The Establishment has done everything it can to absorb the Tea Party, to condescend to the Tea Party, to divide the Tea Party
The Establishment’s Last Stand: Keep Obama
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Mitt Romney cannot win the Republican presidential nomination. He is a man who seemingly entered the race because, after a long and successful working life, he could think of nothing more impressive to top it all off than being President of the United States. From last spring to this very moment, much of the Republican Establishment has been solidly, viciously, in his corner. And yet he cannot win. Most people, when their candidate looks hopeless, turn to another available candidate who might be satisfactory. The Republican Establishment, which is not like most people, is beginning to murmur about a brokered convention. They are determined to get what they want, by hook or by crook, by Drudge or by Fox.
What is it that they want, exactly? To get a hint of an answer, one must look at the man they have supported thus far.
Romney clearly has no feeling for the constitutional discussion that is now the animating principle among Republican primary voters. He never talks about the Constitution, and one senses that he would sound vastly out of his element if he did. His argument against Obamacare—the tipping point policy in the final transformation of America from a constitutional republic to a top-down regulatory state—is purely financial, as though the annihilation of natural rights would be acceptable if it could be done frugally.
Romney keeps telling everyone he worked in the private sector for twenty-five years. (So what? Abraham Lincoln flopped as the owner of a general store at age 23, and later practiced law while serving multiple terms in the Illinois House of Representatives.) This private sector experience, as he repeatedly reports, taught him how to balance a budget. There are two problems with this practical knowledge about which Romney boasts often enough for us to identify it as his main case for being (a) qualified for the presidency, and (b) a conservative. The first problem is that the way a business balances its budget is, first and foremost, by finding innovative ways to increase its revenues—not exactly what a conservative Republican ought to be aiming at as a principle of good government. The second problem, related to the first, is that a business that cannot balance its budget (like Lincoln’s general store) can, and eventually must, shut its doors—not an option for a government that is failing to make ends meet. Profitability is not the determining factor for government as a whole, or even for specific departments or agencies within the government. Romney has undoubtedly made good business decisions about closing up unprofitable shops. The same kind of reasoning cannot be used in government. (Consider the military, as just one clear example.)
One does not need specialized business skills to see how the most bloated government in human history could save money. The issue is how to persuade enough of the humans who make decisions within that government, along with those whose votes determine the identity of the former group, that eliminating government “waste” is a good thing. The problem is that the majority of that “waste” is administered with the protective love of a mother by people who see opportunity, power, hope and change where conservatives see fat, and is supported by the voting decisions of a public whose range of worldly concerns extends no wider than their own toy box, and no further than today’s bedtime.
Romney can and will do nothing to awaken people from the profound moral desuetude that is bringing the abyss closer every day
Romney can and will do nothing to awaken people from the profound moral desuetude that is bringing the abyss closer every day. And, strange as it may seem, that’s just why the Republican Establishment chose him. It must not be forgotten that, at the very beginning of the primary process, back at the 2011 CPAC Conference, the Establishment-manufactured man of the moment was Mitch Daniels. “Mitch Who?” asked those genuine conservatives who smelled a rat. It was understood, and made explicit by prominent Establishment voices, that he was the man precisely because he spoke like a reasonable fiscal manager—while simultaneously speaking out strongly against allowing the so-called “social conservative” agenda to play a role in the 2012 election.
In other words, while Ronald Reagan had worked hard to bring the so-called “social” and “fiscal” conservative camps together, in part by showing them that the “fiscal” issue was, in fact, a major “social” issue—i.e. a moral problem—today’s Republican elite is dead-set on erecting the old barrier again. The aim is to keep moral questions out of the equation, thus preserving the long-standing Washington charade of optics politics, in which two factions argue about whether the noose around America’s neck ought to hang twenty feet high, or ten feet, while the public, oblivious in its cell, enjoys its last meal while staring at “American Idolatry” and “Dancing with the Dimwits.”
The Tea Party movement: A near-perfect embodiment of the spirit of Reagan’s conservative coalition
The Tea Party movement, at its best, was the curative for all that, and a near-perfect embodiment of the spirit of Reagan’s “conservative coalition.” Indeed, it went one step further, not simply establishing common cause between fiscal and social conservatives, but forging a genuine commonality of intentions. The lynchpin of this marriage of purposes was the Constitution itself. The Tea Party represented the crystallization of a sentiment that had long been present, but which had previously lacked clarity of expression—an understanding that the financial bankruptcy facing the country was indistinguishable from a moral bankruptcy. Or rather, that the former was the product of the latter, in the precise sense that abandoning the principles (i.e. the moral foundations) of the Constitution—property rights, individual liberty, limited government—was the source of the ever-expanding entitlement-based federal government that has rendered America insolvent. Thus, the Tea Party presented the corrective for America’s critical illness in properly moral terms: Get back to individual self-reliance and property rights, or face societal doom.
