Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina Republican Primary. But before we cast Mitt Romney in the role of Hillary Clinton (all the money, all the endorsements, etc.), we need to consider what the Gingrich-Romney polarization tells us about Republican voters. Obama-Clinton did not so much expose a polarization as much as it did a pairing. And Gingrich-Romney?
Call them knuckle-heads, but Gingrich’s supporters are Santorum supporters, Bachmann supporters, Perry supporters who believe that Gingrich is the only remaining candidate that can defeat Obama. That is to say, Gingrich’s supporters come from the moral-ideological pole of the Republican Party. Romney’s supporters, by contrast, come from the big business, Wall Street pole of the Republican Party.
First, a word about traditional republicanism. As all of the readers of this blog know, the word republican comes from the Latin res publica. Res publica means and, for the framers of the Constitution, meant public things, things shared by all of us, or, as many of the United States understood the term “common wealth.” Traditional republicans believed that the common wealth stood as a firewall between private wealth and political decision-making. Traditional republicans therefore stood for public parks, public schools, public highways and byways, public health, public institutions; they stood for common wealth.
It is in this sense that I call Newt Gingrich and his wing of the Republican Party anti-republican. That is to say, they are opposed to public things. They are anti-republican Republicans.
Mitt Romney by contrast represents unrestrained capital. Unrestrained capital, of course, is its own kind of anti-republicanism, an anti-republicanism that believes that money ought, by right, to control politics. Like Newt Gingrich’s anti-republicanism, Romney’s too is eager to tear down the firewall that protects public life from private life.
And, yet, there is a difference. Mitt Romney’s anti-republicanism has come to be associated with unprincipled greed. Newt Gingrich’s anti-republicanism by contrast has come to be associated with the Tea Party’s religious right (which is itself somewhat of an odd couple).
The result is that Republican voters have a difficult choice before them: Greed or Theocracy?
Some feel that this divide will tear the Republican Party apart, into call it a Republican Party and a Tea Party. But I am not so sure. If each wing can focus like a laser on their open hostility to public institutions, public values, and public ideals, I feel certain that this anti-republican Republican Party will survive.