Undeniable was my sense last night that Lawrence O'Donnell's once mildly mocking confidence in Tim Pawlenty's inevitability has been reduced to a mildly confident mock. Or maybe I'm just projecting, since I seemed to be the only political observer who ever concurred with O'Donnell's initial analysis of Pawlenty's inevitability -- nonetheless having watched the latter's inexpressibly lackluster performance at the last GOP presidential debate, I too now sense that Pawlenty himself never believed in any personal political future but that of Vice President Pawlenty.
Whatever. For what remains politically immutable is that it makes little difference ... the Republican nominee, that is. The GOP can continue hamstringing the economic recovery and gyrate with wild abandon in freshly fraudulent and characteristically insincere critiques of President Obama's foreign policy, but its odds of capturing the White House shall persist as roughly equivalent to those of Sarah Palin winning a MacArthur Genius Award.
Because for the GOP, the 2012 presidential election will be a kind of ultimate conservative Rorschach Test, essentially a 2016 Republican primary and effectively a civil war of irreconcilable factions -- establishment vs. tea party -- wherein a singular supremacy shall at last be resolved. When I wrote, just now, that the choice of the 2012 Republican nominee will make little difference, I meant that, surely enough, in terms of Obama's inevitability. But I also meant that the nominee will make little difference as to the inevitability of the party's civil war.
Let's say Mitt Romney, or some Romneyesque candidate, manages to duck all the incoming fire and seize the objective. November's result: Tea partiers stay home and promptly blame the Republican Party's loss on its failure to nominate a true conservative. Or, let's say Michele Bachmann, or a Bachmannesque candidate, manages to seize the objective. November's result: The establishment-inclined stay home and promptly blame the Republican Party's loss on its failure to nominate a true conservative moderate.
Either way, no reasonable observer would envision a subsequent, four-year perpetuation of the GOP's internally profound contradiction. It is quite literally a party divided. As Politico reminds us this morning, "In last week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, a half-dozen activist-friendly conservatives – Palin, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum and Bachmann – captured a combined 47 percent of the national primary vote." Gallup's polling has revealed a roughly similar 50-50 state of establishment-vs.-tea-party warfare.
Other odds, I'd wager, favor a Romney or Romney-like nominee in 2012, and that, in turn, would serve up titanic odds of a formal Tea Party by 2016, led by the GOP's disgruntled and by-then defrocked Bachmanns and Cains and Perrys, etc.
Because factionally, the GOP is inherently and prodigiously dissimilar to the bigger-tent Democratic Party, with its internally squabbling triumvirate of conservatives, moderates and progressives. Among the Dems' base, progressives are unquestionably the loudest, but they're also the smallest in numbers -- a mere 5 percent of the American electorate self-identifies as "very liberal" -- and their pathetic history of third-party divergence (from Debsian Socialist to Wallace-like Progressive parties) is but bracing, empirical proof that, however unhappy they may be, there's no place like home. As for the Dems' conservatives and moderates, well, their ideological distinction is scarcely noteworthy. Hence one big party they all can be.
These factional circumstances vastly differ from the GOP's. As the aforementioned polling indicates, there are, manifestly and indisputably, two Republican parties today of approximately equal numerical stature -- and intense irreconcilability. To be sure, for pragmatic electoral reasons the establishment would be content to tolerate in perpetuity the intolerably voluble tea partiers' impeccable crackpotism, but there is, simply, no way that tea partiers will tolerate for long a compromising, and compromised, GOP establishment. God gave us political crackpots so that we could amuse ourselves with third-party spectatorship; and to third-party status is precisely where the crackpotism of Tea is headed. So suit up, Michele, and Sarah, and Herman, et al.
Well that, anyway, is the way I read it. But do keep in mind, as I do, that along with Mr. O'Donnell, I also thought Tim Pawlenty would be the GOP's nominee.