WASHINGTON -- The attack on Mitt Romney was tough, even vicious.
As expressed at a now-infamous fundraiser in Florida, the Republican nominee's "ideology, pitting the 'makers' against the 'takers,' offers nothing," the writer said. "No sympathy for our fellow citizens. No insight into our social challenge. No hope of change."
"This approach involves a relentless reductionism," the writer argued Thursday in the Washington Post. "Human worth is reduced to economic production. Social problems are reduced to personal vices. Politics is reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class."
It was perhaps the most thorough, full-throated denunciation of Romney this year -- and, of course, a conservative Republican wrote it.
The author, Michael Gerson, has impeccable right-wing bona fides: He worked at the Heritage Foundation, served Chuck Colson and Bob Dole, and was President George W. Bush's chief speechwriter.
On this 46th day before Election Day, the story is not the alleged disintegration of the Romney campaign team in Boston. Yes, there is a lot of infighting going on. "It's a shame to see it," said Hogan Gidley, who was Rick Santorum's campaign spokesman. "They're all trying to save themselves." Still, it looks like the band will stick together (and give each other bonuses) until what could be a bitter end in November.
The real story, the deeper story, is the flying apart of the modern GOP into its constituent but rivalrous pieces. The Romney campaign feels like the end of an era in the party, rather than the beginning of one, because there's no center and it cannot hold.
Gerson is just the latest Republican to unload on Romney for what he sees as the nominee's ineptitude, ignorance, confusion, apostasy -- or all four. Others include, in varying degrees, Peggy Noonan, Bill Kristol, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Joe Scarborough, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Frank Luntz, several GOP U.S. Senate candidates, and even Romney's campaign co-chair Tim Pawlenty, who quit that role to become a business lobbyist in Washington.
Behind the scenes, other figures -- from Karl Rove and Charlie Black to the advisers for some silent big-money donors -- are not only nervous about Romney's prospects but irritated at what he has done (or not done) for (or to) the party.
Granted, no political party is always neat, orderly and consistent. Since U.S. elections generally come down to just two parties, each has to be almost mind-bogglingly diverse, either ideologically or demographically or both, to amass a majority.
What it lacks in demographic diversity, the GOP makes up for in breadth of ideas and agendas. By my count, there are no less than seven ideological precincts within the party. Ronald Reagan and to some extent Bushes One and Two were able to hold those pieces and their antecedents together. Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008 could not. Can Romney? Doubtful.
He has two sub-crowds in his corner thus far: the big business/Wall Street group (the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, bankers who took government money and hate themselves for it, trust fund and hedge fund types) and the bombs-away neocons who want to vaporize Iran (led by the likes of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson). Both groups loathe President Barack Obama, but also seem to genuinely like, or at least vaguely admire, the former Massachusetts governor.
Romney is nowhere with -- or regarded suspiciously by -- the other five. The "compassionate conservative" types such as Gerson, moved by a sense of faith-based social obligation, distrust Romney in his current incarnation. Tea Party "small government" advocates distrust him because of his moderate, even expansionist view of the role of government when he ran Massachusetts. Fundamentalist and many evangelical Protestants, as well as many Catholics, remain wary of Romney because of his Mormon faith, although they rarely say so publicly in so many words.
The xenophobic elements within the party -- the anti-immigration crowd, those who fear the "they" (minorities) of America -- might respond to the resentful Mitt of the secret fundraiser video. But Romney is no firebrand, and he has backed away from the more incendiary implications of his Florida comments.
The last piece of the GOP puzzle is the one that should like Romney the most, yet actually has never had faith him: the money people and elected officials in New York and Washington. They just want a winner, but they simply don't think much of his candidate skills, and they're technocratic types above all. Their house organ is the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which has repeatedly expressed exasperation at how Mitt has run his campaign. While his Boston-based crew has ties to the Washington Republican establishment, they really aren't part of it.
"We saw the party starting to come apart in 2010 with the rise of the Tea Party," said Gidley. "This isn't anything of Mitt Romney's making."
Perhaps not, but unlike Reagan or even the Bushes, Romney so far has not shown the candidate skills, the depth of thought or the ideological commitment that would give him the strength to bind the party into one force.
At a campaign event on Thursday, Ann Romney expressed her frustration at the carping from Republicans and other conservatives. "Stop it!" she commanded on an Iowa radio show. "This is hard. You want to try it? You get in the ring."
Well, they are, but not necessarily to promote her husband.
It would, of course, help if he were ahead in the race. But he is not, and time is running out.
For Howard Fineman's full 2012 Countdown, click here.