In the wake of the Iowa caucuses, GOP candidates are dropping like flies. In a more insensitive time, they would be likened to the ten little Indians, who dwindled, through various mishaps, to the point of annihilation.
In truth, it’s fair to wonder whether at this point, with nine GOP presidential candidates remaining, they are not already annihilated. Is any of them a nationally electable candidate? Would the nation really elevate a Bible-thumping Ted Cruz to the presidency? Would it tolerate having as its symbolic representative someone as indelicate and bellicose as Donald Trump? As priggish as Marco Rubio? One senses it is already over for the Republicans—that, despite all the hubbub and incessant media attention, the party is in the throes of something ugly, something momentous, even life-threatening.
The ‘establishment’ of the Republican Party appears weak indeed. It is being weakened cannibalistically, as hostile forces (the ‘anti-establishment’) eat away at it from inside. Ted Cruz’s campaign manager, Rick Tyler, described the situation brilliantly in a post-Iowa interview with the Newshour‘s Gwen Ifill. Usually, he said, ‘the establishment has one well-funded candidate, and the conservative [wing] has a lot with no money. This time, we’re the well-funded candidate, and the establishment, there’s a lot of them, and they don’t have the money.’
The situation points up the party’s growing incapacity to influence who will become its nominee. The national party structure is more or less irrelevant to the primary process, where individual choice and extraneous forces (ranging from mega-donors to cable networks) increasingly shape the candidate field. The pruning of candidates is being accomplished by entities like Fox and CNN rather than by the Republican National Committee.
The fallout from Iowa, where the three top candidates garnered 75% of the vote and nine ‘trailing’ candidates split the remainder, shows the prescience of former candidate Scott Walker’s warning to his rivals back in September, when weak early poll numbers based on his debate performances prompted him to drop out. Others should follow his lead, Walker argued, so that the party could coalesce quickly around an alternative to Trump. Three candidates–Paul, Santorum, and Huckabee–finally quit the race this week. By now, however, the opportunity to create an impression of unity is gone.
Be careful what you wish for. The Republican party’s disarray and fragmentation is accelerating under the impact of Citizens United, the ironically titled Supreme Court decision widely regarded as conferring an advantage on Republicans and the wealthy cliques selectively backing them. Now it appears that, with outside money flowing into the campaign process unimpeded, the power of the Party to govern itself and its nominating process has been fatally weakened. As Mr Tyler notes, candidates like Cruz, whom the establishment hates, now have the money and staying power. There’s little to keep such creatures from claiming the party’s mantle–whether the GOP likes it or not.