New York Magazine‘s John Heilemann has a great piece this week on the GOP primary race thus far. He writes about the rightward drift of the Republican Party, the struggles that “front-runner” Mitt Romney has had to curry favor with the Tea Party base, and Santorum’s rise as his primary conservative challenger. In Heilemann’s own words:
That Mitt Romney finds himself so imperiled by Rick Santorum—Rick Santorum!—is just the latest in a series of jaw-dropping developments in what has been the most volatile, unpredictable, and just plain wackadoodle Republican-nomination contest ever. Part of the explanation lies in Romney’s lameness as a candidate, in Santorum’s strength, and in the sudden efflorescence of social issues in what was supposed to be an all-economy-all-the-time affair. But even more important have been the seismic changes within the Republican Party.
The schism is very real. The establishment of the Republican Party – comprised of lifelong politicians, Wall Street execs, the Chamber of Commerce and others – usually wins out. Their picks included George H. W. Bush in 88 and 92, Bob Dole in 96, George W. Bush in 00 and 04, and John McCain in 08. Each of them won their primary fights – even after tough challenges for Bush Sr. and John McCain. That may not be the case this year with an insurgent Tea Party. While Rick Santorum is very much a Washington insider – serving in both the House of Representatives and Senate until his defeat in 2006 – he is a nightmare candidate for the establishment due to his ardently conservative views on social issues that will alienate independent voters, but attract the very conservative voters that Mitt Romney needs in order to win the nomination.