By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
We may be witnessing a very important shift in the character of the Republican Party. For decades now, it has tended to nominate very established names for president. The party nominated Richard Nixon to its presidential ticket five times in 30 years. Over the last 20 years, there has been a Bush or a Dole on the ticket for all but this last presidential election. The Republican presidential nominee is almost always the front-runner, the established candidate, the guy who’s waited his turn: McCain, Dole, Bush Sr., Nixon.
The Democratic Party, by contrast, tends to nominate the outsider: Obama, Clinton, Carter and Kennedy. If history is the guide, this means the Republican Party will nominate Mitt Romney for president. He is the establishment candidate; he has run before; he is the most mainstream figure in the party. But I get the sense that the Republican Party is changing.
Power has shifted to the South and West. The energy of the Republican Party has moved away from the coasts and the big cities. Power has also shifted away from the proverbial smoke-filled rooms to the grassroots. The forces that represented the establishment in the Republican Party - the big corporations and the banks - are much weaker. The forces that are strong today are Christian conservatives, libertarian activists and other more diverse, populist groups. These groups have always existed but before now they were directed by the coastal elites. Not anymore. The tea party represents the dramatic acceleration of these forces. That’s why all the Republican presidential candidates are trying to take up the mantle of the tea party.
These forces are elevating Rick Perry such that we may end up with a situation where all the energy, enthusiasm and numbers are behind him. It would not matter that the Republican establishment was behind Romney because that establishment no longer controls much. What matters is the entrepreneurial game of getting people and money. Perry seems to be doing pretty well at that.
If Rick Perry does emerge as the front-runner, it is not just the story of one guy doing well; it is the story of a very different Republican Party than the one we have been familiar with for the last 30 or 40 years.
It would result in a Republican Party with greater energy, enthusiasm and street cred, but also one that is more extreme, uncompromising and much less concerned with being dismissed by the mainstream media or characterized as irresponsible by people like me. It will make for a more difficult political system because these are the forces that have been very reluctant to compromise. We may find that the debt showdown was just the beginning.