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The Republicans' Electile Dysfunction

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The Grand Old Party continues to suffer from acute 'electile' dysfunction. A clear majority of Republican primary voters and caucus-goers just can't seem to get up for any one of their presidential candidates. Rather than hard support for any one of the would-be nominees, the party faithful remain divided into three major camps and a smaller but steadfast group of outliers.

Most of the rank and file don't seem all that hostile toward each other. With the increasing possibility of a Gingrich exit after poor showings in Alabama and Mississippi, the New York Times took a closer look at voter exit polling in those two states. It turns out a majority of Gingrich supporters would be satisfied with Santorum as their nominee, but less than a third feel as comfortable with Romney. More than twice as many Gingrich voters in Mississippi thought Santorum was closer to them on issues than Romney. In Alabama, more than three times as many Gingrich voters said Santorum's views were more compatible with theirs than Romney's. And other research finds that 15 to 20% of the Santorum followers would vote for President Obama before Romney. So, while most Santorum and Gingrich supporters could live with each other, the one thing they seem to agree on is Mitt Romney: Eeeyyyuuu! And that hasn't changed since this process began.

How in the world did a Republican primary campaign become so unmanageable? Why won't these people just do what they're supposed to do -- vote for the anointed and most electable candidate; the establishment guy? Where did all this independence come from?

Actually, these independent constituencies have been around for a while. The Republican Party has traditionally been the lengthened shadow of those who number unfettered, unregulated capitalism among the world's great religions; the solution to nearly every economic, fiscal and moral challenge. Their frustration was they could only occasionally win elections and shape public policy because they reside in a select and relatively small community. After all, not everyone can be a financier or captain of industry.

Over time, they realized that they could have things more their way if they could cultivate enough support among everyday working Americans, so they began to plow the fields. They planted anger and dissatisfaction. They sowed threats to cherished, 'traditional' values. They scattered seeds of blame and dissatisfaction with government -- the same government elected by those everyday working Americans. "Government isn't the solution to the problem. Government is the problem."

And they were phenomenally successful at cultivating an unreasoned fear of 'others.' Others are people who don't look or sound like everyday working Americans and are bent on taking jobs and other things they don't deserve. They're faceless bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. who exist to take hard-earned money away from everyday working Americans and propagate by constantly making government bigger. They're 'elites' who have graduate degrees, live on the East or West Coast, drive Volvos, drink white wine and look down on everyday working Americans.

It worked. Dividing Americans against each other led to Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election, Ronald Reagan's wins in 1980 and 1984, George H. W. Bush's 1988 election, W's 2000 win, and particularly his 2004 re-election. But, in 2012, these constituency groups: social conservatives, evangelicals, fiscal-small government conservatives and no-government libertarians, are feeling their numbers, feeling their oats, and they're staying with their candidates to the end -- which may be a long way off.

This leaves the Republican Party unfulfilled and looking for a cure for its electile dysfunction. Perhaps they should heed the warning on the label: If an election lasts longer than four months, consult a physician. I'm sure Doctor Paul has a prescription.

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