The panic of the GOP’s Washington establishment has become, well, entertaining. The conservative movement that they have designed and programmed so carefully is in the process of going rogue on them, and that rogue has a name: Newt Gingrich.
But they have brought this on themselves. He is their creation.
If you indoctrinate your members to believe that compromise equates to defeat — if that becomes a core principle in your movement’s identity — how can you demand they compromise by accepting Mitt Romney as their nominee? Is that not defeat on the most important decision the party can make?
If you tell them that being Republican requires obedience to every single tenet of Republican doctrine — George Will this week noted that the party is “more ideologically homogenous than ever in 156 years of competing for the presidency” — how can you sell them on a candidate who is so transparently insincere in embracing that doctrine? Isn’t that a betrayal? (Gingrich is equally insincere; he’s just better at hiding it.)
And if you have nurtured your base on the red meat of anger and resentment, building an elaborate media infrastructure to generate fresh outrage to feed upon, you have prepared the way for a demagogic leader with a genius for that style of politics. With his intellectual veneer and flair for the outrageous, Gingrich doesn’t merely throw the crowd red meat, he throws them Kobe beef, broiled to perfection.
Meanwhile, Romney offers soy burgers. Go ahead, eat it. It’s good for you.
And this is the tough part: For years, you have imbued your voter base with a deep distrust of the media, the establishment and the elites, to the point that distrust is now programmed into the movement’s DNA. The harsher the media attack, the more enthusiastically the party faithful now rallies behind its target.
That trait has proved useful, producing a party base that to a large degree is immune to outside influence. But in these circumstances, what mechanisms do you use to convince the base that Gingrich would be a disaster to the party and to the country? How do you reach them? You can’t use the mainstream media, and moderate voices preaching caution from Washington simply have no impact. In fact, they confirm the false image of Gingrich as a fellow outsider.
Newt understands that dynamic very well, having helped to create it. He has made an ostentatious point of refusing to attack his fellow Republicans, saying he will not participate in a media conspiracy to divide the party. It is a wise response, perfectly attuned to the mindset of the base, and you can expect to see him offer it repeatedly in tonight’s GOP debate from Iowa.
In fact, tonight’s debate (broadcast at 9 p.m. on ABC) is likely to be the most important of the party’s two dozen or so forums, because it comes at a critical time. Unless Gingrich self-destructs, and soon, the party establishment and intelligentsia will have to spend the next few months trying to discredit him while shoving Romney down the throat of a GOP base that gags at the thought. And maybe it’s what’s left of my naivete, but I have to think that patriotism is also playing a role in that desperation. The party elite know Gingrich; they understand that proposing to put Newt in position to be president of the United States would, in its own way, be as grossly irresponsible as putting someone like Sarah Palin in that role.
They just don’t know how to convince the rest of the party of that fact, because it requires unlearning so much of what they’ve been told to believe.
– Jay Bookman