I’ve made a disturbing discovery: I am a member of the conservative “establishment.” I feel like Michael Douglas at the end of Falling Down: “I’m the bad guy?”
Largely in response to the real and perceived excesses of the Bush years and the overreach of the Obama administration, the base has become more populist. In particular, the rank and file of the GOP and the conservative movement have become deeply disenchanted with what they see as the rubber-spined, foot-dragging quislings drinking from a trough of Chablis at some Georgetown party. The term “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) has become an epithet of ideological enforcement, spit out in much the same way Mao cursed “running dog capitalists.”
In 2010, the tea parties and the conservative base (not always synonymous terms) tried to cull as many RINOs from the herd as they could in the primaries. They were extremely successful, with only a few stumbles.
Things are messier this time around. And to some extent this is to be expected. Presidential primaries rely on much larger pools of voters than primaries in midterms. Moreover, rather than a single Tea Party candidate challenging a worn-out incumbent, the field has had lots of candidates seeking the Tea Party or “true conservative” mantle.
Each of them has tried to play the populist card, not just against the liberal media establishment but also against the so-called conservative establishment. “I believe it is a deliberate attempt to damage me because I am not, quote unquote, the establishment choice,” explained Herman Cain when asked about his troubles.
Though he never intended any of this, Mitt Romney is largely to blame for the anti-establishment tumult. Somehow, he has managed to become the Arlen Specter of the 2012 field. (Specter is conservative-speak for “demon RINO from hell.” You’re supposed to spit on the ground after you say “Arlen Specter.” Ptooey.)
In 2008, Romney was the conservative alternative to John McCain, earning endorsements not just from National Review but from many titans of right-wing talk radio — Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham. Now Limbaugh insists that support for Romney proves that “the Republican establishment does not want a conservative getting the nomination.” Erick Erickson, a CNN contributor and editor of the conservative site RedState, says that if Romney is the nominee, “Conservatism dies and Barack Obama wins.”