Governor Perry Arrives: II. The Continuing Collapse of the Republican Establishment

One of my favorite political trivia questions runs as follows: “In the last half of the 20th century, how many Republican Party presidential tickets did not have a Nixon, Dole or Bush on them?”. That the correct answer is “One” (the 1964 ticket) speaks to the extraordinarily organized way that the Republican Establishment managed the party nomination process for decades after World War II.

I think it was Mark Shields who said during the 2000 election that Republicans pick nominees in a fashion similar to how family-owned banks in Ohio pick a new president: “OK everyone, thanks for coming to the meeting. Dad is retiring. Bill is his oldest son so he will be the president. Any objections? No? Great, see you on Monday.” Shields was commenting at the time on why even the best-run, most public imagination capturing insurgent campaign in the post WWII-history of the Republican Party (John McCain’s) would ultimately get crushed by the party establishment and the rank-and-file voters who take their marching orders therefrom.

But my have things changed. I view President G.W. Bush as a critical figure in the party’s transformation because while he couldn’t have been elected without the Republican Establishment he made clear his contempt of them the moment he got into office. More cracks showed in the 2008 nomination race, a multi-car train wreck that McCain somehow won. In 2010, the Tea Party candidates were running as much against the Republican Establishment as they were against Democrats. And today, after the sort of serious people the Establishment would have loved (Thune, Daniels) declined to run, Governor Perry joins Gingrich, Pawlenty, Paul, Bachmann, Romney, Santorum and Cain (and Palin?) in a circular-firing-squad-cum-rugby scrum. Never in my lifetime has the Republican Party nomination process involved so many divisive figures, second-rate figures and genuine loons, nor evoked such a lack of broadly shared enthusiasm for any one candidate. In short, the Republican Party today is reminiscent of the Democratic Party of the early 1970s, and that’s a huge edge for President Obama no matter which Republican nominee he faces in 2012.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

15 thoughts on “Governor Perry Arrives: II. The Continuing Collapse of the Republican Establishment”

  1. Could Pat Buchanan come back to the Republican brand just in time to authenticate the tribal circus it has become, and take the nomination tiara away from the rest of ’em?

    Anything can happen when Crazy Run Wild!

  2. Or even better, “When was the last time there was a winning Republican ticket with neither the name Nixon or Bush appearing on the ballot?”

  3. the Republican Party today is reminiscent of the Democratic Party of the early 1970s,


    The leading Democratic candidates in 1972 were McGovern, Humphrey, Muskie, Wallace, Jackson.

    One racist loon. Otherwise a more or less conventional set of candidates occupying a range of positions on the Democratic spectrum, from McGovern to Jackson.

  4. “I view President G.W. Bush as a critical figure in the party’s transformation because while he couldn’t have been elected without the Republican Establishment he made clear his contempt of them the moment he got into office.”

    How so? I have a volume of Doonesbury cartoons from the first Bush and Reagan days. The thing I found so astonishing about them was that cast of characters was exactly the same as during the Bush II presidency. In particular Rumsfeld and Cheney. This was almost 30 years later!

  5. @Bernard

    I think he means that there’s a intraparty war between the older, more moderate establishment and a bunch of radicals from outside the party structure; bachmann/perry v. Romney is similar to the McCarthy/McGovern v. Muskie battles in the 1972 campaign.

    Only the VP pick will make Thomas Eagleton look sane by comparison.

  6. In part I think it’s the result of too much money, ie too many moneyed interests, trying to grab the steering wheel of this one vehicle. Establishment east-coast money and financial and industrial institutions used to dominate the party in coalition with small-town Chamber of Commerce types. To this have been grafted uneasily big ag, big pharma, and natural-resources extraction. The latter are the most anarchistic and unprincipled interest and big ag is close.

    The Supreme Court has unleashed them all; in the resulting Wild West conditions the most unscrupulous will prevail, and Koch etc financing of teahadis is one result. Another is that the party is developing almost-independent power operators like DeMint who amass, control, and funnel vast amounts of money and use the R label to cover their own factional goals. Others of similar reach will arise, if they haven’t already. Club for Growth, Norquist, et al come to mind as bases. The party itself, as a centralizing and coordinating institution, doesn’t control nearly enough money to contain any of this. Steele’s buffoonery didn’t destroy it, but did demonstrate its irrelevance.

    We’re likely headed for something like 18th century Britain, where the “great men” governed through shifting factional alliances and policy took a distant second place to factional and personal rivalry. The logic of reaching that point helps explain the vicious personal attacks on Soros and on the money base of organized labor and the Democratic party. Not a very pretty picture, really.

    But it is kind of fun to watch the floundering right now. In the end, though, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see Perry walk away with nomination, and he’s exceptionally accomplished at making himself look good in any situation. With the kind of backing he’d have, he’d be a nightmare to beat.

  7. In short, the Republican Party today is reminiscent of the Democratic Party of the early 1970s

    It reminds me a lot more of the British Labour Party of the late 1970s.

    Remember when the definition of the loon in the GOP nominating process was Harold Stassen?

  8. I wouldn’t put Romney in the clown show, as Keith Humphreys did. Romney is not a clown; he is far sadder. He is a serious, slightly stiff, Establishment Republican who is trying his best to play the role of a clown and failing. He doesn’t think he will have a chance in 2016 (too old; too many Presidential nomination races), so he’s forced to go the Bozo-route in 2012. It’s pathetic, really.

    The serious Republicans–Jeb Bush, Huntsman, Bobby Jindal, Mitch Daniels (not John Thune!)–are all waiting for 2016. But unless the Republicans get immolated in 2012 and learn from the experience, they too will be forced to assume the rubber nose and fright wig if they want to get the nomination.

  9. One small blessing: McCain finally realized he’s too old. Of course, he gets to play lieberman in the mean time, after being a jackass for a couple of years. But remember, Al Gore is fat.

  10. The Republican base have finally decided that they can’t let the party establishment pick their candidates any longer. That doesn’t, obviously, mean that they’re going to pick candidates the Democratic party establishment likes. Quite the contrary: The Republican base have a lot less in common ideologically with Democrats than the Republican establishment.

  11. Americanadian: Yes, you have it. Remember the bloody, chaotic 1972 Democratic convention and how they couldn’t even get McGovern to the podium to accept until the middle of the night when no one was watching, whereas Nixon accepted the nomination after a smooth as silk convention, giving his speech at the exact moment that most Americans were watching TV? As McGovern described it “I opened the doors of the Democratic Party and 20 million people walked out”.

    Doug Moffatt: In Paul Starr’s classic Transformation of American Medicine, he documents that when Nixon wanted to propose national health insurance, one of his advisers said it would be simpler for the government to run everything NHS-style, and therefore Nixon should propose building 1,000 more community health centers to give out government run health care for free. His kooky liberal proposal was laughed down. That advisor’s name was Don Rumsfeld. Neither he or the equally genial, moderate and reasonable Dick Cheney of that era would have recognized themselves under GWB. They were in the tiny minority who straddled the periods because they were willing to change that much, or did change that much. The people like Scowcroft whose politics, worldview and way of doing business stayed the same were shut out, much to the chagrin of Bush the elder.

  12. So there were only two elections in the past 64 years without a Nixon, Dole, or Bush on the GOP ticket? And both of those (1964 and 2008) were massive losses for the GOP?

    Whichever teabagger they nominate for president next year had better pick Liddy Dole or Jeb Bush for VP….

  13. The one election in the past 64 years I can think of with a Dole at the head of the ticket was something of a massive loss, as far as I recall, so if you’re trying to make a case that having a Dole on the ticket is helpful, I don’t see it.

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