When Mitt Romney sought to help embattled senators in Utah and Arizona the issue went well beyond those preferences.
What was at stake and continues to be the major issue that Romney confronts as a Republican presidential aspirant in a party where a major ideological confrontation is in vigorous progress is the direction of the party.
The contrasting force to former Massachusetts Governor Romney is former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. This confrontation, as in so many others, finds at least quasi-historical precedents.
A tenacious battle for ideological control of the Republican Party occurred in 1964. This was a period when a prominent Eastern wing existed. It was headed by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who waged a no-holds-barred battle for the Republican presidential nomination with Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.
Rockefeller was booed by Goldwater delegates when he declared from the podium of the San Francisco Cow Palace that the force he opposed was "outside the mainstream of American political thought." Rockefeller represented a more traditional Republican Party while Goldwater was the favorite of a grassroots conservative bloc with particularly strong precinct organization in the southern and western regions.
An earlier antecedent to the 1964 struggle was the bitter ideological battle between the conservative Republican forces allied behind the candidate known as "Mr. Republican," Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower.Eisenhower was the favorite candidate of the Eastern establishment with Taft preferred by the party's conservative wing that was referred to then by some as "The Old Guard."
That 1952 Republican Convention in Chicago produced a dramatic podium moment when Senator Everett Dirksen, a strong Taft backer that many thought was the preference to become the Ohioan's vice presidential running mate, gestured toward the party's presidential nominee in the two preceding elections of 1944 and 1948, former New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey.
Dewey was a strong Eisenhower supporter. His influence provided Eisenhower with sturdy Eastern establishment support.
Dirksen sought to make the opposite point from Rockefeller's at the party's 1964 convention by asserting that the party had become too much of a "me too" instrument and that it needed more of a conservative ideological emphasis, the position advanced by Goldwater and his adherents in 1964.
In one of the most famous political television moments in history Dirksen, one of the most accomplished orators in senatorial history, pointed directly at Dewey, who headed the New York delegation, and exclaimed:
"I followed him twice and he led us down to defeat!"
The Romney-Palin confrontation shapes up akin to those Republican ideological struggles of 1952 and 1964.
Romney adopts a more businessman's approach as befitting of the executive he was with the Staples organization.
Palin is shaped in an outsider's grassroots mold identifiable with the Tea Party movement.
While Romney boosts more traditional Republican establishment figures in ideology driven contests, Palin holds fast for grassroots Tea Party type candidates.
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