While you await the Super Tuesday returns that seem likely to waft Mitt Romney up to the next level of political paradise, I advise clicking over to Michael Sean Winters' essay on Jerry Falwell over at the New Republic. The essay offers the distilled essence of Winters' new biography of the man, God's Right Hand, but it ought to whet your appetite for the full draught; hie yourself to Amazon and order it forthwith.
What Winters wants us to bear in mind is that even as Falwell is identified as the original paladin of "social issues" conservatism (opposition to abortion, gay rights, the teaching of evolution, etc.), he created a popular movement--the longest-lived in American history--that was also very much committed to small government, the scalng back of social welfare programs, and a patriotic Americanism on the march around the world. In other words, the religious right has been, from the beginning, on board with the economic and foreign policy agendas generally associated with other wings of the conservative movement. No less important, Falwell brought to the GOP what Winters calls a "temperamental revolution" opposed in principle to the art of compromise that politics in a democratic republic is supposed to be all about.
It was, Winters points out, an art that Ronald Reagan practiced to a fare-thee-well. By bidding it farewell, today's GOP has proved itself to be the party not of Reagan but of Falwell--such that Romney, an ideological relativist if ever there was one, must present himself to the Republican electorate as a committed ideologue. Romney's victory tonight, if such it turns out to be, will only demonstrate how much groveling a GOP moderate has to do to demonstrate that he is not who he is. And how little his securing the presidential nomination will alter the ideological dynamics of the party he will nominally lead.