Thursday, February 2, 2012

A John Grisham Novel

The former Reagan speech writer, Peggy Noonan, had it about right in her January 21, 2012, column in the Wall Street Journal, when she said:

“We have entered a new phase, the John Grisham novel, secret off-shore bank account, broken love, the testimony of anguished ex-wives; ‘He wanted an open marriage. A battered old veteran emerges from the background and, in his electoral death throes, provides secret information – ‘I’m for Newt’ – that he hopes will upend a dirty, rotten establishment. A vest-wearing choir boy turns out to be the unknown winner of that case back in Iowa. And all this against the backdrop of a mysterious firm that moves in and destroys communities – ‘when Mitt Romney came to town…’ – while its CEO pays nothing in taxes.”

I agree with Peggy’s analysis when she said: “What’s happening out there on the trail is a great story. But it’s not a good story. And the past few days it didn’t feel like a story that was going to end well.” The Republican free-for-all of 2012 has confirmed once again what many have been saying for months, if not years - that there are two major wings of the national Republican Party: the “economic issue Republicans” and the “social issue Republicans”. This schism was first clearly demonstrated on the national level in the epic Republican primary battle of 1976 between the conservative forces of the challenger, Ronald Reagan, against the more moderate forces of the sitting Republican President, Gerald Ford. In that year, Gerald Ford had served as Vice-President by virtue of an appointment by Richard Nixon, who later resigned as a result of the Watergate scandals and allowed Ford to take his place. Once he became President, Ford promptly appointed Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York as his Vice-President and kept his friend, Henry Kissinger, on as his Secretary of State.

Rockefeller and Kissinger were despised by the Reaganites and the followers of Barry Goldwater, who often said they would like to saw-off the northeastern portion of the United States and let it drift out into the Atlantic. They had particular disdain for the “Rockefeller Republicans”, and Vice-President Rockefeller ultimately agreed to step down and let Senator Bob Dole of Kansas become Ford’s running mate (after Ford barely defeated Reagan for the Republican nomination in 1976) in his campaign to be elected President on his own against Democrat Jimmy Carter.

As stated by Gerald Seib in his Wall Street Journal article dated January 17, 2012, the economic establishment faction of the Republican Party says economic growth and job creation are far and away the most important issues in the 2012 election; and all other concerns are secondary. This is essentially the Romney message in this year’s Republican Primary and the message of his supporters based in Massachusetts and the northeast. As Seib points out, Romney pushes his spectacular success in the business world, which explains why Gingrich attacks Romney’s experience running Baine Capital and charges that the private-equity firm, while making money for investors, was actually dismantling companies and “shedding jobs”.

The social-issue Republicans (often referred to in the news media as “evangelicals” or “born-again Republicans”), believe that traditional family values are of much greater importance than do most of their more secular fellow Republicans of the northeast. Gingrich and Rick Santorum criticize Romney’s record and position on guns, abortion, and other social issues. This explains why Romney emphasizes Gingrich’s ethics problems which he encountered while Speaker of the House and why Romney charges that Gingrich resigned as Speaker of the House “in disgrace”.

There are two other smaller factions in the Republican Party which Mr. Seib refers to as “the deficit faction” and “the national security faction”, which emphasizes a strong military and national security. The patron saint of the deficit faction is Ron Paul, who is basically an isolationist and in favor of massive cuts in federal spending, while at the same time promoting economic growth.

So there we have it: an authentic, northeastern establishment, Rockefeller Republican pitted against the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who has heavy baggage on family values and ethics issues. Waiting in the wings, yet to be fully assaulted by the Super PACS, is former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who lost by almost 20 points the last time he ran for the U.S. Senate in his home state.

I note that Michael Reagan is supporting Gingrich while most establishment Republicans, like Bob Dole and George H. W. Bush, are all supporting Romney. How will the ultimate Republican winner look to the voters by the fall? What are independents going to think of our nominee? Peggy Noonan gave the following opinion:

“We all know politics ain’t beanbag, but it’s not supposed to be clown-car Indy 500 with cars hitting the wall and guys in wigs littering the track.

There’s been a lot of damage. We lose sense of it day to day, but in the aggregate it’s going to prove considerable.”

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