The fight for the GOP nomination appears to be winding down as journalists in the mainstream media turn their attention to the battle between presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Even though Romney has amassed only 727 bound delegates (short of the 1144 needed to seal the nomination), he has moved on to the next phase in his campaign; which, if history is any predictor, will be a shifting of strategy and position to appeal to moderate voters in the general election. Much was made of the Etch-a-Sketch slip by Romney campaign spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom. I guess the theory that Mitt Romney is a shape-shifter may now be put to the test.
Meanwhile, a large number of passionate backers of Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum are hard at work attempting to stop the nomination of Mitt Romney. In spite of the withdrawal from the race by Santorum and then Gingrich, and in spite of loud calls from those within the Romney camp and the Republican Party leadership to get behind the presumptive nominee, these grassroots activists are not slowing down; In fact, they may actually be showing increased intensity and determination as they battle to deny Romney the nomination, which comes down to a mere 417 remaining delegates.
What drives these people? Why keep fighting? What is at stake that fuels their drive to deny Romney? I think the answer is simple: A future with a Barack Obama or Mitt Romney presidency does not bode well for their survival as a viable voice in American politics or in American government. This race for the GOP nomination boils down to a conflict in vision by those in the GOP party leadership and the grassroots activists that breathe life into GOP politics. What is this difference?
GOP Party Leadership Vision
- Recruit, nominate and elect moderate candidates who appeal to independents in the general election
- Tap down the influence of tea-party activists who disrupt the nomination process
- Keep conservatives in the fold by promising whatever is necessary and delivering as little as possible with respect to socially conservative GOP platform planks.
Grassroots GOP Activists' Vision
- Recruit, nominate and elect conservative candidates who will challenge the status-quo; reduce the size and scope of government, and cut spending
- Increase the voice of grassroots activists (including the tea-party) within the GOP at all levels of government
- Galvanize the conservative base to battle against the GOP establishment, restore respect for the culturally conservative GOP platform planks, and demand that GOP nominees enthusiastically embrace conservative positions.
What the GOP establishment failed to realize is that their dirty little secret has been uncovered by many conservative activists. Grassroots conservatives in the GOP have begun to realize that the conservative GOP party platform was just a clever ruse and was never intended to be a guiding principle or a framework for governing. The GOP platform, drafted primarily during Reagan's ascendancy, was merely a tactic by GOP leadership to draw in large numbers of conservative voters for the GOP. There were some candidates, of course, who adopted and faithfully followed the planks in the GOP platform during the past few decades, but a larger number of GOP candidates have essentially ignored the GOP planks that didn't suit them, particularly those dealing with life, guns and marriage.
How does this bear on the 2012 race? What this means is that many in the conservative base have suddenly come to the realization that the party they have called home since Ronald Reagan was president, never really wanted them at all. Conservatives have simply been used as a tool by those in GOP leadership to get the numbers of votes necessary to defeat Democrats; there never was an interest or actual pursuit by those in GOP party leadership (except for Gingrich in the '94 GOP revolution) to reduce the size/scope of government or to pass legislation to deal with culturally conservative issues. These grassroots activists are leaving the GOP in large numbers and finding new homes in smaller parties including the American Conservative Party, the Constitutional Party, and the Libertarian Party. Some of these grassroots conservatives have decided to hold their nose and vote for Mitt Romney if he eventually seals the GOP nomination, but others have decided they'd rather take their chances with another four years of Barack Obama, or they will pin their hopes on a 3rd party contender (like Gary Johnson, Libertarian). This explains why many GOP grassroots activists haven't backed down in the fight to stop Mitt Romney; because, at this point, they feel they have little to lose. They feel that neither Democrats nor Republicans have a real interest in the core conservative principles they steadfastly support; that both major parties are defenders of the status-quo, both are guilty of massive over-spending, and both have failed to make any meaningful attempt to address the cultural ills that plague us related to abortion and marriage.
The next few primaries could prove interesting. What will be the reaction if votes continue to come in for Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul in the remaining primaries? Will the mainstream media ignore the uprising? Will the GOP leadership pretend these people don't exist? Will the grassroots conservatives rally the base enough to hold back Mitt Romney from the elusive 1144 delegates? ..and, if they succeed, what will the convention in Tampa look like?
This election could be the most predictable, boring cycle to date.. or it could be the most dramatic, consequential election in my lifetime. I am looking forward to seeing how the conservative base responds in the next few weeks. Stay tuned as the battle for the soul of the GOP continues...