- Published on Tuesday, 03 April 2012 23:30
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There are two questions on my mind. First, is there really such a thing as the Republican Base? And second, is there really such thing as the Republican Establishment? Both terms are used frequently. But are they just handy throw out references or are they real. The answer, I am pretty sure, is yes, but I don’t think either group goes around identifying themselves by either designation. However, it’s a handy reference when trying to understand some of the dynamics of today’s Virginia’s Republican Party.
There seems to be a growing disconnect, not massive, but noticeable, between the party’s leadership, its establishment if you, and its base. The establishment and I admit this is an amorphous term, generally refers to the statewide office holders, the state party leadership, many in the General Assembly and a large number of its district and unit chairmen. As for the GOP base, these are the folks who readily, without qualification, consider themselves Republicans. They have strong views, they’re conservative, they’re Republican, and they’re proud of it. They vote in the Republican primaries, they volunteer and they make contributions. The problem, now that the Republicans have won all top three of jobs in Richmond, have a massive majority in the House, and a de facto majority in the State Senate, is that the leadership of the party is getting a little comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, and might be getting out of sync with its base. Mind you, I am not making a conclusion, but there are some strong indicators that this may be the case.
A case in point, which seemed to demonstrate the dissonance between the establishment and the base was the recent Presidential primary. With the Governor, and just about every major GOP leader backing Mitt Romney, 41% of the GOP Primary voters, most of them a part of that GOP base, cast their ballot for Ron Paul. That’s more than Paul got in any GOP primary anywhere. While this got only a modest amount of coverage in the press, the Governor, and many in the party were no doubt embarrassed. What’s more, in some of my own chats with primary voters there was a certain unmistakable restlessness. They weren’t sold on Romney, were not happy with being told how to vote by their party leadership, were angry at the lack of choices, and wanted to send a message. One man said he didn’t like being told who to support by Richmond.
However, I admit, Paul’s vote and a few grumbles from a handful of primary voters, don’t constitute a revolution. But another, upcoming primary election, this time, involving a darling of the GOP establishment, George Allen, may put this relationship to the test. Allen, once upon a time, was an outsider, someone who made the GOP establishment uncomfortable, but that was twenty years ago. He has since been elected Governor, was elected to the Senate in 2000, and in 2006 went on to lose that job. Now he wants it
back, and the GOP leadership, many of whom were his colleagues, or supported him in their younger days as they rose through the ranks of party and elective office, are right there with him. But the base isn’t so sure.
While the Democrats who had opposed the likely Democratic nominee, Tim Kaine, have dropped out, Allen now has four opponents for the nomination. Ten years ago, the idea that Allen would ever be opposed for anything he wanted to do in the Virginia GOP was hard to imagine. But, a lot has happened since then. Many in the base don’t remember Allen’s glory days as a firebrand conservative. Rather, they see an establishment candidate, pushed by the party’s leadership, and many, rather than signing on board, are looking for alternatives. One candidate for the nomination, Jamie Radtke, has been sharp in her attacks on Allen. She is a strong fiscal conservative and has posed the question several times, that if Allen is so opposed to deficit spending, why, when he was in the Senate, did he consistently vote to increase the debt ceiling and support appropriations bills with massive deficits? That’s a good question. And so far, Allen hasn’t offered a satisfactory answer. Allen’s position on social issues has always been solidly conservative, but Delegate Bob Marshall doesn’t’ think he is passionate enough, and coming off a string of “right to life” victories in the General Assembly thinks it’s time for someone new. Allen has two other opponents, Tim Donner, and E.W. Jackson, but the ones the former Senator needs to watch out for are Marshall and Radtke.
Allen’s problem at this point, unlike his amazing come from behind campaign in 1993, or his defeating Chuck Robb for a seat in the U.S. Senate back in 2001, is that the old fire, the passion, the energy, and the zeal, don’t seem to be there anymore. He is far more subdued. While his opponents on the other hand are lively, full of energy, and on the offensive. He seems to be hoping that old friends, old alliances, and the support of the establishment, will give him the nomination. It might. Particularly since his opposition for the nomination is split between several candidates. But, even that isn’t a guarantee Allen will come out on top. The GOP base wants to win this seat. They also want a passionate conservative. And while the establishment might be fine with giving George Allen a second shot at this race, the party base, may not.