Republican ideological excess and disintegration were in clear view in Iowa. New Hampshire suggested that this would likely lead to a weakened Romney candidacy. Now, the South Carolina results raise doubts about Romney’s inevitability. This was widely discussed yesterday among media pundits of various political stripes. But I think that more importantly the results highlight the sad state of the political culture of the right. They also enrich my judgment of how the general election will look.
The competing candidates represented disintegrating components of the right. Santorum is the value conservative, appealing to the working class, what remains of the Reagan Democrats. Ron Paul is the libertarian anti-statist, as the purist appealing especially to the young. Romney is the capitalist, the Republican of big business, once identified as moderate or even liberal (Romney’s father), now identified unsteadily as conservative. And Newt Gingrich is the Republican of resentment, more expressive of anger than of a clear reasoned position.
Gingrich, the demagogue, prevailed. He not so obliquely is the candidate of racist attack, as he rails against Obama as “the food stamp president.” He is the anti-elitist, denouncing the liberal media, and the Washington and New York establishments, proclaiming himself to be “the Reagan populist conservative.” Yet, Reagan created his coalition through the force of his positive personality, while Gingrich, in South Carolina, put together his primary victory with his personal negativity.
In response to my last post on the Republican primary season, Michael Corey challenged me, and Deliberately Considered readers, to take seriously Romney’s speech after he won the New Hampshire primary, to understand what Romney was presenting as the alternative to Obama’s policies. I think he misunderstood me. I recognize that Romney is presenting alternatives, as are Paul and Santorum. I welcome posts and responses explaining and supporting these positions. Wall Street, libertarian and value conservatives do have positive, but largely incompatible views. I judged, though, that the only thing that holds the Republicans together now is the emotional rejection of Obama. This was confirmed in South Carolina in the Gingrich victory.
I doubt Gingrich will be the Republican nominee, but he will have a huge effect on the 2012 general election, nonetheless. If he is the candidate, we will observe the power and limits of the grandiose, of the ideological, of the demagogic. If he is not the candidate, Romney, Rick Santorum, or perhaps someone not yet in the race, perhaps even as Gary Alan Fine hopes chosen in a brokered convention, will have to pay tribute to the demagogue and the forces he represents. And I am convinced the results are likely to be defeat for the Republicans. The election will be between fear and the common sense, and I am convinced that common sense will prevail. Call me an optimist.