The sad spectacle of the GOP’s ’08 nomination race underlines major problems that the party will wrestle with for a long time. Following six years of criminal mismanagement the explosive immigration debate finally broke the fragile truce between business conservatives and social cons. Since then the rift has festered to the point that Dems trump the GOP on every economic indicator and the business vote stands ready to stampede left en masse.
Losing corporate conservatives only makes the religious bloc that much more critical, yet for some reason Republicans want to nominate a giant red middle finger like Giuliani and push Dobsonites out of the tent as well. If I had to guess why I would say that they probably understand that spiking Giuliani won’t do much good when the next options include a Mormon and a swinging, halfhearted embarrassment of an actor. Unless the GOP reaches into the backbench for non-candidates like Brownback or Huckabee their most motivated voting bloc will find something else to do in 2008.
But if fiscal mismanagement has driven away the corporate cons and issue neglect drives away the social cons, what’s holding up the tent fabric? The answer, I think, looks a lot like the two GOP candidates with something like traction – Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul. Done laughing? Let me explain. Giuliani collects and expands on everything that the GOP has come to represent in the late years of Bushism: dictatorial executive power, corrupt cronyism, pseudo-religious leader worship, unprovoked wars of aggression, torture, an unaccountable police state at home, party unity through racial demagoguing. Strip away the morality voter baggage and the fiscal conservatism and you have, basically, fascism. Rudy’s support conveniently illustrates the constituency in America who personally vindicate Sinclair Lewis’s famous thesis.
Ron Paul’s insurgent campaign represents almost exactly the opposite. Paleo-con in every way including racism, the Paul movement out-Goldwaters Goldwater. Paul’s insurgent success comes entirely from the Buchananite faction who have quietly (and not so quietly) stewed since they lost their party to Gingrich/DeLay corrupticons and Pat Robertson Jesus warriors. They hated Iraq, detest Bush and want their party back.
A Giuliani nomination win would cement the GOP’s place as a catchbasin for islamophobic security freaks, basically a militia without the greasepaint. A Ron Paul win would put the GOP exactly on the rails that it left some time between Goldwater and Reagan, and I honestly can’t blame GOP supporters who want to get back in touch with their roots. However, Pauliacs need to remember that movies we saw when we were twelve seemed so crazy awesome because, well, we were twelve. The Legend of Billy Jean remains one of the coolest movies ever made and I will brook no disagreement on that topic, but neither will I ever watch the movie again. The world has moved on since Paul’s isolationism, small-government absolutism and racial baggage were relevant, and I suspect that a Ron Paul win would ghettoize the party as effectively as Giuliani would.
In my view the rest of the GOP frontrunners are basically ciphers, non-entities whom GOP voters would support tepidly in 2008 and forget soon after he loses to Hillary in a landslide. A nomination win by any of them won’t create any clear direction for the party, meaning that the intra-party civil war will just go on for another four years until Newt tries to bring back the 1998-2002 corrupticon glory days in 2012.