There are millions of independents and moderate Republicans out there who are wondering just what the heck happened to the Republican party over the past twenty years. Today’s GOP is so far to the right that Reagan and Bush 41 would have been laughed out of contention, and Nixon and Eisenhower would have been held up as objects of outright contempt. Goldwater Republicans and Rockefeller Republicans are now oxymora and none such need apply.
What happened? What has caused the GOP to go so far to the right, in many cases flip-flopping on issues such as the individual mandate for health care and cap-and-trade to address anthropomorphic global warming? What made the GOP begin supporting such lunacies as state-mandated transvaginal ultrasounds (this time in Alabama), mandatory drug testing for all state employees except for lawmakers, the ludicrous idea that teachers are paid too much, and the myth that corporate taxes are too high (the effective rate is lower now than at any time since 1972)?
I think it’s possible that the Democratic Party may have manipulated the GOP into taking these positions. Now the first reaction that most people would have at reading the previous sentence would be one of scorn – and I can’t blame them. After all, this is the Republican Party we’re talking about, the party that thinks strategically with grand schemes of voter suppression; attacks on collective bargaining rights on a nationwide basis in order to diminish Democratic fundraising; gerrymandering; and the cultivation of the image of the GOP as “the party of patriotism and support-the-military”, whereas the popular image of the Democratic Party is often one of a chaotic, bumbling hash of college professors, social workers, and PETA freaks. How could the Democratic Party have possibly maneuvered the GOP into its current unenviable state?
The answer is political judo: the art of using an opponent’s strengths against him. In retrospect, I think it began after the 1994 election with Newt Gingrich and his “Contract with America”, and with the defeat of Hillarycare. Afterwards, Bill Clinton was reelected after reworking his rhetoric with triangulation, which President Obama appears to have also used to good effect. But political triangulation in and of itself is not the whole answer – the other part of the answer lay in the Five Commandments, the raft of “Thou Shalt Not’s” that drive today’s Republican Party:
1. Thou Shalt Not agree with or compromise with the Democrat Party on any policy issue. Whatsoever they support, Thou Shalt support the opposite.
2. Thou Shalt Not give the Democrat Party (or members thereof) credit for doing anything right.
3. Thou Shalt Not allow that they are patriotic or Christian in any respect, for we are the Party of God, guns, and flag lapel pins.
4. Thou Shalt Not tolerate any dissent within the Republican Party.
And let’s not forget this one:
5. Thou Shalt Not refer to the Democrat Party as “Democratic”, for “Democrat” is a curse and an insult, whereas “democratic” was set forth by the Founding Fathers (pbut) and we are striving for the days of real democracy when all voters were moneyed white men.
Sarcasm aside, the commandment that enabled the wholesale manipulation of the Republican party is the first, wherein they cannot allow themselves to agree or compromise on any issue with the Democrats. After that was implemented party-wide (with the help of the fourth commandment), the rest was simplicity itself. All the Democratic Party in general (and President Obama in particular) has had to do is to take common sense positions on most issues, and the GOP is forced by their own Five Commandments to take the opposite position no matter how ridiculous that position may be.
But wait, there’s more! Because the Democratic Party is not so hidebound by dogma, they can take the ideas and positions of the Republican Party and make them their own, and the Republican Party is again forced to take the opposite position, even when the Democrats’ position was theirs (the GOP’s) to begin with! The individual mandate and cap-and-trade are shining examples of this. The concept’s not new – it should be well familiar to anyone who remembers how Br’er Rabbit escaped from Br’er Fox, not to mention the confrontations between Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam. Talk about life imitating art!
So what’s the way out of this mess for the Republican party? I think this article by Jonathan Chait sums it up pretty well:
What [an Obama victory in November] would mean for the GOP would differ wildly depending on which of the two current front-runners, along with the coalition that elevated him to the nomination, is blamed for the debacle. “If Romney is the nominee and he loses in November, I think we’ll see a resurgence of the charismatic populist right,” says Robert Alan Goldberg, a history professor at the University of Utah and author of a biography of Barry Goldwater. “Not only will [the grassroots wing] say that Romney led Republicans down the road to defeat, but that the whole type of conservatism he represents is doomed.”
But if it’s Santorum who is the standard-bearer and then he suffers an epic loss, a different analogy will be apt: Goldwater in 1964. (And, given the degree of the challenges Santorum would face in attracting female voters, epic it might well be.) As Kearns Goodwin points out, the rejection of the Arizona senator’s ideology and policies led the GOP to turn back in 1968 to Nixon, “a much more moderate figure, despite the incredible corruption of his time in office.”
The fact that the GOP has gone so far to the right has resulted in the Democratic Party allowing the Republicans to essentially paint themselves into a corner with positions that no significant conservative politician of the Reagan era would ever have seriously considered. If Chait’s contrarian logic holds true, the only way back to sanity for the Republican Party is to nominate Rick Santorum so they can suffer an almost-certain epic loss and begin the long, slow, painful process of rebuilding the Grand Old Party.
Is this concept truly beyond the pale? Such an apocalyptic gotterdammerung may well be acceptable to the Republican rank and file, for we all know how even now it is dogma within the GOP that GM and Chrysler should have been allowed to fail spectacularly (despite the fact that the Big Three automakers are now struggling to keep up with demand), and that the big Wall Street firms should have been allowed to fail as well regardless of how such would have allowed far greater damage not only to America’s economy but to the world’s economy as a whole.
The movers and shakers within the GOP aren’t stupid; their shellacking of the Democratic Party in the 2010 midterm elections should be proof enough of that. But evolution teaches us that intelligence in and of itself is never enough for survival; the ability to adapt is every bit as important, as the slow death of the Easter Island civilization clearly shows. The 2012 election will show if the GOP is willing and able to truly adapt to the changing world, and the changing electorate which is more diverse, more educated, and more aware of the world around them than ever before.