Reader Joe, who identifies himself as “one of those jobs that don’t let me have public politics,” corrects me about John McCain’s relationship to the GOP hard core:
I never thought I would ever defend the dolts in our press corps for their crush on McCain, but I think that they have a point. Even if they don’t understand it.
As you said, McCain is wingnutty as hell and not overly-principled. But he is still anathema to many wingnuts. This is not because the wingnuts are even more extremist than McCain, as you suggest. It is hard to be more extremist than McCain. There is another explanation.
The VWRC is a conspiracy, composed of several factions, most of whom hate each others’ guts. The economic predators sneer at the Taliban, as their lawful prey. The Taliban correctly view the predators as godless ghouls. The ultranationalists correctly view the predators as having no loyalty to the US. The neocons think that the whole pack is ni kultyurni. The ultranationalists and predators correctly view the neocons as mutant Trotskyites, useful only for propaganda. (Nobody trusts the neocons or libertarians; they are too tainted by Enlightenment ideas.)
But the VRWC still coheres as a conspiracy, because they are all willing to cede what the other faction most wants, in return for getting what they most want. The predators get economic predation: on the middle class and on other countries. The ultranationalists and neocons get their belligerency and wars, as long as it doesn’t hurt the predators’ balance sheets. The Taliban get their courts, as long as the predators’ daughters can fly to Sweden when necessary. And so on. (The predators are more equal than the other factions.) The racists and nativists and other unpleasant sorts are not really part of this conspiracy, but the conspiracy is happy to feed them raw meat in exchange for their votes.
To be a successful politician in this conspiracy, you must show complete and total allegiance to the conspiracy. They hate each other too much; there is no other glue but loyalty to the conspiracy. They don’t care what you “really” think. The Taliban knew that Romney was of the predator class, but he showed his fealty. All factions of the VWRC knew that Bush was a shallow fool, but they all knew that he would advance their interests. They were provisionally willing to trust Bush père, but he lost their trust by caving on the predators with the 1990 tax increase.
This explains the intellectual incoherence of the VWRC. All committees are incoherent, especially committees comprised of people with very different interests.
The VRWC fears a politician like McCain, with his own agenda. Sure, his agenda is almost as crazy as theirs. But it is McCain’s agenda, and thus unreliable. They don’t know what he’ll do; they don’t know where he’ll go, especially with a Democratic Congress with which he must deal. Will he sell out the predators to advance his ultranationalism? Will he sell out the Talibs? Etc.
He could be like a more attentive Ronald Reagan. The ultranationalists and neocons remember how he sold them out on the USSR, even if they deify him in public. The Talibs remember how he gave them . . . nothing but nice speeches. (The predators never had any complaints about
Reagan, at least after Volcker’s recession.)
I think that the anti-McCain movement is completely rational, if one is a member of the VRWC. There is nothing that the VWRC fears more than a patriotic American acting in their name, even if the patriotic American is almost as crazy as they are. Better four years in the wilderness: four years of fundraising and building mutually-supporting VRWC institutions.
The press is foolish in thinking that McCain is some kind of moderate. But they are right insofar as they sense the VRWC’s distrust of the man. It is well-earned.
That strikes me as quite acute, though the fate of Huckabee makes it clear that much of the Taliban leadership (as opposed to the folks in the pews) is in thrall to the predators. And I take the point that McCain is in some ways dangerous to the VWRC.
But losing would be much more dangerous. If the Democrats have the Presidency, both Houses of Congress, and the majority of the State Houses, the capacity of the VWRC to deliver for any of its constituencies might be so badly compromised that it would fall apart as a conspiracy.
A couple of terms in the wilderness might be good for the Republican Party, but it would be disastrous for the leaders of coalition that now owns and operates that party. They need to win this year, and, once they’ve extracted the maximum amount of concessions from McCain (e.g., getting him to vote for torture), they will fall in line behind him and even work reasonably hard to get him elected.
The question is how many of their supporters they can get to the polls, especially the Taliban. (Note that Huckabee probably won’t be on the ticket, and if he isn’t he’s better served personally by McCain’s defeat.) One reason to think Obama would do better in November is that he’s fluent in the dialect of Pushtu spoken by the American Taliban, though deeply hostile to the causes espoused by their mullahs.