Republicans live in interesting times

The estimable Noemie Emery chides the “conservative wing” of the GOP for making “excuses, excuses” for the fact that the Republican Party hasn’t been nominating candidates for president more to its liking. The excuse offered is that “The Establishment met at the Country Club on alternate Tuesdays to undermine all the upcoming Reagans.” The reality, says Emery, is this.

[A]gainst establishment types who were national figures, the conservative movement flung preachers and pundits (Pat Robertson, Alan Keyes and Pat Buchanan), has-beens and losers (New Gingrich and Rick Santorum), and others still worse (Herman Cain, for example), who on second thought lost even conservative primary voters.

There’s considerable truth in Emery’s analysis. I disagree with her if she is claiming (a) that there is no Republican Establishment or (b) that it hasn’t done what it can to make life difficult for conservative presidential candidates it dislikes. Moreover, it can be argued that not all hard-line conservative candidates were preachers, pundits, has-beens, losers, or jokes. Consider Orrin Hatch (2000), Fred Thompson (2008), and Rick Perry (2012). And recall that Ronald Reagan, pre-1980, could accurately have been described as “an actor, a has-been, and loser.”

Emery’s underlying point is sound, however. Hard-line conservative candidates have failed to win the Republican nomination because, in part, they have not been attractive and in part because the GOP as a whole isn’t as conservative as its conservative base fancies. And, while John McCain and Mitt Romney were sub-optimal candidates, I doubt that any of their more conservative primary opponents in the 2008 or 2012 Republican prmiary field would have run any better — indeed, most probably would have run worse.

Where does this analysis leave us? It leaves us, as I recently suggested, with an establishment that contemplates “firing” the conservative base and a conservative that contemplates “firing” the establishment.

It also leaves us wondering whether there is candidate who can bridge the gap. Or, as Emery might put it, wondering whether the conservative wing can find an attractive candidate who is willing to seek the Republican nomination in 2016.

Many believe that it can. Names like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and Ron Johnson roll off the tongue. But even this early in the presidential cycle (are we actually in the cycle yet?) clouds appear on the horizon.

The establishment is starting to push back against Rand Paul — a good development in my view, since Paul is a libertarian who doesn’t hold traditionally conservative positions on many key issues. At the same time, the establishment is pushing back against some hard-core traditional conservative positions, and has enlisted Rubio to lead the charge on amnesty for illegal aliens.

I think Rubio is widely viewed as the man who can hold the conservative base while leading the Party in more moderate directions. I see Rubio leading the Party to permanent minority status.

With things this interesting, we must, indeed, already be in the 2016 presidential cycle.