More WTF moments via the GOPPosted: February 25, 2012
I’m not sure if some one has placed some significant chemicals into our water supply to produce hefty moments of political self-destruction but I have to say that I am open to just about any explanation as to why the party of 19th century social and civil rights has turned into The Mean Crusades. I’ve known for some time there’s been a concerted effort by the extreme right wing and its zombie religious flakes to take over any and all institutions possible. There’s been this quiet attempt to co-opt many institutions by religious fanatics and neoconfederates for some time. But, there’s been a certain subtlety to their jihad. Suddenly, they’ve all gone shrill and public. Part of me is glad because now every one really really knows. The rest of me knows that we’ve passed some kind of Rubicon. I’ve hoped for a third party for some time. I’m not sure what we’re going to get out of all of this, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be as neatly packaged as some reasonable alternative to the political status quo.
I am not alone in that thought. I heard Reagan appointee Bruce Bartlett tell Jon Stewart
last week that one of the parties is crazy, Saint Ronnie wouldn’t be extreme enough any more and it is unlikely to produce a third option. Oh woe is us.
I’ve had a difficult time pointing out the crazy without being thought melodramatic until recently. It’s been obvious here in the great fly over for some time. I think the east coast punditry who write from the lofty penthouses of New York and the District finally see it. The Republican Primary screams out for analysis. What has gone really wrong with both the parties? Why has the Republican Party unleashed its Kraken? John Heilemann is calling Republicans “The Lost Party” in a new NY Magazine think piece. I’ve kept fleeing their red state strongholds for about 15 years now only to find myself smack in the middle of the next take over. What’s a person that appreciates science, rational thought, and modernity do? Even Jeb Bush and Allan Simpson are scratching their heads. It’s obvious the Republican establishment has lost control. They’ve got a bad case of Nixon Southern Strategy, Dubya Born Agains, and Goldwater reactionaries all rolled into one toxic primary season.
The transfiguration of the GOP isn’t only about ideology, however. It is also about demography and temperament, as the party has grown whiter, less well schooled, more blue-collar, and more hair-curlingly populist. The result has been a party divided along the lines of culture and class: Establishment versus grassroots, secular versus religious, upscale versus downscale, highfalutin versus hoi polloi. And with those divisions have arisen the competing electoral coalitions—shirts versus skins, regulars versus red-hots—represented by Romney and Santorum, which are now increasingly likely to duke it out all spring.
Few Republicans greet that prospect sanguinely, though some argue that it will do little to hamper the party’s capacity to defeat Obama in the fall. “It’s reminiscent of the contest between Obama and Clinton,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently opined. “[That] didn’t seem to have done [Democrats] any harm in the general election, and I don’t think this contest is going to do us any harm, either.”
Yeah. Right. I don’t think McConnell has quite gotten the message that there’s not really litmus tests in the Democratic Party. There are for Republicans and Mittens was on the wrong side of all of them before he’s tried to convince every one that he’s now on the right side of them. Santorum’s surge isn’t a fluke. The anti-Romney group has always been there. There’s just fewer candidates struggling to capture their fury. This is your karma when you go for the worst segment of society under the “southern” strategy.
For many Republicans, Romney’s maladroitness in addressing the issues at hand was worrisome, to put it mildly. Here he was handing Obama’s people a blooper reel that would let them paint him as a hybrid of Gordon Gekko and Thurston Howell III. “Republicans were saying, ‘This is the guy who’s gonna be carrying the ball for our side, defending the private sector?’ ” Rollins says incredulously. “Warren Buffett would kick his ass in a debate, let alone Obama.”
Nor were Romney’s rehearsed turns on the hustings appreciably better. From Iowa through New Hampshire, his campaign events had been progressively pared back and whittled down. By the time he reached South Carolina, they had achieved a certain purity—the purity of the null set. The climactic moment in them came when Romney would recite (and offer attendant textual analysis that would make Stanley Fish beat his head against a wall) the lyrics of “America the Beautiful.” Even staunch Romney allies were abashed by this sadly persistent, and persistently sad, rhetorical trope. “I have never seen anything more ridiculous or belittling,” a prominent Romney fund-raiser says.
This would be fun to watch if it wasn’t the worst time possible for a two party system to have one party in complete melt down. The Republicans are always good at spitting out their establishment, cookie cutter pro-business ever so sanctimonious pompadour adorned white dudes. Nixon and his creeps handed them the formula to capture all those religious whacky southerners who hate people of color and will suffer through a lot of crap as long as their women are kept in line for them. The problem is the reality around them makes the formula look lame. Fool them for about 30 years and they eventually catch on and demand some real blood instead of the symbolic stuff. The Gingrich renaissance uncovered the mother lode of whack.
The coalescence of the various elements of that wing around Gingrich accounted for the 40 to 28 percent pistol-whipping he administered to Romney on Primary Day—and marked the sharpening of the shirts-skins schism that would play out from then on. According to the exit polls, Gingrich captured 45 percent (to Romney’s 21) of Evangelical voters, 48 percent (to 21) of strong tea-party supporters, and 47 percent (to 22) of non–college graduates. Romney, meanwhile, held his own with the groups making up what the journalist Ron Brownstein has dubbed the GOP’s “managerial wing”—richer, better-educated, less godly, more pragmatic voters. One trouble for Romney was that this assemblage constitutes less than half his party now. But even more disconcerting was that he lost badly to Gingrich among South Carolinians who said that the most crucial candidate quality was the ability to beat Obama—which suggested not simply that ideology trumped electability but that for many Republicans, hard-core conservative ideology was tantamount to electability.
