At Plum Line today, Jamelle Bouie makes a very important point about today’s Republican Party in the context of the immigration reform battle:
[I]t’s not a matter of “establishment” Republicans running afoul of the GOP base. Since the 2010 term midterm elections, the divide between the “base” of the Republican Party and its elites has dwindled. Yes, some lawmakers are closer to the party’s core voters than others — hence the dynamic between House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor — but, on the whole, Republican elites have adopted the priorities and policies of GOP voters. Stylistically, there’s a difference between Paul Ryan and Jim DeMint, but their policy and ideological commitments are almost identical.
Since the base of the Republican Party is closely tied to its establishment, this is really a divide between two different sets of elites, both drawing from a similar set of voters, but each having a different view of what the GOP needs to win elections for the next decade, or longer.
I’d go a little further and say the most important distinction is between those Republicans (at the grassroots and among the “elites”) who are primarily interested in winning the next election, and those who are interesting in winning the kind of election–if not now then later–that will give them the opportunity to destroy the New Deal/Great Society legacy once and for all. But Jamelle’s right that us elephant watchers need to avoid the temptation to look at Republican differences of opinion on strategy and tactics and decide some are “moderates” or “pragmatists” or “the establishment” when in most cases they actually have the same hard-core conservative ideology as the “firebrands” or “extremists.”