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What Republican Establishment?

One of the key pieces of conventional wisdom about the Republican presidential race published in the mainstream media is the GOP “establishment” is leery of Rick Perry and is far more comfortable with Mitt Romney. That may be the case with some people in the party. Certainly, it sums up the feelings of some quoted in a New York Times analysis published yesterday about the unhappy “establishment.” But it begs the question of who exactly comprises that shadowy faction these days.

George Will provided the best answer to that question a few weeks ago when he pointed out on a segment of ABC’s “This Week” there had been no real Republican establishment for nearly half a century:

There is no Republican establishment. In 1966 its house organ — the Republican establishment’s – the New York Herald-Tribune died. The establishment itself died two years earlier in Cow Palace in San Francisco with the nomination of Barry Goldwater.”

Will is right. For decades, control of the Republican Party, which was once largely governed by a moneyed elite, has been contested by a variety of factions. When successful, the GOP has won with a diverse coalition of fiscal conservatives, conservative Christians and foreign policy hawks with many Republicans identifying with more than one of these loose groupings.

The idea any set of politicians in Washington or anywhere else is the “establishment” of the party simply flies in the face of reality. The most important Republican of the last half-century was Ronald Reagan, a man who could not be said to be part of an establishment. Some might argue, as Laura Ingraham did on the same show that produced Will’s statement, that perhaps the Bush family is what passes for a GOP establishment these days. But as Rick Perry’s rise makes clear, the Bushes and their ally Karl Rove don’t even control Texas politics, let alone those of Washington, D.C.

The people who like Romney and are scared by Perry may represent some of the party’s large donors and may like to think of themselves as the party establishment, but they are by no means dominant. Nor could they be said to be in control of the levers of party activism that have long been as much the province of the more conservative factions of the GOP, not the wealthy fundraisers or Washington lobbyists.

While Rick Perry may be, as we have seen in the debates, a flawed candidate, the idea a GOP establishment can stop him is ridiculous. That’s not because he can’t be beaten, but because there is no such thing as a Republican establishment.


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