In a monumentally belated NYT op-ed, a former RNC operative, David Welch, bemoans the absence of a modern-day Bill Buckley, who once chased the Bircher goblins and ghouls from conservatism's holiest of congregations--the GOP's activist base. Buckley had long since defended the reckless, besotted Joe McCarthy as an honorable pol and was in the process of promoting the reckless, befuddled Barry Goldwater as an honorable choice for the U.S. presidency when he privately wrote to a publishing friend, "Why is it our side is afflicted with all the loonies?" Why indeed.
Welch omits such inconvenient realities of the early Buckley era, but we take his point, even if it requires a touch of clarification: Extremism is relative, thus to mossback conservatives, Buckley was a moderate; and today, by the same standard, any Republican independent enough to challenge "the modern-day Birchers"--as Welch calls the tea partiers--is also a moderate. Or, as Welch puts it:
We can face the extremists with credible, respected leaders who have offered conservative policies that led to Republican victories.
Dare I say it, or should I just whisper the word? We need "the Establishment." We need officials like former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, operatives like Karl Rove and Republican Party institutions.
Let's re-put it this way. Welch's recommendation wouldn't hurt, but there is profound doubt it would help. A Bush, or a Christie, would still have to face the Iowa gauntlet, followed all too soon by South Carolina's cannibalistic horror show, and so on. In other words, the problem lies not in the absence of "credible" Republican pols who appreciate that their party's base is crazy; the problem is that their party's base is crazy--and determinative. In state after primary state, GOP organizations have been shanghaied by the local "loonies," who seem impervious to both the winning effects of moderation and the institutional Rove-types' bullying money.
In short, the real problem, perhaps, is not that the Republican Party lacks credible Republican leaders. It's that Republican leaders lack a credible Republican Party.
My guess: By 2020, the party will be the Tea Party in all but name, and a 'Conservative Party' will house the Jeb Bushes and Chris Christies and Karl Roves.