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Morning Jay: Who Is Responsible for the GOP?

6:00 AM, Feb 22, 2012 • By JAY COST
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The party establishment? Recent scholarly work has suggested that this shadowy group has more power than originally thought, but that is not to imply that it has a lot of power, or that it is capable of behaving responsibly for the good of the whole party. In terms of its capacity to be responsible, the establishment nowadays is mostly the candidates for and occupants of various political offices, and the donors, strategists, and hangers-on that orbit in their particular circles. Thus, it suffers from the same potential prisoners' dilemma as declared candidates do. In terms of its power, the establishment works almost exclusively through ad hoc, informal channels that are nowhere near as dominant as the formal rules that governed the almighty pre-reform conventions.

So, in their zeal to reform the party system, the lefty do-gooders of the late 1960s and early 1970s denuded those supposedly vile party organizations and replaced them with…nothing. In reality, nobody is responsible for the well-being of the party, to manage its reputation and maximize its chances for a broad victory in November and beyond.

We have seen the problems with such an arrangement in the current cycle. The differences between candidate voting blocs are fairly insubstantial this time around – mostly dependent on different tenors and tones from the candidates, or regional affinities, or what have you. In the grand history of the parties, these sorts of disagreements are par for the course, and would usually be ironed out within 10 or so ballots at the national convention. The local and state parties would send their representatives to Chicago (or some other central city), they’d haggle a little bit, but come to an agreement in short order, and probably all head home happy.

But not this time. Because there is no such governing body, we have this mess that possibly might stretch on for months, leave lingering bad blood between the factions, and ultimately give Barack Obama a boost in the general election. That’s the difference between having somebody in charge and having nobody in charge.

We implicitly take for granted the idea that the way things are done now is either the way they have always been done, or that it was changed from the old ways for good reasons. Perhaps it is the march of technology or the seemingly endless growth in the American economy that gives us confidence that today’s rules of the road are better than yesterday’s. But it is not so in the case of the party operations. The sad truth is that Americans who lived and died 150 years ago – who didn’t have modern medicine, personal computers, cars, airplanes, easy access to higher education, "sophisticated" manners and all the rest – had a much better party system than we do today.

And the Republican party is paying the price for this right now. 

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