The Corner

The Establishment Primary

I think David French got it exactly right yesterday. If fortyish days out of Iowa, this is now a Romney-Gingrich primary — if Gingrich is the “anti-Mitt” — then it means we’re through talking about “establishment” versus “outsider” credentials. Both Romney and Gingrich are down-the-middle establishment conservatives. They both have friends in Washington. They both have committed the crime of making a dollar and a cent while wearing a suit and tie. Neither is a stranger to cutting a deal. They even have the same baggage. As Kate notes, Gingrich like Romney once supported a state-level individual mandate, and now cuts a number of distinctions, either vague or subtle, between the federal and state levels, between what he did then and what he’d do now, and so on.

Romney and Gingrich’s twin standing atop the polls indicates a large plurality, or even majority, of the Republican electorate realizes there tends to be, for good and for ill, a coincidence between insider-dom and presidentiality. Some commentators seem to think Gingrich is just the last guy to find a chair when the music stopped. But I don’t think that’s right. It’s worth recalling that after some (big) early stumbles, Newt’s campaign has been solid. His message has been consistent, and he’s earned near universal praise at every debate. It’s not like he just showed up. So “peaking at the right time” just doesn’t explain his rise. I think it’s something less random, more ordered than that. The primary has thus far exhibited a kind of telos (neatly illustrated in charts like this), in which the conservative base has shopped for an “outsider” candidate — fronting goodwill first to Bachmann, then to Perry, then to Cain, as if it were a line of credit — while moving, begrudgingly but inevitably, toward the insiders as each of the above proved unsatisfactory. I think I read somewhere the metaphor that Bachmann/Perry/Cain were the ones you dated and Romney the one you’d end up marrying. As weird and reductive as that is, it’s not exactly wrong either.

To extend the creepy metaphor — and assuming my premise is correct — what we now have is a kind of establishment love triangle. Will the base choose the sharp-looking executive with the impeccable personal morality or the frumpy, but charismatic, philosopher with the checkered past? Time will tell.

UPDATE: Several commenters have brought up a distinction between a “Washington insider” and an “establishment candidate.” Newt, they argue, is the former but not the latter, and Mitt the latter but not the former. The idea is that “establishment candidate” just means the candidate with the backing of the political elites. I think as a matter of semantics (and I take semantics seriously) this is a distinction worth making, but I’m not sure it makes a difference in this case — both Newt and Mitt have reservoirs of support and favors owed within the GOP establishment. If Romney has the preponderance, it’s only because he’s been running for president for six years straight. But then again, if Mitt has the preponderance, it isn’t a particularly loud preponderance, is it? Many GOP players seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach.

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster has been news editor of National Review Online since 2009, and was a web site editor until 2012. His work has appeared in The American Spectator, The American ...

Most Popular

Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More