October 18, 2008


The Right’s Class War: The prospect of a McCain loss has the Republican Party angrily turning on itself. Can the eggheads and the Joe Six-Packs get along? (John Heilemann, Oct 17, 2008, New York)

With the prospect of defeat for John McCain growing more likely every day, the GOP destined to see its numbers reduced in both the House and Senate, and the Republican brand debased to the point of bankruptcy, the conservative intelligentsia is factionalized and feuding, criminating and recriminating, in a way that few of its members can recall in their political lifetimes. Populists attack Establishmentarians. Neocons assail theocons. And virtually everyone has something harsh to say about the party’s standard-bearer. Election Day may still be two weeks away, but already the idea-merchants of the right have formed a circular firing squad.

When the weapons of choice shift from pistols to Uzis after November 4, the ensuing massacre will be for Democrats a source of political opportunity, not to mention endless entertainment. But for Republicans it will be a necessary passage toward either the revival or reinvention of conservatism. Nobody serious on the right doubts that the overhaul is at once required and bound to be arduous—but it may take longer and prove even bloodier than anyone now imagines.

[P]alin retains the fierce loyalty of a cadre of more populist, grassrootsy voices in the right-wing punditocracy who have denounced the main-line-conservative criticisms of Palin as the snooty, disloyal, and craven attempts of faux Republicans to curry favor with the ascendant liberal elite. “They … believe as intellectuals,” writes one pro-Palin opinionator, Victor Davis Hanson, “that the similarly astute Obamians may on occasion inspire, or admire them as the like-minded who cultivate the life of the mind—in contrast to the ‘cancer’ Sarah Palin, who, with her husband Todd, could hardly discuss Proust with them or could offer little if any sophisticated table talk other than the proper chokes on shotguns or optimum RPMs on snow-machines.”

Not surprisingly, Sarracuda’s foes on the right dismiss the counter-backlash more or less out of hand. When I ask Frum about the apparent class overtones of the anti-anti-Palin argument, he deems it a mere “rhetorical trope.” What he hears instead is the sound of defeatism. “The people who defend her have already given up any serious thought of Republicans’ wielding governmental power anytime soon,” Frum says. “They have already moved to a position of pure cultural symbolic opposition to a new majority. The people who criticize her do so because we have some hope that we could be in contention in 2012, and there’s some risk that she could be the party’s nominee, and she’d probably lose—and even if by some miracle she won, she’d be a terrible president.”

Brooks, meanwhile, detects a “more visceral” impulse at work. “There are some folks who live by the culture war and die by the culture war,” he tells me. “And if a bunch of East Coast snobs hate Palin, they should like Palin.” But Brooks, like Frum, sees the internecine fight over McCain’s No. 2 as reflecting a deeper set of ideological fissures in the party. “Basically, the people who are down on Palin and the campaign McCain is running think that it’s time to move beyond Reagan and that we’ve got to go off and do something new,” he explains. “A lot of the people who are defending the campaign and Palin think that we got out of touch with Goldwater and Reagan and we’ve gotta get back to that.”

Bingo! The neocons have always been uncomfortable with the GOP on cultural issues, which, of course, represent the party's core convictions. But every four years they pick the candidate they think least threatening on such issues -- in other words, most likely to allow abortion -- and then back him as he loses to the more religious party work horse. That's why they backed John McCain against George W. Bush but then Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani against Maverick.

So in the next election they'll have some new "moderate" who they'll trumpet as he gets thrashed by Jeb Bush, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal or whoever. And they'll bitch and moan about how we've nominated someone too stupid to govern without ever comprehending that it's the Stupid Party and we don't do "new."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2008 7:57 AM
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