Thomas B. Edsall’s NYT op-ed, “Newt Gingrich and the Future of the Right,” suggests that the Republican Party may be in for a period of internal convulsions in the not-too-distant future. Edsall explains:
…The Gingrich campaign reveals the current state of the Christian right, its status anxieties, its desperation, its frustration and in particular its anger. The extreme volatility of Gingrich’s primary season bid reflects not only the success and failure of his own tactical maneuvers and those of his opponents, but also the ambivalence of the Republican electorate in choosing between ideology and pragmatism — an intra-party struggle dating back to the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Edsall adds that, Romney has taken the lead in the eight most recent public opinion polls after Newt’s big upset in SC. “What does this political volatility say about the conservative movement and the Republican Party?,” asks Edsall, who then notes the marginalization of the religious right, now about “roughly 35 to 40 percent of the Republican primary electorate.”
However, warns Edsall, “…Its preoccupations are less and less those of Americans taken as a whole” and “as the movement shifts to the periphery, it becomes more of a liability to the party than an asset.” Edsall believes that,
Gingrich’s swings from low to high to low to high to low — his success in South Carolina and his increasing desperation in Florida — suggest that his candidacy is more a burst of light before the candle dims than the latest iteration of a vital conservative insurgency.
The larger issue facing the Republican Party is how it will respond to political market forces, to the pressure of changes in public opinion. The party could open up beyond its core believers to accommodate old-school Republican moderates and hold on to its libertarians and still have decent size, strength and power.
But the country is going through a profound restructuring in moral and economic thinking and the danger for Republicans is that their current coalition might become obsolete. If the party doesn’t adapt, the alternative is that its power centers — the Christian right, anti-immigration forces, and proponents of policies that benefit the affluent at the expense of the less well-off — will refuse to adjust, in which case the party risks going the way of the Studebaker.
And, watching Romney and Gingrich groping wildly for credibility with an increasingly suspicious middle class, there is reason to hope that it will happen sooner, rather than later.