Most pundits have given the GOP high marks for the "moderate makeover" (less charitable souls might call it a "con job") it accomplished on the first couple of days of its convention in New York, featuring speeches by John McCain, Rudy Guiliani and Arnold Schwarzeneggar, three people who disagree with 80% of the conservative orthodoxy that governs today's Republicans.
The underlying reality of today's GOP is better illustrated by a (subscription only) Roll Call article on Wednesday about the early handicapping of the contest to succeed Bill Frist as Republican Senate Leader when he retires in 2006. The two front-runners are Mitch McConnell of KY, and Rick Santorum of PA, both of whom, as Roll Call says, "represent the conservative wing of the party." That's the understatement of the year.
But ideology aside, what really distinguishes these two solons is their dedication to the idea that money is the root of all good in politics. McConnell for many years has been the Darth Vader of campaign finance reform in the Senate, repeatedly claiming, without a hint of irony, that the problem with money in politics is that there ain't enough of it. (I guess there is a rough logic to the idea that if, as the Supreme Court has ruled, Money Equals Speech, then Money Talks, and what's wrong with a little more debate?).
Nationally, Santorum is best known as the hammerhead shark of Social Conservatism, ever ready to demonize those who defend the constitutional right to choose, and those who oppose a constitutional right to discriminate against gays and lesbians. But in Washington, Santorum is better known as the Chief Enforcer of the sinister K Street Strategy. That's the GOP's remarkably heavy-handed campaign to force Washington lobbying firms and trade associations to (a) tilt all campaign contributions to the GOP, and (b) hire only Republicans on their staffs, or lose all access to the drafting and crafting of legislation important to their industries. It's the crassest pay-for-play gambit on Capitol Hill since the Gilded Age, but it's given Santorum folk-hero status on the Right as Tom DeLay's true peer in partisan and ideological thuggery.
Of course, Democrats could well take back control of the Senate this year (when McConnell's up for re-election) and in 2006 (when Santorum's up), which would seriously mess up the GOP effort to shake down K Street and consolidate its power over the federal government it claims to despise. Santorum has an especially tricky task ahead, since he has to go back to Pennsylvania and perform his own "moderate makeover" if he is to get himself into a position to cash in on the services he's performed for the hard-core Right.
Ah, those flip-flopping Republicans! Fuzzy and moderate before close general elections, and then something entirely different when the cameras go off.