The movement is flying apart like dogshit off a lawnmower blade. Everyone is noting this, of course, including EJ Dionne this morning...
Then there are those conservatives who see Palin as a "fatal cancer to the Republican Party" (David Brooks), as someone who "doesn't know enough about economics and foreign policy to make Americans comfortable with a President Palin" (Kathleen Parker), as "a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics" (Peggy Noonan).
These conservatives deserve credit for acknowledging how ill-suited Palin is for high office. But what we see here is a deep split between parts of the conservative elite and much of the rank and file.
For years, many of the elite conservatives were happy to harvest the votes of devout Christians and gun owners by waging a phony class war against "liberal elitists" and "leftist intellectuals." Suddenly, the conservative writers are discovering that the very anti-intellectualism their side courted and encouraged has begun to consume their movement.
The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity -- and Sarah Palin. Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans, learned manifestoes by direct-mail hit pieces.
And then there is George W. Bush. Conservatives once hailed him as creating an enduring majority on behalf of their cause. Now, they cast him as the goat in their story of decline...
How this fragmentation evolves will be very interesting indeed. The bit in red above points to a serious fissure that won't be easy or fast in the mending. Here's the way I see things going.
There is, first of all, a critical divergence in what these two camps consider to be 'reality' and what they consider to be 'America' and 'conservatism'. For one side, Palin represents something close to an ideal leader but for the other side she represents probable or certain future disaster (in governance and electorally). These camps represent really quite different and conflicting ideologies.
But there are, I think, a couple of other elements in the conservative coalition that's existed over the last two or three decades which ought to be considered separately from the two above; the movement/party organizers and the business community. Both are driven much less by ideology but rather by the desire to hold power for their own perceived benefits. These two elements can much more easily work in tandem. They have done so up until now and will surely continue to do so. People like Norquist, Reed, Kristol, Abramoff, DeLay, Mehlman, Ailes and others sit at the intersection between between the business community and Washington. Their world is the world of lobbyists and media manipulation. These folks will have their long knives out too over the next while but they'll slash and stab less out of ideological hatreds and more out of strategic goals. But, if this election goes seriously towards Dem dominance of the levers of power, then the power this camp held previously will be greatly diminished as the business community shifts its attentions and its seductions towards the Dem people.
What happens over the next few months and years will demonstrate how these various dynamics are playing out.
The first thing we will see will be the ubiquitous evisceration of McCain. He'll have no constituency left at all outside of his family, Lieberman and Graham. It will be ugly and unrelenting from all corners.
Coincident with that internally-directed savaging will be two-pronged external attack - on the illegitimacy of Obama as President (fraudulent election) and on the role the "liberal media" played in this illegitimate election result. This won't come from those conservatives guilty of apostacy (they'll be savaged too) but from the ideologues and from the organizer/media manipulator camps. It serves the emotional purposes of the idealogues and the strategic purposes of the organizer/media types.
Then we'll see unceasing efforts from those same elements just noted to thwart and invalidate the Obama presidency. Effectiveness on the part of an Obama presidency will be precisely what these folks do NOT want because it will mean further destruction to their access to power or further movement away from ideological goals. Again, the moderate conservatives (the apostacy folks) will stand outside those efforts.
At the same time, there'll be an evolving contest for party/movement leadership. Palin will almost certainly be central here because of her own ambitions and because the ideologues and organizer types will see her as their own or as a viable means to regain power. But Newt (certainly) and Jeb (possibly) will cut her legs out at the first opportunity.
A couple of provisos... what of Fox and talk radio? This crowd represents really two things, I think. They are a critical component of the organizer/media manipulation element and their prime function is to propagandize - that is, to motivate the culture-conservative base to believe and behave in a manner that corresponds with the organizer/media element's goals. To what degree the individuals involved are actually ideologues isn't clear at all. What is clear is that they represent and are the beneficiaries of a successful business model. How this business model will fare over the next decade also isn't clear if more and more americans continue to reject the poisonous and divisive role they play.
Secondly, what of the Pentagon? This entity has grown greatly in size, wealth and power over the last decade (eg 80% of intel is now done not by the CIA but by the Pentagon). Of course, the money flowing related to militarism is mind boggling. If we are talking the business component in all this, that has to include the weapons/war business. I don't know enough to figure out what role this entity will play over the next while.
A tempering of all the extremism and craziness we've seen over the last while will depend, I think, on how strong the moderate conservatives can become again in relation to the fruitcake end of the scale AND how effective an Obama administration will be in fulfilling the promise of inclusion and bipartisanship.