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GOP Activists vs. ‘Donorists’: Pick Your Poison

Cosmopolitan elites and firebreathing populists break a damaged GOP.

After Mitt Romney’s failed bid for the presidency, the GOP’s first brainstorm was to tackle the immigration issue and thereby mend fences (as against building a literal one) with the country’s growing Hispanic population.

The resultant legislation—the so-called Gang of 8 bill—was a perfect expression of business-class consensus: a reform whose approach to the importation of temporary workers would have aggravated the plight of low-wage, low-skill workers and eventually paved the way for a two-tiered labor market.

The flawed immigration reform proposal, added to the party’s longstanding fealty to the investor class when it comes to upper-bracket tax rates, drove Ross Douthat to complain of Republican “donorists”: rich social moderates who mix more easily with the cosmopolitan elite than with grassroots conservatives.

This past weekend, after which a government shutdown over Obamacare seemed all but certain to proceed, has seen the ascendance of a more authentically populist conservatism.

As Tom Petty sang years ago, I can’t decide which is worse.

For the push to “defund,” or merely delay the implementation of, Obamacare is maybe the most moronic and counterproductive gambit yet devised by the fire-breathing right flank of the congressional GOP.

It drops the ball of debt reduction—the putative reason conservatives confronted President Obama so dramatically in back in 2011—and exposes many Republican lawmakers’ cowardice when it comes to reining in the growth of entitlement spending. (I’m old enough to remember a “grand bargain” that included chained CPI and raising the eligibility age for Medicare!)

It invites public fury over dysfunction in Washington.

It has unified Democrats at a time when President Obama had lost his foreign policy footing and seen his domestic policy agenda stall completely.

It has, in turn, fractured Republican ranks. The party seems less like it’s taking the fight to Obama than it is chasing its own tail.

Oh—and the whole sorry exercise was futile to begin with!

Here’s the bad-to-worse takeaway: the K-Street Republicans may be about the cynical business of lining the pockets of their bespoke suits. But the true believers are no more capable of leading the party out of the political wilderness in which it found itself last November.

If the choice is between between Wall Street and the self-assured ideological commandos of aging all-white R+20 congressional districts—between Goldman and Bachmann, if you will—well, then I’m just taking my ball and going home.