Is The Republican Primary George McGovern’s Fault?
Weekly Standard‘s Jay Cost is bemoaning the dissolution of the old, pre-McGovern system of Party organization, when both Parties, were run by a hierarchical network of wise men and power brokers. Ever since the McGovern-Fraser Commission that brought about the modern nomination process, Cost argues, Americans have been saddled with an unwieldy, inefficient, and self-defeating system.
Instead of there being a centralized Party leadership to keep in mind what’s best for the entire institution, power is divvied-up among the candidates. And while the candidates may mean well, the fact is that it’s rarely in their own self-interest to do what’s in the greater self-interest of the Party. Some of them end up behaving like the contemptuous little sovereigns of the Holy Roman Empire, refusing to sacrifice an ounce of their own power for the greater good.
Supposedly, this is the reason why this cycle’s Presidential nomination process for the GOP has been such an unmitigated disaster; an endless and self-destructive carnival of mediocre candidates becoming that even weaker through in-fighting and desperate attempts to prove themselves most faithful to the wingnut code. It’s, in a word, the system, man, that’s bringing Mitt Romney — and a chance of winning in 2012, with him — to the brink of defeat.
Understandably, Cost yearns for the good old days:
Because there is no such governing body, we have this mess that possibly might stretch on for months, leave lingering bad blood between the factions, and ultimately give Barack Obama a boost in the general election. That’s the difference between having somebody in charge and having nobody in charge….
The sad truth is that Americans who lived and died 150 years ago – who didn’t have modern medicine, personal computers, cars, airplanes, easy access to higher education, “sophisticated” manners and all the rest – had a much better party system than we do today.
And the Republican party is paying the price for this right now.
Hey, guess what; I’m not buying this for a second. (Big surprise, right?) And neither should you.
The far more logical explanation for the Republican Party’s current nomination woes? The Party faithful have gone off the deep end. At this point, that’s kind of a boring analysis, I know. We’ve been saying this for at least three years. But it’s still true!
For Cost’s argument to make any sense, we’d have to discount the 2008 Democratic nomination process, which produced not one but two top-tier, highly-electable candidates. And though their campaign was inarguably hard-fought, they not only were able to make nice for the kids, but have forged a rather improbable but doubtlessly effective partnership. In fact, Obama and Clinton have worked so well together, it’s become something of a cliché for bored DC journos to pitch a story: What if Clinton and Biden switch seats for 2012?
During the dog days of the Clinton-Obama contest, of course, there were plenty of Democrats who worried, as Cost is today, that the intra-party squabble would — like Lisa did Johnny — tear the Dems apart. But these anxieties were proven premature. Why? Because the Democratic nomination contest of 2007-2008 was waged along personal, not ideological, lines.
On the substance, the distance between Obama and Clinton was minuscule. Indeed, the distance between the two of them and the median voter was similarly proportioned. And that’s where the big contrast with today’s GOP lies.
Clinton and Obama weren’t marching around Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia, and other primary states going back-and-forth over who was more indebted to Lyndon Johnson’s legacy; or who would nationalize more industries and subsidize more forms of birth control. It got ugly between the two of them, sure, but it was ugly in a petty, personal way. No one was showing swing-voter Jane Doe those planks of the Democratic base best left under the rug.
Today’s GOP, on the other hand, has not only had the ad hominem brawling that so turns voters off, but it’s had more than the normal share of extremist one-upsmanship. Honestly, as little as you may think of today’s Republican Party, did you honestly imagine that at this juncture, in late February, we’d be talking about Rick Santorum? Or Rick Santorum and Satan? That support for Paul Ryan’s dismantling of Medicare would be the moderate position? The list goes on.
That, and not the post-McGovern reforms, is the real reason the GOP seems poised to spectacularly blow what could have been a Heaven-sent opportunity. Not because the people have too much control, but because these people have too much control. At this point, not even Da Mare or Boss Tweed could save Republicans from themselves.