Aug. 27 (Bloomberg) — Ever since Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has moved steadily to the right. Yet in Tampa this week, for the seventh consecutive time, Republicans will nominate a mainstream presidential candidate after rejecting movement conservatives.
No one would confuse Willard Mitt Romney with a populist or movement conservative; he oozes establishment. So did the other presidential nominees since Reagan, both Presidents Bush, Bob Dole and John McCain.
Like those predecessors, Romney calculated the formula for winning the nomination, says Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, and an academic authority on the Republican Party: “Just conservative enough to get moderate traditionalists and a chunk of movement conservatives.”
That, he recalls, was the model George H.W. Bush inaugurated in 1988. In fact, Pitney says, “Romney reminds me a lot of that President Bush, minus the war heroism.”
Is this formula permanent or is it ephemeral?
Vin Weber, a former congressman from Minnesota and a Republican luminary, believes it may be more deeply ingrained. “Reagan believed in a mixed system, conservative but with an appreciation of the safety net, a coherent governing philosophy,” he says. “What most Americans want is an activist, limited government.”
Not so, says Richard Viguerie, one of the oldest veterans of the right-wing movement: “This is the last time the establishment will have operational control of a convention,” the 78-year-old activist proclaims. The grass-roots, ideologically driven base typified by the Tea Party movement, he says, is maturing into full control.
The establishment Republicans generally hold more moderate views, some having grown up in the party, others coming from business, and with a general appreciation of an “activist, limited government.”
Movement conservatives are motivated by ideology, sometimes small-government economics, other times the religious social agenda. They range from Paul Ryan, the small-government, economic policy-savvy vice-presidential candidate, to Todd Akin, the Missouri Senate contender who last week suggested that it is rare for women to become pregnant as a result of rape, saying “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
From Washington to the state capitals to the local level, the movement conservatives are in the ascendancy. For years, the Republican base was divided; it’s now dominated by the movement types.