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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Evil geniuses or abject idiots?

David Atkins

The New York Times gave me a good laugh today:

The party’s new delegate system is a major contributor to the prolonged nature of the contest, along with the advent of supportive and well-financed “super PACs” that have helped Mr. Romney’s competitors stay in the delegate hunt when their candidacies might otherwise have withered without enough cash.

For many Republicans, the question is not just whether Mr. Romney will eventually capture the nomination, but at what cost.

There is a growing sense among party leaders that the primary fight has gone on long enough and that continued attacks by the candidates and their allies have steered the conversation away from the economy and could damage the party’s prospects in the fall.

As Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum traded a new round of sharp charges in Michigan on Saturday, some Republican leaders expressed concern about the effects of a prolonged and nasty primary fight.

“The general election prospects for Republicans certainly would be better served if more focus was spent on Obama’s policies and the failures of those policies,” said Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi and a longtime party leader. “There’s still time for that, but it would improve our prospects greatly.”

Gee, you think?

Most of time I think of conservative leaders as evil geniuses more than abject fools. Their voting base are generally oppressed rubes, delusional ideologues, racists or vicious sociopaths, but the leadership is generally very smart and cagey.

But this primary season has made me seriously question that. From the standpoint of Republican interests, the last six months have been a carnival of comical incompetence by the GOP and its candidates. Whether or not one agrees with me and Digby that the birth control fight is better for the social conservative agenda long term, there's almost no doubt that the sudden obsession with social issues far outside the American mainstream is a terrible thing for Republicans in the short term.

Of course, the other possibility is that the leadership is still composed of evil geniuses, but they've almost completely lost control of their voting base, having overprimed its fury beyond the ability to manage. The career trajectory of one Karl Rove would seem to indicate as much.

That in turn is partly a product of the fact that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the like require increasing doses of outrage to stay relevant to their audiences. Add in the fact that the conservative media machine is no longer the messaging machine for the GOP, but the GOP is rather the legislative arm of conservative media magnates, and it's not exactly a surprise that we've reached a point of no return for Republican leadership.

My assumption has always been that the GOP would get its act together and coalesce in united fashion behind a nominee. But now I'm not so sure anymore. It's going to be a very interesting next nine months or so.