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Oligarchy and Democracy in the GOP

I recently had breakfast with FrumForum proprietor and smart issues strategist David Frum who said that if the GOP was really an oligarchy, then Mitt Romney would come out on top. If the party was a democracy, the someone else — anyone else — would get the Republican presidential nod because the rank-and-file viscerally disliked Romney. ~Steve Clemons

Romney is likely to come out on top for a number of reasons, one of which is the tendency of Republicans to defer to the best-known national politician in their presidential field, but it is not correct to say that the rank-and-file viscerally dislike Romney. I would be pleased if they did, but Romney actually has quite good favorability numbers among Republicans. Among Republicans who know who Romney is, he has a rather lopsided 73/19 favorability/unfavorability rating, and among declared candidates only Newt Gingrich has comparable name recognition. Unfortunately, it is not most of the party rank and file that viscerally dislike him. Just 3% have a strongly unfavorable view.

Frum hopes that the party is an oligarchy, because he would much rather have Romney as the nominee than almost any of the alternatives, and it seems to me that Clemons accepts this reading of the party’s mood because he is “running into top tier, propertied Republicans who think Romney is the only choice and have disdain for the rough and tough, populist currents that are gaining attention.” In other words, Clemons has been talking to many of the “oligarchs” of the party who cannot stand the politics of the rank-and-file, and they mistakenly assume that the rank-and-file have the same contempt for the candidate they prefer. This creates the odd situation in which Romney could be the popular favorite of the party, but his victory would be interpreted as a triumph of the “oligarchic” establishment against what the party’s supporters really wanted.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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