The reach of the GOP establishment

I remain pretty skeptical about Newt Gingrich’s chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination, but on the “Why Newt Will Lose” list of arguments, some points are more compelling than others.

Ezra Klein makes the case today that the GOP establishment simply will not allow such an outcome.

There’s just no way the Republican establishment lets Gingrich become their nominee. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out today, you’re already seeing the anti-Gingrich mobilization among conservative thought leaders: Here’s George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Tom Coburn and Ann Coulter, just for starters. There’s this Politico story about all the Washington Republicans who hate Gingrich.

Now, I think it’s more likely that this mobilization leads to a Romney win then a brokered convention or a new entrant. But I think it makes a Gingrich win almost impossible to imagine.

Ezra didn’t even mention Karl Rove, who also seems eager to destroy Newt.

But I’m not convinced. There’s no doubt that the party’s establishment really does hate Gingrich, and has for quite a while. We’ve seen some of this enmity unfold of late, and the blowback is only going to intensify in the coming months, especially if the disgraced former House Speaker starts winning caucuses and primaries.

But following up on an item from Jon Chait earlier in the week, I’m not altogether sure the Republican establishment has the wherewithal to exert its will over the process. Indeed, the GOP’s powerful and elite routinely fail to get what they want from their party.

Consider how desperately the Republican establishment wanted to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2010. Did the party want Sharron Angle as the GOP nominee? Of course not, but the radical base didn’t much care. The establishment didn’t want Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, either, and was crushed when Mike Castle lost the primary, but there wasn’t much the party’s leaders could do about it.

In 2008, the Republican establishment didn’t love John McCain — dirty little secret: the only people in Washington who really like McCain are Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and television producers — and were mortified by Sarah Palin, but again, GOP elites weren’t in a position to pull the strings to their liking.

In fact, I find it very easy to imagine Gingrich benefiting from this dynamic. It’s not as if rank-and-file Republican voters are necessarily enamored with the GOP establishment in Washington. I can imagine Gingrich running an ad saying, “If you want a candidate popular with D.C. pundits and power-brokers on Capitol Hill, I’m not your guy. But if you want a leader with a vision, fundamental fundamental fundamental, etc.”

The root question is whether the Republican establishment has the juice to persuade voters to follow its lead. I’m just not sure it does.