Primary politics and campaign finance allow small groups of highly committed voters to capture political parties and disenfranchise the middle. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The O’Donnell race in Delaware nicely symbolized the workings of political leverage at the extreme. No sooner had O’Donnell’s 30,000 supporters won her the nomination, than she turned to Republicans nationwide – including the party organizations she had scorned throughout her campaign – to demand money and expertise. But it’s a tough question: If you make it clear through your nomination campaign that you have no regard for me and my point of view, why should I give you $2400 multiplied by however many people live in my household for the privilege of being disregarded and disdained?
Mitt Romney, the de factor leader of the less extreme Republicans, spends about 80% of his public appearances wooing party conservatives. When he speaks to more moderate Republicans (I heard him at a fundraiser for Maryland Republicans this spring), he lays greater emphasis on his business expertise than he does in red-meat exercises like the 2010 CPAC. Even there, however, he never says anything to which a conservative would object.
But does – never mind Sarah Palin – but say Newt Gingrich return the favor? In 1999-2005, when Gingrich was focusing on building a second career for himself as a commentator on domestic and international affairs, Gingrich talked about the environment and school reform and healthcare. As hope dawned in him that he might at last have an open opportunity in 2008, Gingrich put those broad themes away, and has slammed instead at the Kenyan anticolonialist in the White House. Romney leaves the door open to non-supporters; Gingrich seals it tight; Palin of course divides the world into supporters and enemies. But unfortunately, the very things that should make Romney an attractive nominee are the things that will likely doom him. What we are likely to get instead is an attempt to pile leverage upon leverage in a style that would have impressed Samuel Insull: to control a great national party that seeks the votes of tens of millions by speaking to the passions and interests of a core group of some hundreds of thousands.
It’s no way to run a company, it should not be the way to run a party, and for sure it’s a terrible way to run a country.