Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com
Nothing drives me up the wall these days more than pundits (including many on the putative “liberal” cable news network) engaging in endless, pointless dissections of the GOP and pondering if the “Tea Party fringe” is winning over the “moderate, establishment wing” or vice versa. Stop it, pundits. There is no “Republican establishment” today. None. If there (arguably) was one in the past it does not exist anymore. I’ll let Grover Norquist, writing at The American Spectator, explain it to you:
So where does this narrative of liberal Republican leaders battling the Tea Party grassroots come from?
Talk radio hosts created some of this confusion by focusing on tactical differences, for instance Senator Ted Cruz’s attempt to “defund” Obamacare in the fall of 2013. Cruz argued that the GOP House could force Harry Reid to repeal Obamacare, and then somehow get Obama himself to agree to destroy his life’s work. These tactics, which led to a government shutdown, did not work as advertised. Polls showed support for Republicans hit new lows and approval of Obamacare hit new highs. Both turned around only after the shutdown threat disappeared and the nation could focus on the problems with the Obamacare rollout. Tactics may be wise or foolish, but disagreements over them does not change the underlying unanimity within the Republican Party, top to bottom, that Obamacare should be repealed.
A second reason many see an imaginary fight between the Tea Party movement and the establishment is that both terms are rather amorphous, and are often used and defined dishonestly. Fringe candidates with little or no support have cried out that they are the true Tea Partiers, and some national groups foolishly echo these claims. Local activists who support the more electable conservatives are drowned out by national voices claiming to speak on the Tea Party’s behalf. For instance North Carolina’s Speaker of the Assembly Thom Tillis, who is running for U.S. Senate, was attacked by national “Tea Party” groups as the establishment candidate. But Tillis has a solid conservative record, and real-life polling in the state found that he won strong support from self-identified Tea Party voters.
The national media loves to cover fights between conservatives, which damage the Right and distract from the very real divisions on the Left. But there is no fight between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment; the Tea Party is the Republican establishment. Fewer political victories have been more rapid and more complete than the one it has won in five short years.
Norquist, the bathtub drowner, pretended it was all about spending and ignored all the conspiracy nuttery (Birtherism, Benghazi, etc.) and cultural backlash (racist, misogynistic, homophobic) that went along with it but he is right that conservatives are being defined as “establishment” or “fringe” in a slipshod manner that has more to do with whatever story the person doing the defining is pushing than the actual characteristics of the conservative. It’s completely arbitrary at this point.
The GOP Presidential candidate most consistently deemed “establishment” is Jeb Bush. This is usually attributed to his support for Common Core (it’s important to note that he was for it before President Obama was for it) and a stance on immigration slightly to the left of Pat Buchanan (which both he and Marco Rubio have been walking back).
And how is Jeb(!) on a host of other issues? Well, he’s a long-time forced birth fanatic and let’s not forget his famous intervention in the Terri Schaivo matter. Bush’s plan to tackle climate change is, wait for it, fracking, and he plans to appeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with essentially nothing. Yep, as Norquist says, the Tea Party takeover is complete.
After Jeb(!), the other middling (by how they’re polling after Donald Trump) ones are considered “establishment” – or perhaps “moderate” or “libertarian” or whatever descriptor is meant to distinguish them from Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum – on whatever haphazard basis the pundits see fit to place them. Rand Paul is for civil liberties! Chris Christie has worked with Democrats! Carly Fiorina gave a crisp performance at the earlier debate! Ben Carson is a doctor! What about that fresh, young Marco Rubio??
There are infinite reasons (because reasons!) to put all the aforementioned GOP candidates into the category of electable, which then tends to morph into “establishment” (or whatever word that means “not a total wackobird” they want to use). Yet how is Trump, still the front-runner, not “establishment” in his own way? He’s a billionaire businessman who proudly admits to donating to politicians of both parties. He praised the Canadian single payer medical plan. He held fundraisers for “moderate” Mitt Romney in 2012. And despite his incendiary rhetoric about women, policy-wise Trump is less offensive than Rubio, Walker, or Huckabee. And that is plain terrifying.