Dave Weigel made a very clever observation yesterday, noting the striking similarities between the 2008 and 2012 races for the Republican nomination.
I’m thinking of a Republican primary. It starts with a candidate (John McCain/Mitt Romney) who ran once before, came in second place, and won over the party’s elite class without winning over its base. Other candidates, understandably unwilling to accept this, line up: An under-funded social conservative (Mike Huckabee/Rick Santorum), an elder statesman who’s walked to the altar three times (Rudy Giuliani/Newt Gingrich), a libertarian who wants to bring back the gold standard (Ron Paul/Ron Paul).
The conservative base is displeased. In the year before the primary, it pines for a perfect candidate. At the end of summer, on (September 5/August 13), it gets him: (Fred Thompson/Rick Perry). The dream candidate immediately rises to the top of national polls, but collapses after lazy, distaff debate performances. When the primaries arrive, he’s in single digits and reduced to attacking the front-runners.
The under-funded social conservative generates all kinds of buzz with a strong showing in Iowa, fizzles in New Hampshire, and then quietly starts to go away. The establishment guy, despite being hated by the party base, regroups after Iowa, wins big in New Hampshire, and starts his march in earnest towards the nomination. The savior candidate becomes a punch line, Ron Paul gets ignored, the thrice-married statesman, despite enjoying temporary frontrunner status a month before the voting begean, drifts into irrelevance.
Rachel Maddow had a terrific segment on this last night, including an interview with Weigel, adding the related question: if this Republican fight is practically identical to the last Republican fight, and the party establishment overrode the base the same way in both instances, did the rise of the so-called Tea Party “movement” have any meaningful impact at all?
I’d just add one other question: how did this work out for the Republican Party the last time they stuck to this script?