And here, in simple terms, is where Tea Party constitutionalism runs afoul of the Republican Party machine. The Party Establishment, like any animal, is made up of soul and body. The body consists of the usual parts: its head, namely those elected Republicans for whom electoral success, privilege, and a vague sense of wanting to be admired, are the chief motivations; a torso comprised of the support staff, appointees, and campaign apparatchiks of the Party, operators who see winning and losing as the meaning of politics; and its limbs, made up of those media Republicans and other public personalities who are seemingly motivated primarily by the hope of being invited to George Will’s house.
While this physical bulk is more imposing to look at, the Establishment’s soul is the real essence of the beast. And that soul—the “conservative” intellectuals in the think tanks, in the media, and in the academy—is, at this time, made up entirely of practical devotees of Nietzsche. They see themselves as beyond good and evil, and regard the Constitution merely as their particular mask in the parlor game called Politics. They are enjoying themselves too much to get all worked up about such peccadilloes as catastrophic debt, regulatory agencies usurping the legislative role of Congress, and a world-wide dependency culture that is willing freedom out of existence. Their version of sobriety tells them they would look silly and hysterical if they stepped out of their hubristic calm for a moment and started shouting, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” (That won’t stop them from being the first to say “I told you so” when the sky does inevitably fall.)
The Establishment, body and soul, has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. And this means they need to corner the market on “conservative” principle and policy. George Washington is a direct threat to the unprincipled privileges of office. His spiritual heirs must be kept out of the meetings. Conservatism, as a theoretical position, must continue to be the daunting Jesuitical puzzle of the select few, in order to keep the parlor game going.
Today’s constitutional conservatives threaten to end the parlor game. They have committed the faux pas of noticing that their national story is about to end, and of objecting—forcefully—to the quality of leadership that has brought things to this bleak prospect. They are demanding a new establishment, and immediately. Worst of all, they are winning the intellectual argument against those who, until just a moment ago, felt certain that they were the only ones thinking.
These constitutionalists will make a lot of mistakes and miscalculations along the way. They have already made many. That’s fine; it’s the nature of life, and it’s beautiful to see life where once life seemed to have receded. The one mistake they cannot afford to make, however, is to accept the Establishment’s olive branch, on any terms. (Ron Paul true believers, take note: Your man has taken the bait.) The Establishment wants Mitt Romney because they see him as their best bet at maintaining business as usual in the Republican-Democrat scenario. If they cannot have him—as it appears they cannot—then they will try to hold out for a brokered convention, where they can foist some new bright hope of their choosing upon unsuspecting Republicans.
But that’s the trick: a whole lot of Republican voters are anything but “unsuspecting” now. They are watching the Establishment’s calculations, and reading them, even predicting them. It will be much more difficult to put one over on them than it would have been even a few years ago. In this climate, even a brokered convention could blow up in the Establishment’s face.
If the Establishment does not get what it wants through the Party’s own process, it has a fall-back option: Undermine the Republican candidate,
But here is a final, harsh consideration. If the Establishment does not get what it wants through the Party’s own process, it has a fall-back option: Undermine the Republican candidate, and accept a short-term loss in the form of four more years of President Obama. They did it to John McCain; if you think they would not do it again—and even more aggressively—to a constitutional conservative, think again. McCain was merely a loose cannon. A genuine conservative, with the full moral backing of constitutionalists of all shapes and sizes, would threaten to cancel the entire show—to strike at the heart of the entitlement society, to shrink the government, both in manpower and in range of authority, and to begin stepping away from those international agreements and commitments that guarantee the slow transfer of American sovereignty to an international bureaucracy.
In short, a president with constitutionalist tendencies, and egged on by a fully-energized Tea Party movement, would, by his very presence, show up the farce that Washington politics has been—including on the “R” side of the ledger—for so long. And this would be an implicit poke in the eye with a sharp stick to everyone currently presiding in the Republican Establishment, i.e. the people who have been complicit in creating the current mess.
Be clear about this: there is pride at stake here. Thomas Hobbes, a pessimist, identified fear and vainglory as the two prime motive passions of man. The current Republican Establishment has been the custodian of the “conservative” side of the national debate for decades—decades during which the nation has all but ceased to exist as anything that would be recognizable to the Establishmentarians’ own fathers, let alone the Founding Fathers. The Tea Party’s challenge writes that failure across the sky in huge, red letters. How would you react if someone told you your whole adult life’s achievement had in truth been one gigantic flop? Well, if you were possessed of the noblest and severest integrity, you might look hard at your endeavors and, if the claim against you should turn out to have been fair, you might acknowledge your misguidedness, or even seek to put things right. But that, alas, is not how most people would react, and certainly not those inclined to judge themselves worthy of the highest praise and privilege.
The Establishment has done everything it can to absorb the Tea Party, to condescend to the Tea Party, to divide the Tea Party. The continued recalcitrance of so many constitutionalists, through all of these efforts, just sharpens the point of that stick in the Establishment’s eye. From an insider’s point of view, even four more years of Obama would be preferable to this effrontery. Vainglory is the motive now.