The GOP's disputed soul

This week will be about more than watching the Weather Channel for Hurricane Isaac updates; it will also represent a chance to take the temperature of the contemporary GOP. If the schedule is anything to go by, the readings will be mixed indeed—on Wednesday night, for example, delegates will be greeted in rapid order by a video of Ron Paul, then Senate Minority Leader and longtime establishment hack Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), then the man McConnell tried desperately to prevent winning the GOP senatorial primary in Kentucky (Sen. Rand Paul), then after another speaker a man who stands for most everything Ron Paul abhors (Sen. John McCain [R-Arizona]). You can count on one hand, maybe even one finger, the core beliefs those four men share.

The Ron Paul insurgency in particular presents a conundrum to the GOP. Even though some establishmentarian types would love to wash their hands of him, and the liberty movement’s future without its anti-charismatic leader is unclear, Republicans just can’t afford to lose Paul’s 11 percent share of the primary vote.

That’s because despite 43 months of Democratic mismanagement of economic policy, the Republican Party, amazingly, is still losing market share. A recent analysis by the centrist Third Way think tank found that in eight swing states (including Florida), GOP registration is down 79,000 (or 0.7 percent), while the ranks of registered independents have grown by 487,000 (6.4 percent). Voters clearly don’t like what President Obama has been selling—swing state Democratic registration is down 800,000, or 5.2 percent. But they have steadfastly refused to endorse the Republican alternative.