Can we now just admit that everyone is settling in this race. For the last month or so we’ve heard a lot of posturing about the “conservative establishment.” I’ve been pretty skeptical about the uses and abuses of the term. But now that Rick Santorum has replaced Newt Gingrich as the anti-Mitt frontrunner, the term seems even more stale. Santorum has many strengths (and weaknesses), but let’s not insult our intelligence. He is no Washington outsider. The guy has been a fixture of the conservative and Republican establishment — however you want to define the term — for decades. A congressman, senator, radio show host, author, Fox News contributor, leader in the 1994 Contract with America movement, activist, lobbyist, earmarker, endorser of Arlen Specter: This is not some tea party unknown.
I don’t think all of those things are damning (though some are!). Then again, I don’t think the conservative establishment is a term of derision the way some do (the Republican establishment, I’m iffier on).
The simple fact is that none of these candidates are ideal and nearly everyone not writing-in Calvin Coolidge is compromising. The problem is people don’t want to admit they’re compromising. And so they create ideological theories and narratives about tainted motives to explain why the other guys are compromising and why their own candidate is purer than pure.
They are all compromise candidates. All of them. They always are, of course. But this time around they’re a bigger compromise than usual.