The 2012 Republican primary race has passed well beyond the rabbit hole into some extra-dimensional bizarro world where up is down, black is white and the allies of the candidate who disavowed Reaganism would have us believe that the leader of the "second stage of the Reagan Revolution" is somehow insufficiently Reaganesque.
It's no secret that the GOP establishment backs Mitt Romney. The same folks who gave us John McCain and Bob Dole have picked their winner. When Mr. Romney is down, their panic shows. They start floating desperate ideas like late-entry candidates or a brokered convention. They also pull out the long knives for Newt Gingrich. After the former speaker's decisive victory in South Carolina, insiders launched an all-out assault upon him. Unmasked and panicked, the GOP establishment unleashed the tactics of the left upon the right.
GOP insiders first dredged up 2-decade-old debunked partisan ethics charges that damaged Mr. Gingrich's reputation until the Internal Revenue Service finally exonerated him. Mr. Romney couldn't resist seeking cheap points by joining the discredited Democrats who started the whole sordid mess. Mr. Romney featured, of all people, Nancy Pelosi with her innuendo of Mr. Gingrich's supposed wrongdoing, ironically blasting out an email slur just as Mrs. Pelosi was backing away from it. Then came something even worse: the salacious insinuation that Mr. Gingrich somehow betrayed former President Ronald Reagan.
The anti-Gingrich onslaught reached an apogee on the Drudge Report as Romney allies fed one negative story after another, amassing an impressive 10 pieces on the influential website at one point. A screaming headline claimed that Mr. Gingrich had repeatedly insulted Reagan. The unseemly issue of Mr. Gingrich's second marriage managed to resurface. To cap it off, Ann Coulter, the surprising new head cheerleader for the moderate movement, enjoyed seeing her latest anti-Gingrich missive prominently featured.
Unfounded charges that Mr. Gingrich, a man who was once criticized for being a "Reagan Robot," insulted the Gipper barely pass the laugh test and definitely didn't pass the Nancy Reagan test in 1995. Video of the former first lady honoring the speaker quickly surfaced: "Barry Goldwater handed the torch to Ronnie, and in turn Ronnie turned that torch over to Newt and the Republican members of Congress to keep that dream alive." Today, it is the GOP insiders who are the ones trying to extinguish the Reagan dream.
Meanwhile, Mr. Romney's allies who are pushing this false narrative that Mr. Gingrich is insufficiently Reaganesque couldn't care less that it is their candidate who disavowed Reaganism. "I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush," boasted Mr. Romney. "I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush." Of course he's not. Why is that? Mitt's answer: "I'm someone who is moderate and my views are progressive."
There are numerous reasons to support the former Massachusetts governor - he's an intelligent and exceedingly capable man - but claiming that Mr. Romney is more conservative than Mr. Gingrich simply is not one of them. Mr. Romney would carry the Reagan torch like filmmaker Michael Moore would carry the baton in the final leg of a 4 x 100 meter relay - begrudgingly. And only at a pace that avoids the pitchforks behind him.
Sarah Palin understands what's at stake here: "[T]his whole thing isn't really about Newt Gingrich versus Mitt Romney. It is about the GOP establishment versus the Tea Party grass roots and independent Americans who are sick of the politics of personal destruction used now by both parties' operatives with a complicit media egging it on." In 2010, establishment Democrats learned the hard way that grass-roots Americans demand fundamental change in Washington. In 2012, it seems that establishment Republicans, the recent beneficiaries of the Tea Party movement, have yet to learn this lesson.
We've reached a before-and-after moment in American politics: Republicans will no longer win elections without Tea Party support. So it's simply stupefying, then, that the establishment would go to such lengths to demoralize their own lifeline.
Consider the simple math behind Republicans' decidedly bad losses in 2006 and 2008. Their voters, conservatives in particular, simply didn't show up. Then in 2010, they did. What changed? In 2012, in Iowa and New Hampshire, fresh off the heels of a multimillion-dollar establishment onslaught against Mr. Gingrich, GOP primary voter turnout had basically flat-lined from 2008, on pace to secure President Obama's re-election. But in South Carolina, Mr. Gingrich masterminded a dramatic surge that was fueled by his bold and brave stand against the establishment. The result? Voter turnout shot up an astonishing 35 percent above 2008 levels as 155,000 new voters went to the polls to support Republicans.
In Florida, the Republican empire is striking back. Somewhere, way beyond the soon-to-be-forgotten distractions of Cayman bank accounts and trumped-up ethics charges, is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Mr. Gingrich may be an imperfect vessel for Tea Party support, as the former Alaska governor has said, but in truth, if you connect the dots between the ideals of the Reagan Revolution, Mr. Gingrich's Republican Revolution and the Tea Party movement, you get a straight line. The GOP establishment is right to fear Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party, just as they once feared Ronald Reagan.
Dr. Milton R. Wolf, a Washington Times columnist, is a radiologist and President Obama's cousin. He blogs at miltonwolf.com.