Is the GOP an Oligarchy or Democracy? It Matters

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.

I think that Frum is correct -- as I keep 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 and perhaps a political edge in defining the GOP.

And now David Brooks has framed the divide in the GOP as not between oligarchs and the rank-and file, but rather between those who are civic-minded and love the United States and those who have become ideologically fixated on doing harm to the country.

Here are some of the key lines of his powerful, provocative essay, "The Mother of All No-Brainers" in which he commends the Republicans for setting up the foundation for a historic, epic deal with Dems on tax cuts with minor revenue increases -- and then ridicules the base for its fanaticism:


But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That's because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. . .

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. . .

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation's honor.

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. . .

Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. . .

This is one of the strongest indictments of current trends inside the GOP that I have read from a leading Republican commentator.

Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison and others fought ferociously amongst themselves as the nation was being set up over the balance to be achieved between those who had the capacity to understand the stakes in policy and government and those who reflected an uninformed, passionate mob.

Seems like the same debate is back, and it sounds like Frum and Brooks feel that real democracy inside the GOP could be a dangerous thing.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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