Monday, September 5, 2011

Rick Perry and the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party

Rick Perry has jumped into the race for the Republican nomination and promptly shot to the top in the Gallup Poll of likely voters, beating Mitt Romney by a tidy margin. This sets up yet another battle between the moderate and right wings of the party.

It is fascinating to consider the history of these battles. It all started 100 years ago, when Teddy Roosevelt challenged WH Taft for the nomination in 1912. TR was favored by most Republicans, but the convention machinery was stacked against him. The Rules Committee was dominated by Taft people, and the disputed delegates in several states all went to Taft. When it came to a floor vote challenging the Rules Committee decision, the disputed delegates chosen by the Rules Committee were allowed to vote on their own cases, causing the Taft delegates to be seated, and he then got the nomination. The irony of all this is that the machinery which caused TR to lose the nomination was put in place for years earlier by TR himself, to ensure the nomination of his hand-picked successor, Taft!

Now fast-forward 40 years to 1952, and we had the exact same scenario unfolding, with the conservative Robert Taft (WH's son) challenging the mdoerate Eisenhower for the nomination. Again, several states had disputed sets of delegates, and the convention was called upon to vote on which delegates were to be seated. But this time, the delegates whose seats were in dispute were *not* allowed to vote on their own cases, and the Eisenhower delegates got seated, giving him the nomination in a close vote.

The 1964 race saw another interesting battle. Goldwater was the clear frontrunner, and when the liberal Nelson Rockefeller faded, moderate forces made a last-minute effort to draft the moderate PA governor, William Scranton. Scranton finally allowed his name to be put into the race (on 6-12-64, an unheard-of late entry by today's standards, when multi-year campaigns are the rule), but the conservative Goldwater prevailed.

1976 saw the conservative Reagan challenging the unelected incumbent, Jerry Ford, for the GOP nomination. In fact, it was so even that the result was in doubt until the actual balloting, the last time this has happened in US convention history. Despite being weakened by Reagan's strong challenge, Ford almost prevailed in the general election against Carter.

In 1980 Reagan became the frontrunner after his famous "I paid for this microphone" comment. George H.W. Bush represented the moderate challenger, but lost out to the Gipper. The other moderate challenger was John Anderson, who ran in the general election as an independent after finishing third to Bush and Reagan for the GOP nomination.

The point of all this is to show that the battle between these two wings of the party has been an ongoing struggle over these past 100 years. The problem for the moderate wing, which has often been based in the Northeast, is that the New England Republicans have almost all disappeared. Some have changed parties, as did Vermont senator Jim Jeffords, who famously stated, "I didn't leave my party; my party left me." Others have been defeated by conservative primary challengers. Only the two Maine senators remain of the many New England moderate Republicans.

Another problem for the moderate wing is the growth of Republicanism in the south. The south used to be solidly Democratic, but in the past 50 years has grown to be just as solidly Republican. Hence, the South now has the largest say in who the nominee will be, which does not bode well for Mitt Romney.

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