With Newt busily self-destructing, its been time for alternative right-wing darling Rick Santorum to come to the aid of the party again. Current polls show him tie-ing, or even slightly leading, the Mittmeister, as Republican activists continue their desperate search for someone, anyone, other than the safe, flip-flopping establishment choice. Because America, you see, really wants a red-blooded right-wing president who will start rolling back the evil liberalism of anti-christ incumbent Barack Obama and deal with those pesky Iranians and ally unthinkingly with the innocent much put-upon Israeli government. And that, interestingly, is exactly what the average Republican activist thought back in 1964, when another great liberal, Lyndon Johnson, was facing election as heir to the martyred Kennedy.
To get into the mood for the politics and history group's forthcoming Washington Tour, I have just started reading Rick Perlstein's much praised "Nixonland", his analysis of American politics in the era of Nixon between 1964 and 1972, and he comments thus on the Republican response to the Johnson presidency in the 1964 election year:
"The Republican Party spent the year of the liberal apotheosis enacting the most unlikely political epic ever told: a right wing fringe took over the party from the ground up, nominating Barry Goldwater, the radical right-wing senator from Arizona, while a helpless Eastern establishment-that-was-now-a-fringe looked on in bafflement."
Going on to describe the Goldwaterite ideology, and the enemies they believed they saw in common with the majority of American people (most notably the liberal 'consensus' of Johnson that was a symbol and substance of America's moral rot) he then notes the consequence:
"And so in November 1964 Lyndon Johnson won the grandest presidential victory since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's in 1936."
Now as it happens I think the Republicans will, despite themselves, nominate Establishment choice Romney as their candidate. I think they have managed such a level of fratricidal hatred that his nomination will still result in an Obama victory, although not on the scale of 2008 and possibly without a significant coat-tail effect in the two Houses of Congress. Nevertheless, Perlstein's historical point serves to suggest that the Republicans haven't lost their visceral right-wing core and that their search for another Goldwater, who might just be able to win, will continue long after the votes of 2012 have been counted. The Tea Party is merely the latest manifestation of the ground-up takeover to which the GOP now seems peculiarly subject and it won't always produce wackos and light-weights who will put off the average American voter; one day, they'll get their Goldwater ideologue with Reagan presentational skills.