Those Renegade Republicans

Those Renegade Republicans


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By Charlie Cook – National Journal

An anger persists: Party rebel Pat Buchanan upset a sitting president in the 1992 New Hampshire GOP primary.

PHOTO: February 1992: Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan holds up a newspaper with the headline, ‘Read Our Lips’ at press conference following the New Hampshire Primary. (Photo by Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

Almost half of the GOP’s voters are saying: Let’s start from scratch.

Is the Re­pub­lic­an Party go­ing rogue? It’s hard to look at the opin­ion polling in the GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion con­test and con­clude any­thing else. As un­ex­pec­ted as many of the de­vel­op­ments on the Demo­crat­ic side have been, it doesn’t hold a candle to what is un­fold­ing among the Re­pub­lic­ans.

Clearly, something pro­found is hap­pen­ing in the usu­ally staid and or­derly party. Don­ald Trump is in first place not only in Iowa and New Hamp­shire, but in na­tion­al polling as well, av­er­aging more than a quarter of the vote. Ben Car­son, the re­tired neur­o­lo­gist, is now in second place in Iowa and na­tion­wide, and in a stat­ist­ic­al tie in New Hamp­shire with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a more tra­di­tion­al can­did­ate. That Jeb Bush is av­er­aging single-di­git per­form­ances in both cru­cial states and na­tion­ally is just as per­plex­ing.

Should we see this as a re­bel­lion against ca­reer politi­cians and the GOP es­tab­lish­ment? Or, is roughly 40 per­cent of the GOP elect­or­ate throw­ing a tem­per tan­trum? The an­swer is: both.

Not quite half of the Re­pub­lic­an Party is made up of so­cial, cul­tur­al, and evan­gel­ic­al con­ser­vat­ives, tea-party ad­her­ents, and pop­u­lists. None of them ever cared much for the party es­tab­lish­ment in the first place. This 40-something per­cent of the GOP isn’t only more vis­ible and vo­cal than the slight ma­jor­ity of con­ven­tion­al Re­pub­lic­ans, they are also like­li­er to vote in caucuses and primar­ies. That mag­ni­fies their im­port­ance.

But more than that is go­ing on in the Grand Old Party. This is my the­ory: Dur­ing the past 35 years, since Ron­ald Re­agan entered the White House, Re­pub­lic­an voters have watched in quiet dis­may as the fed­er­al debt and the size of gov­ern­ment kept grow­ing, not only un­der Demo­crat­ic pres­id­ents but also un­der Re­pub­lic­ans—Re­agan and both Bushes. Much of that happened while Re­pub­lic­ans held ma­jor­it­ies in one or both houses of Con­gress.

The ca­reer politi­cians who con­sti­tute the party’s es­tab­lish­ment have dis­ap­poin­ted many Re­pub­lic­ans. Con­ser­vat­ives (and nu­mer­ous non­con­ser­vat­ives) hated the Troubled As­set Re­lief Pro­gram, which Pres­id­ent George W. Bush pushed through in re­sponse to the 2008 fin­an­cial crisis. The so-called bail­out of banks stoked their pop­u­list ire; few of them seemed to ap­pre­ci­ate that the emer­gency ac­tion might well have pre­ven­ted the U.S. and world eco­nom­ies from slid­ing in­to a second Great De­pres­sion. Most con­ser­vat­ives and Re­pub­lic­ans des­pised the Af­ford­able Care Act and, un­aware of the in­ner work­ings of Con­gress, couldn’t un­der­stand why Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­it­ies haven’t rolled it back.

In­creas­ingly, they’ve seen their own lead­ers as in­ex­tric­ably bound up with everything they hate about Wash­ing­ton. Thus, the tea party was born. As a con­sequence, something else died—the de­fer­ence tra­di­tion­ally af­forded to the party’s es­tab­lish­ment, in nom­in­at­ing as its stand­ard-bear­er who­ever was next in line.

This isn’t the first time the anti­es­tab­lish­ment pieces of the party have shown a will­ing­ness to look out­side the box. Re­call 1992, when con­ser­vat­ive com­ment­at­or Pat Buchanan up­set Pres­id­ent George H.W. Bush in the New Hamp­shire primary. Read more at the National Journal…

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