The Big Questions: What’s Next for the GOP Establishment?

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Mark Halperin’s answers this week in TIME.

Is there really still a Republican establishment? If so, who belongs to it?

Despite the Tea Party, the Twitterverse and the multimedia dilution of traditional Republican authority, the old-school GOP rules the roost. Members of Congress, governors, big-time fundraisers, well-paid pundits and activist shoguns in early-voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina still have the loudest voices. Winning the party’s nomination without the backing of a majority of these groups is a nearly insurmountable challenge.

How are the establishmentarians leaning?

Among fat-cat donors, Mitt Romney is doing far better than his rivals, but he’s doing far worse with the rest of the establishment, which explains the shakiness of his front-runner status. Some elites are so set against the former Massachusetts governor that they are being drawn to Jon Huntsman without knowing much about him. Others are pining for the conservative Texas governor, Rick Perry, whose stance toward the race has rapidly shifted from no-go to thinking about it to better than even money.

What are the establishment holdouts waiting for?

Some are resigned to supporting Romney as the best available option for a viable general-election challenge — especially those who fear the Michele Bachmann surge. Others want to see if Huntsman is for real, if Tim Pawlenty can muster enough dynamism to be the Romney alternative or if Perry will be as tough and determined a national candidate as he has been a Texas battler. It could be early winter — or even the spring of 2012 — before the establishment gets off the fence. They want to beat President Obama but still can’t figure out how.

(PHOTOS: The 2012 Race Begins—Republicans Take Over New Hampshire)

Related Topics: 2012 Elections, Analysis

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