The Republican Party is currently embroiled in a life-and-death struggle between its moderate and radical wings, each vying for the nomination of its favored candidate in the 2012 presidential election.
Over the course of the GOP’s nomination process, frontrunner Mitt Romney, long the bugaboo among many conservative Republican voters, has been repeatedly challenged by insurgent candidates ranging from Michelle Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain in an attempt to upend him.
With the collapse of their campaigns, the process of electoral elimination now leaves the multitude of disaffected evangelical Christians, arch-conservatives and militant neoconservatives with their only recourse left in one Richard John Santorum.
Rick Santorum now stands as the last hope for the right wing of the GOP to prevent the establishment candidate Mitt Romney from seizing what they see as their party’s soul.
Republican intra-party politics in previous election cycles have historically been contentious, but the 2012 nomination process for the GOP has been unprecedented in its level of vitriol and spite.
Recently, prominent Republicans like Barbara Bush have officially gone on record declaring the current primary campaign as “the worst I’ve ever seen in my life.”
In the aftermath of its defeat in the congressional and presidential elections of 2008, with Democrats seizing solid majorities in the House and the Senate while recapturing the White House, the Republican Party entered a period of truth and reconciliation in order to recover from their stinging defeats at the ballot box.
Rather than recognize the devastation they wrought from their policies of financial deregulation, plutocratic tax cuts and foreign wars during the Bush years, the right wing of the GOP saw the nomination of the moderate John McCain over the conservative Mike Huckabee in 2008 as the cause of their defeat. They rode their power riding nativism, homophobia and health-scare to victory in the midterm elections of 2010.
Political polarization has historically infected both parties during midterm elections, given that only the most ideologically driven voters turn out in between presidential campaigns. Although such behavior is fitting to whichever party is out of power during a political offseason, it is unbecoming during a major presidential campaign.
Republicans will ultimately regret their choice of Rick Santorum as their nominee if the right wing of their party has its way. Just look to the 1964 presidential election, in which insurgent candidate Barry Goldwater’s seizure of the Republican nomination over the party establishment’s choice of Nelson Rockefeller led to one of the most resounding defeats in modern American electoral history.
Indeed, the internal bleeding that the Republicans are suffering during this damaging nomination process might already be too great for the party to recover from by Election Day in November.
The last time the Republican Party remained this divided between its establishment and insurgent factions was during the 1976 nomination process when then-incumbent President Gerald Ford barely defeated Ronald Reagan only to lose to the Democrat Jimmy Carter in the general election.
Moderate and undecided voters have historically been turned off by political extremism and this election will be no exception. The battles Santorum wishes to fight are the same ones Goldwater ultimately lost in the 1960s.
Homosexuality, contraception and socialism, all of which are political nonstarters for the vast majority of Americans, have now become the rhetorical litmus test for anyone seeking the nomination of today’s Republican Party. Whosoever ultimately gets it, here’s to hoping he eats his words.