Here we go gain with the “hard-core conservative” label. I’ve watched Bruce Bartlett on his book promo tour. I’ve read interviews with Senator Simpson and now former Governor Jeb Bush. This isn’t Nixon’s or even Reagan’s Republican Party. This is the whack-a-doo John Birch Society reactionary right that the Koch Brothers funded and Pat Roberson raised from zombie congregations. Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Jan Brewer, Bobby Jindal, and the rest are not the least bit conservative. They represent an anti-intellectual right that would prefer to put us all back on the plantation. Of course, they get to pick those banjos while the rest of us work all day just to live in shacks and survive on weeds. Don’t think the rest of us haven’t noticed it. The more Romney strikes up that band, the more his numbers with independents crumble. He can’t possibly juggle this many story lines. This is a candidate that “severely” compromises every thing and anything at all costs.
An NBC News–Wall Street Journal poll in late January found Romney’s unfavorability rating among independents had risen twenty points, from 22 to 42 percent, over the previous two months. “It’s not as though they have said Bain has disqualified him or that he can’t be trusted because of his taxes, but this has created a gulf between him and the average voter,” one of the pollsters behind the survey, Peter Hart, told the Washington Post. “Bain and the taxes just reinforce the sense that this person is in a different world.”
Every presidential candidate faces a trade-off between maintaining his viability with independents and catering to his party’s base. The difficulty for Romney is that, even as his appeal to the middle has sharply waned, the lack of enthusiasm for him on the right has remained acute. Even in Florida, where Romney’s fourteen-point victory was broad and sweeping, he was beaten soundly by Gingrich among very conservative voters and strong tea-party adherents.
To a large extent, Romney’s concurrent problems with conservatives and independents are of his own making. His campaign’s incineration of Gingrich in Florida, though perhaps necessary and certainly skillful, also contributed mightily to alienating the center while doing nothing to remedy his main malady in the eyes of conservatives: the absence of a positive message that resonates with them, coupled with a tic-like tendency to commit unforced errors that exacerbate their doubts that he is one of their own. Crystallizing this phenomenon was an episode that took place the morning after Florida, when, on CNN, Romney disgorged another gem: “I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”
With these few short sentences in what should have been a moment of triumph for him, Romney managed to send the wrong message to an array of factions. To independent voters, “I’m not concerned about the very poor” sounds callous. To conservative intellectuals and activists, talk about fixing the safety net—as opposed to pursuing policies that enable the poor to free themselves from government dependency—is rank apostasy. And to congressional Republicans, the comment reflected a glaring lack of familiarity with the party’s anti-poverty positions. “Electeds were flabbergasted,” says a veteran K Street player. “Even moderate Republican members, if they’ve been here for more than four months, get dipped in the empowerment agenda.”
A week later, Romney attempted to repair part of the damage with his speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference—and promptly put his foot in it again. In an address in which he employed the word conservative or some variation of it 24 times, as if trying to prove he is a member of the tribe through sheer incantation, his use of the adverb severely to express the depth of his conviction raised eyebrows inside and outside the hall. “The most retarded thing I have ever heard a Republican candidate say” was the verdict of one strategist with ample experience in GOP presidential campaigns.
If only the Democrats were bright enough and principled enough to take advantage of all this chaos. But they are not. The deal is that what is going on is jaw dropping to many of us. To many of the Republican and Tea Party base, this is what they’ve been asking for and denied for many years.
For many Democrats, the idea of Santorum elevating beyond the level of a punch line is all but inconceivable. The extremeness of the former Pennsylvania senator’s views on social issues—from the out-front homophobia that led him to compare gay sex to “man-on-child, man-on-dog, or whatever the case may be,” to his adamant opposition to contraception and abortion even in cases of rape or incest—have long made him the subject of scorn and ridicule on the left, in the center, and on the Internet. (Even with his newfound fame, the first result of a Google search for his name is spreading santorum.com, a site dealing with “frothy” matters too coarse to discuss in a family magazine, and also in this one.)
But in a Republican-nomination contest, these views are not necessarily liabilities, and are even assets in some quarters—which doesn’t mean Santorum is without vulnerabilities in the context of his party. On spending, earmarks, and labor relations, he is by no means pure in conservative terms. He has been embroiled in ethics issues and is a bone-deep creature of the Beltway. Then there is his personality: “In the Senate as well as his home state, Santorum often struck people as arrogant and headstrong, preachy and judgmental,” writes Byron York in the Washington Examiner. Or, as a Republican lobbyist puts it to me, “When he was in the Senate, he was probably the most friendless guy there.”
The more I read about all of this, the more depressed I become. It is as if everything that’s been problematic about our country has coalesced into our politics. The brilliance of our heritage with its roots in the Age of Enlightenment and Reason seem lost in today’s campaign for donations and emphatic voters. There are no ideas. There is only ideology and working the plan of the politics of usual. Our system seems custom made to destroy the best and deliver the crazy and mediocre. So, this Republican Primary unfolds with its horrors and its lessons. All of it is hard to watch for any one that likes government by synthesis. Anyway, read the article. Embrace what modern American has become and weep. One party will not raise taxes under any exigent circumstances. It cannot produce candidates that don’t strictly adhere to specific religious dogma on reproductive issues. One party will not separate the markets that require supervision to be efficient from the markets that are best let alone. One party thinks there is no nuance to foreign policy, only picking and choosing which countries deserve our bombs. Then, there’s the other party. The party of words and no actions. The party of negotiate away anything as long as the policy, the next election and the candidate looks like a win. No single election or poll seems to send either of them any kind of message and that is what’s most disturbing to me. Democrats get the default vote because the Republicans have totally lost their sanity. This is not the government my children or yours deserve. What can we do about it?