“Andrew Sullivan recommends David Brooks’ thoughts on Mitt Romney,” writes the elegant Matthew Yglesias in an Atlantic.com blog-burst titled Romney and Institutional Power

[…] Brooks: “The leaders of the Republican coalition know Romney will lose. But some would rather remain in control of a party that loses than lose control of a party that wins. Others haven’t yet suffered the agony of defeat, and so are not yet emotionally ready for the trauma of transformation. Others still simply don’t know which way to turn.” That seems about right. In the progressive blogosphere, this idea circulates under the heading “iron law of institutions” which posits that institutional leaders care more about their own power within the institution than about the institution’s power in the world.

It strikes me as a largely accurate characterization of the choice […]

We followed the elegant Mr. Yglesias’ google link and found the left-of-center blog, A Tiny Revolution. In post titled Democrats And The Iron Law of Institutions, someone—we could not find an author’s name, but neither did we look very hard—elaborates on the theme of The Iron Law of Institutions:

[…] The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution “fail” while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to “succeed” if that requires them to lose power within the institution.

This is true for all human institutions, from elementary schools up to the United States of America. If history shows anything, it’s that this cannot be changed. What can be done, sometimes, is to force the people running institutions to align their own interests with those of the institution itself and its members […]

The author provides this example from an author named Walter Karp:

[…] As soon as McGovern was nominated, party leaders began systematically slurring and belittling him, while the trade union chieftains refused to endorse him on the pretense that this mild Mr. Pliant was a being wild and dangerous. A congressional investigation of Watergate was put off for several months to deprive McGovern’s candidacy of its benefits. As an indiscreet Chicago ward heeler predicted in the fall of 1972, McGovern is “gonna lose because we’re gonna make sure he’s gonna lose”…So deftly did party leaders “cut the top of the ticket” that while Richard Nixon won in a “landslide,” the Democrats gained two Senate seats […]

But it was this example that, for us, connects with the present moment:

[…] It was a Republican state party boss, Senator Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania, who early this century stated with notable candor the basic principle and purpose of present-day party politics. In the face of a powerful state and national resurgence of reform and the sentiments of the majority of the Republican rank and file, Penrose put up a losing slate of stand-pat party hacks. When a fellow Republican accused him of ruining the party, Penrose replied, “Yes, but I’ll preside over the ruins” […]

The emphasis is ours, all ours.

The lame-brained editors at the National Review, Rush Limbaugh, ideological courtesan Hugh Hewitt, Dr. James Dobson—Yes, they know Romney will ruin the party, and probably the country, but they’ll preside over the ruins. Yes, only no, because precisely the opposite is the case: Romney, who bought and paid for their services, presides over them.

If Romney continues his disastrous losing streak, he will take them all down with him.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.


  1. 1 Martin: “Romney seemed to plead for mercy”—”The continued personal barbs are interesting but unnecessary,” pleaded the hapless candidate « who is willard milton romney?

    […] are not good times for the conservative institutions—talk radio, new media, The National Review etc.—who joined their fortunes to those of […]

  2. 2 whether Romney can win in the general election or not is not even a question the GOP establishment would ask « who is willard milton romney?

    […] Here is where we make our case: the editors at the National Review and the Iron Law of Institutions […]

  3. 3 DaveG: “Romney has spent the past few years letting the GOP Pharisees know that they can push him around—He’ll change his views on anything and everything in order to please the Pharisees.” « who is willard milton romney?

    […] In the person of Willard Milton Romney, however, the GOP establishment and its institutions propose another path to power, only it isn’t popular power but their own power, a path predicted by the iron law of institutions. […]

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