E.J. Dionne, in "Mitt Romney meets 'peasants with pitchforks,'" contemplates the paradox:
The revolt of the right-wing masses means that Romney stands alone as the less than ideal representative of a relatively restrained brand of conservatism. The growing might of the conservative hard core, reflected in its primary victories in 2010, led other potential establishmentarians to sit out the race in the hope that the storm will eventually pass.
Which is to say, the impulsive rise of the hard-core right virtually ensured the least competent moderate as the party's standard-bearer. Romney's last remaining competitor "is a superb vehicle for [the far right's] cry of protest," observes Dionne. Yet Santorum is saddled with the same, intrinsic defects which any of his fellow, former competitors -- even Rick Perry -- would have been saddled with: "He has pitifully few resources compared with the vast treasury at [the establishment's] disposal."
As Dionne further observes, the GOP's less desperate luminaries saw the light and declined: there was no way they were going to exercise the requisite pandering to these "peasants with pitchforks," since such pandering would only poison their appeal to a less lunatic Republican electorate in 2016. That prospect -- the one in which an entire party undergoes an immense upswing in mental health -- portends as an observable phenomenon, but it doesn't concern us here, or now. The more relevant point is that the party's Jeb Bushes and Chris Christies certainly believe in it.
What remains most fascinating, though, is the paradox of 2012 -- that the explosive rise of the far right is what doomed its shot at some farthest-right candidate. The extremist faction is incontrovertibly in charge, but it failed to first line up its financial ducks of ideological quackery, as pitchforked peasants are wont to do.
Parenthetically, Dionne's use of the "storm" metaphor reminded me of a passage in Russell Kirk's foreword to the Seventh Edition of his seminal 1953 work, The Conservative Mind:
[T]he conservative abhors all forms of ideology. An abstract rigorous set of political dogmata: that is ideology, a "political religion," promising the Terrestrial Paradise to the faithful; and ordinarily that paradise is to be taken by storm.
My how times have changed; except for the difficulties inherent in storming some perceived paradise.