Romney’s “gifts” explanation for his election defeat is already well-known. Something that has gone mostly unmentioned about these remarks is the similarity between his interpretation of the election and the more widely-shared conservative view of the two major parties recently stated by Yuval Levin. Last week, Levin contrasted the Democratic Party, which he viewed as mostly an “incoherent amalgam of interest groups,” with the GOP, which he described as “much more of a real party” that “seeks power to advance its own vision of the good of the whole.”
Of course, the Republican coalition has its own interest groups that seek benefits through their representatives, and that national coalition is arguably no less of an “incoherent amalgam.” Considering the size and expanse of the country, it would be virtually impossible for a major party coalition not to be. To a large extent, the current Republican coalition is the product of historical contingencies and alliances of convenience no different from other national political coalitions, and it has been defined by the goals or opponents that its members have in common. As those goals have been achieved or rendered irrelevant by events, the old alliances make less sense than they once did.
While Levin didn’t state his case quite as bluntly as Romney did, the basic assumption is the same: the other coalition is mostly just a jumble of interest groups that is held together by what party leaders can obtain for them (what Romney called gifts), but the same description doesn’t and can’t really apply to their own coalition. Why not? I suspect that the main reason is that many members of the Republican coalition don’t like to see themselves that way, but the stated reason is that Republicans are ostensibly united by a shared and coherent worldview and that it is the worldview that moves them to political action. The “very coherent worldview we call conservatism” (as Levin put it) isn’t really any more coherent that the coalition with which it is identified, and to the extent that the conservatism Levin describes is old-fashioned fusionism it mostly serves to paper over the disagreements and conflicts of interest between different factions within the coalition. If leaders in the Republican coalition can’t fully acknowledge that they should be serving the interests of their constituents, they will give those constituents no reason to offer support in the future.