smooth manager reach a base that wants the same Manichean approach to foreign policy, in which there is only one ally (Israel) and enemies everywhere else (Europe, China, the Arab world, Russia)? Read Mark Levin. There are only two options now on the table, as he sees it: freedom or slavery. And a vote for Obama is a vote for slavery.
This is the current GOP. It purges dissidents, it vaunts total loyalty, it polices discourse for any deviation. If you really have a cogent argument, you find yourself fired – like Bruce Bartlett or David Frum – or subject to blacklists, like me and Fox. You can find Steve Schmidt lamenting Gingrich for very good reasons, and then you realize that it was Schmidt – a moderate, sane, level-headed professional – who helped pick Sarah Palin for the vice-presidential nomination. Because he correctly realized that she would actually add base votes and prevent a total Obama tsunami. In the end, he knew what he had to do. In the end, the "establishment" knows the party they have created.
This now is the party of Palin and Gingrich, animated primarily by hatred of elites, angry at the new shape and color of America, befuddled by a suddenly more complicated world, and dedicated primarily to emotion rather than reason. That party is simply not one that can rally behind a Mitt Romney. He too knows what he has to say – hence his ludicrous invocation of Obama as some kind of alien being. But it doesn't work. He believes it – since he seems capable of genuinely believing in anything that will win him votes and power. But he doesn't have the rage to make it work. And that rage cannot be downward, as Romney's often is – toward hecklers or interviewers. It has to be upward – at vague, treasonous elites. It has to have that Poujadist touch, that soupcon of contempt, that sends shivers up the legs of the Republican faithful, reared on Limbaugh, propagandized by Fox, and coated with a shallow knowledge of a largely fictionalized past.
This is Gingrich's party; and Ailes'; and Rove's. They made it; and it is only fitting it now be put on the table, for full inspection. Better sooner than later.
Obama is a poultice. He brings poison to the surface. Where, with any luck, it dies.
(Photo: Supporters of Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich celebrate at a primary night rally as he is announced as the winner of the South Carolina primary January 21, 2012 in Columbia, South Carolina. By Richard Ellis/Getty.)