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Who Decides: The GOP Establishment or the GOP Electorate?

If you want an enjoyable pre-caucus read, check out Mona Charen’s article today at NRO, which takes on the myth that squishy-moderate GOP candidates are forced on the conservative masses by a vague, omnipotent “Republican establishment.”

Among Charen’s points:

The Republican Establishment, like the “international community,” is more of a figment than a reality. Whom did the so-called establishment support in 2008? Do conservative voters believe that Republican elites somehow engineered the selection of the least loyal and reliable Republican in the U.S. Senate? And how did that work exactly? John McCain was considered the frontrunner in early 2007. Yet by the summer he was languishing in the polls and so broke that he was forced to take out loans. Was it the establishment that earned McCain the nomination or was it the fact that Rudolph Giuliani ran a terrible campaign, Fred Thompson never got airborne, and Mike Huckabee undermined Mitt Romney’s Iowa sling-shot strategy?

The term “Republican establishment” might be a bit imprecise when you consider it. Who exactly does it include? The Republican political class in Washington? The conservative media? Lobbyists? Donors?

But even that can’t be the whole definition, since not everyone in these groups gets lumped in with the dreaded “establishment.” Rush Limbaugh is obviously part of the conservative media, but he’s usually not included. The same goes for the lobbyists at the National Rifle Association and long-time members of Congress like Ron Paul.

It’s actually Paul’s supporters who seem to be the most eager to attack the amorphous Republican Establishment, which they claim is trying to promote the “moderate” Mitt Romney over their preferred candidate. But, as Charen points out, Paul is actually far less conservative than Romney:

This year, most of the Republican field is strongly conservative. But some disgruntled conservatives are convincing themselves that Ron Paul is a more authentic conservative than Mitt Romney. Really? On the one question that ought to define a candidate’s seriousness — grappling with entitlements — Paul is trafficking in fairy tales while Romney has proposed far-reaching reforms. Campaigning in Iowa, Paul told voters that we “don’t have to give up” any of the ruinous entitlement programs. It would all be made affordable, he explains, by waving the magic wand of drastic defense cuts (which is false). Romney, by contrast, along with the other Republican candidates, has proposed changing Medicare to a premium-support model and returning Medicaid to the states.

And for those Paul fans who think the “establishment” is trying to propel the “liberal” Republican into the nomination, keep this in mind: Paul has the largest portion of self-identified Democratic supporters of any other candidate. As Byron York writes:

The same New Hampshire survey found that 87 percent of the people who support Romney consider themselves Republicans. For Newt Gingrich, it’s 85 percent.

So who is supporting Paul? In New Hampshire, Paul is the choice of just 13 percent of Republicans, according to the new poll, while he is the favorite of 36 percent of independents and 26 percent of Democrats who intend to vote in the primary. Paul leads in both non-Republican categories.

The same holds true in Iowa, where a major portion of Paul’s supporters aren’t GOP voters. It isn’t the so-called “Republican Establishment” that’s not on board with Paul – it’s the Republican electorate.


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