Romney and his supporters have made much of his ability to appeal to each of the so-called "three legs" of the GOP coalition. He is therefore, they say, the fusion candidate, the only one who can keep the coalition together. Today, David Brooks argues that Romney's candidate represents "the last gasp of the Reagan coalition," appealing to some members of each GOP constituency because he "studied the contours of the GOP coalition and molded himself to its forms." (my emphasis).
This has resulted in the Mitt Romney we know today: a man who holds an overall set of positions that are completely and utterly incoherent, requiring a level of doublethink almost unprecedented in American history. He may be able to win the GOP nomination, but he will guarantee a crushing GOP defeat next November.
The Reagan coalition is a thing of the past, as I've argued time and time again. The legs of the GOP "three-legged stool" have realized they have nothing in common with each other. Unfortunately, the seat of that stool, the GOP establishment, doesn't realize just how divided its legs are.
If the GOP wishes to win in November or return to power within a reasonably short period of time after a November loss, it will need to build a new coalition, something that Huckabee, McCain, and to a lesser extent even Paul implicitly understand. But Romney and his supporters either do not understand this or choose not to understand it.
Brooks gives us a hint as to the reason for this:
The leaders of the Republican coalition know Romney will lose. But some would rather remain in control of a party that loses than lose control of a party that wins. Others haven’t yet suffered the agony of defeat, and so are not yet emotionally ready for the trauma of transformation. Others still simply don’t know which way to turn.
In other words: Romney's base is the GOP establishment, the "seat" of the "three-legged stool"; they support him because he represents the only real chance for them to remain in control of the "three legs," also known as the GOP base. They fail to understand that they do not represent each of the interest groups that make up the GOP; instead, they are simply an interest group unto themselves, concerned more with controlling the other GOP interest groups than with having a coherent, rational system of beliefs. In the end, Romney doesn't have the ability to appeal to any of the "three legs"; instead, he appeals only to the "seat," which has appointed itself the representative of the legs.
This year's primary represents a battle between the "seat" and the so-called "legs" of the GOP coalition. It may be that the seat will win the battle; but in the process, it will cut itself off from its base. If the GOP is to hold on to power or return to power anytime soon, it will have to either find a new leg or allow the existing legs to strengthen themselves; with Romney as the leader, this cannot happen.