No Struggle For Soul of GOP On Tap

I’m working on a longer piece about this for TNR, but since Matt Bai addressed it today, I’ll go ahead and state the semi-obvious: no, if Mitt Romney loses on November 7, Republicans will not conduct the kind of “struggle for the soul of the party” that Democrats regularly hold after a big defeat. Sure, they’ll question Mitt’s suitability, and second-guess his strategy and tactics. There will be a lot of talk about how hard it is to beat an incumbent president, and even more talk about Obama’s diabolical powers over the media and minority voters.

If there is any ideological self-questioning at all, it will be that the ongoing march towards rigid conservative ideological conformity in the GOP didn’t go far enough to prevent the nomination of damaged goods like Romney, and/or to rein him in and dominate his campaign. Perhaps Republicans will entertain another ten or fifteen minutes of attention for heretical voices like Reihen Salam or David Frum or Jon Huntsman (just as they did after 2008), but that’s about it. Why am I so sure about that? Well, if they weren’t inclined to reconsider an endless march to the right after the last presidential election, they certainly won’t with the Great Triumph of 2010 as a fresh memory, and with the juicy prospect of a six-year midterm just ahead.

But there is a second, and more important reason. In case folks haven’t noticed, the import of the advent of “constitutional conservatism” and its continued ascendency is that the Right and the GOP are in the process of chaining themselves to a permanent, immutable vision of governance that for many adherents is quite literally a divine gift to the Founders and the entire purpose of America. You don’t “rethink” this birthright, or debate it. And the usual search of political parties for “new ideas” is a bit irrelevant. Yeah, you may argue about how rapidly it must be implemented, and how to market it as a good thing to segments of the electorate it might normally horrify, but particularly given the reigning belief of so many conservatives that trimming and compromise are political losers, all the arrows are pointing towards “full speed ahead,” even in the wake of another defeat.

And so, the post-election debate in the event of an Obama win will be, as Bait predicts, all about the messengers, not the message:

[T]he attention will instantly shift toward the new generation of potential messengers: Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal. And there will immediately be, as there was on Romney, enormous pressure to soothe and placate the activist base before making a bid to redefine conservatism for the broad center of the electorate.

And that’s if there’s any perceived need to “redefine conservatism” to begin with, which I doubt.

Now Democrats, on the other hand, are virtually guaranteed a “struggle for the soul of the party” win or lose–a debate that has been largely suspended in the emergency conditions of the last three years. But that’s a subject for another day.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.