Over at Religion Dispatches, Michelle Goldberg offers an analysis of Republican elites desperately seeking to rescue their party from the religious right–an effort she sees as doomed to failure. Sympathetic as I am to looking at internal Republican dynamics in terms of the social conservative base, her bifurcated elite/rank-and-file model obscures more than it reveals. Thus, Goldberg sees Mike Huckabee as part of the Sarah Palin/Joe the Plumber non-elite GOP forces. But Huckabee did not enjoy the support of the religious right leadership, which (once Fred Thompson proved an empty vessel) seemed inclined toward Mitt Romney. At the same time, the neocon intelligentsia was instrumental in getting Sarah Palin on the ticket. Then there is the Club For Growth-type economic conservative elite, which hated Huckabee (who famously called them the Club for Greed) and liked Drill-Baby-Drill Palin just fine.
There are, in short, different Republican insider elites, all of whom are prepared to make a play for religious conservatives so long as it doesn’t mean putting their own agendas (including for power) at risk. The GOP problem has to do not with such elites but with how to increase the size of its rank and file–among the expanding minority population and socially moderate white suburbanites. The former are repelled by anti-government, anti-immigrant ideology; the latter, by the “moral values” agenda.