Why the Republican party establishment does not want a culture war election

In an earlier post, I wrote about Rush Limbaugh lamenting the fact that the Republican party establishment wants to avoid fighting a culture war election, which he thinks would be a winner.

The Republican party establishment can read the polls as well as anybody and they must be seriously concerned by surveys that show appallingly low approval ratings for Congress coupled with the majority view that the GOP agenda in Congress is too extreme. This is why a senior party figure fears a Rick Santorum victory because if he is the nominee a culture war election is exactly what we are going to get, big time.

What the US has is a one-party state with two factions. The unified part serves the interests of the oligarchy while the two factions (Republican and Democratic) differ mainly on social issues (though there are also some minor factional differences in terms of oligarchic preferences). What each party wants more than anything is to win control of the many legislative committees so that they can be the beneficiaries of all the money, lobbying, and attention of those seeking to benefit through legislation.

Putting myself in the mind of the Republican establishment, I can see why the party wanted to run on economic issues as providing their best shot at retaining control of the House of Representatives and maybe winning the Senate, and thus favored Mitt Romney or someone like him as the candidate most likely to help them do so. Late last year there was deep gloom and pessimism about the economy and unemployment and this issue must have seemed like their best bet.

But not only is the state of the economy no longer such a sure winner, the way this current primary race is playing out, with the current crop of not-Romneys being their worst nightmares, is a reminder that even the best laid plans can gang agley.


  1. d cwilson says

    The problem the republican establishment is having is that a sizable percentage of the base clearly wants a cultural war election, no matter how much of a loser it may be for the party in November. The people who listen to Rush and take him seriously believe him when he says it’s a winning issue. Any polling data to the contrary is just part of the liberal media conspiracy.

    Gingrich is experiencing tremendous pressure from the establishment to drop out in the belief that without Gingrich, Romney can more easily defeat Santorum. Romney, meanwhile, is desperately trying to avoid any talk of religion, as he knows that’s a negative for him among evangelicals. The primary began with Romney as the presumptive nominee, even though the base clearly doesn’t like him. Now that we’re a few months in, Romney has won, what, two states? He had Iowa taken back from him and had his lead in Maine trimmed back. Now he’s in a real position to lose Michigan, the state he was born in.

    If Romney loses in Michigan, I don’t see how he continue to claim the title of presumptive nominee. And if that happens, Santorum has a really good chance of going all the way to Tampa.

    Should be interesting.

  2. Azuma Hazuki says

    I hope they all spontaneously explode or melt or disappear in a cloud of sulfurous smoke. If there were a Hell they’d be on the express elevator down.

  3. ollie says

    Beware of “low congressional ratings” polls. People judge Congress as a whole harshly but judge their own representative much more positively.

    Also, national polls on what issues Americans favor is all but worthless; remember that 500,000 in Wyoming have the same influence in the Senate as the millions in California or New York.

  4. says

    Shalom Ollie,

    You’re spot on!

    We don’t vote for Congress, we vote for our particular congressional representative, so any polling on the nation’s approval of Congress is meaningless.

    As indicated by the re-election rate, the true approval rating of congressional representatives is above 80 percent.

    I’ve called several people on this and they sheepishly admit that they agree with me, but as one individual confessed:

    “Hi Jeff, good points, well taken. We generally do aim to present a more-comprehensive picture of public approval on our Blog, but that historic low is a meaningful data point for an email appeal.”

    In other words: we don’t let facts or reason get in the way of us raising money.



  5. Mano Singham says


    What you say is true but the presidential election has a more distant feeling than that of your local congressperson. I think that a party that has low Congressional approval ratings is likely to suffer at the presidential level because the presidential candidate is seen as being the symbol of the party. This could tend to drag down somewhat the lower-order tickets.

    One test of that hypothesis might be to see how well congressional party approval ratings correlate with presidential voting and if there have been elections in which one party won the presidency while losing seats in Congress. I haven’t had time to check that data but will try and do so.

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