GOP Psych 101
Harriet Miers, mousy, unknown, and mostly unpolitical, may well accomplish something the Democratic Party never could: splitting the GOP like a piece of dry kindling. At first, I thought the whole thing was an orchestrated battle--internecine debate as window dressing to unify the faithful behind an apparently lame choice. But the more this thing drags out, the more it looks deathly real. The combatants aren't playing around--they're going for blood. What has emerged as a result of the combat is a fascinating rorschach of the Republican Party.
The GOP's great strength is its discipline; read another way, the strength can be said to be the loyalty of the coalition members. The Christian conservatives have stayed loyal through failures in abortion, gay rights, and evolution. Hawks hang on despite the neocon debacle in Iraq. Fiscal conservatives stick with the program even when the program starts to look like the big-government spending they came into the coalition to erase. This loyalty has resulted in accomplishing precious fewof the actual stated goals--but it has been amazing at building a political machine.
That strength has become a weakness, though. Now conservatives must cast about for a target of their loyalty. One faction remains loyal to Bush--out of habit, apparently. Another faction, the self-described principled intellectuals, have rediscovered both their intellectual foundation (small government, fiscal responsibility) and their principles (standing up against a weak candidate)--but in whom do they invest their loyalty? Thus Bill Kristol is disappointed, depressed, and demoralized. (That hogwash about principles and intellectual rigor--given the lack of backbone when Bush committed any number of crimes against classical conservatism over the past 5 years--is a little hard to swallow. One senses a compensatory morality in this pique.) For decades the conservative intellectuals conducted raids on the party from the fringes, spilling bile on those insufficiently pure in belief. Will they become non-aligned outsiders again?
The Christian conservatives, having made sacred their ability to invest faith in this President, will not abandon him. But, when the party fractures further, where will they land? It is an article of modern Republicanism that no matter how crooked you are, you play the God card. DeLay plays it, Frist plays it--everyone plays it. So a fractured GOP will scramble for these voters, perhaps turning them back off politics.
The GOP's response to adversity has always been autocratic: bully the troops and excoriate as devils the enemy. That impulse is emerging as the GOP begins to splinter--but now the enemies are other Republicans. As factions emerge, and fealty is demanded, the gulf between the faction members may well gape like canyons. It's too early to predict a wholesale collapse of the GOP, but they must now overcome the very impulse that turned them into such a powerful machine in the first place. I, of course, watch with delight.