We learn from machines. Eventually things just stop working. Out here in Hollywood the nine-year-old slick Mini Cooper, with the fat tires and the supercharger and full leather and all that stuff, just stopped working bit by bit, until the cost of fixing everything and replacing this and that just wasn’t worth it. Fix it all and something else would soon break, after all these years, and really, it was a silly car – hot and fast and ironically hip in its retro way. It made a statement, or did once. No one now remembers what that statement was – Mini sales plateaued long ago as folks seem to be making other statements these days. Either way it had to go and the new baby Toyota will do just fine. It makes no statement at all – it’s quite basic and it’s sneakily anonymous in a fun kind of way – and it should last forever, or so they say. Let everyone else drive their hot statement-cars. Sooner or later no one will have the slightest clue about what they were once trying to say, and then all the amazing special gizmos will wear out or just stop working. What was once very cool will not only be inexplicable, it won’t work either – you know, kind of like the situation with the Republicans these days.
They did face a dilemma after the McCain loss in 2008 – the old Republican model had broken down. The establishment guy, who might have been a maverick once but that year said all the proper party things, had nothing to say. No one wanted to bomb Iran or go to war with Russia over that spat with Georgia, and no, there actually was something fundamentally wrong with the economy. Calling Obama something like a socialist wasn’t exactly a platform, and having been a war hero, for having spent all those years as a prisoner of war cut off from everything that was happening in the world, didn’t cut it. Add to that there was no way to talk about the preceding eight years of Republican rule – George Bush had been a disaster. There was no way to say his decisions were wonderful and his policies wildly successful. Silence was best. It’s no wonder McCain turned to Sarah Palin – she was a shallow unstable women who knew practically nothing about anything, but she was hot and exciting and made some sort of statement. It was like putting chrome rims on the 1962 Oldsmobile and tinting the windows real dark and maybe adding racing stripes – but it didn’t make the Republican Party a hot statement-car. McCain didn’t stand a chance. The machine had broken down. It was time for a trade-in.
The Republicans then traded in the old car for a spiffy new one, the new high-powered Tea Party Special Edition, with lots of fancy gizmos – end government as we know it, so it does next to nothing at all and everyone is totally free at last, and bring Jesus back into government, and stop pretending blacks and Hispanics and gays or anyone else needs special protections or even a little help, and make women modest and pure once again, and make sure everyone has a gun too, a big one. This was new, and the logical extension of what Barry Goldwater and Ayn Rand had been saying all along, but taking it where no one had dared take it before. Not everyone in the party was onboard with this, but those who had their qualms knew they had to keep quiet. Disagree with any little bit of it and you’d have to answer to Rush Limbaugh and then face a true Tea Party Patriot in the next primary, where you’d lose and your career would be over forever.
They took the new car out for a spin in the last election, but the wheels fell off. The twenty or more Republican debates were a disaster as each candidate tried to outdo the other with the new and hot pure conservatism – first Donald Trump then Michele Bachmann then Rick Perry then Herman Cain then Newt Gingrich, then Rick Santorum and then Gingrich again, and then Santorum again. The base was momentarily enthralled, again and again, while the pundits wondered what the hell was up with the now-crazy Republican Party. It was a clown show and only Mitt Romney survived, never winning big in any of the state primaries or caucuses, but never getting blown out anywhere – winning the nomination by being just crazy enough when a specific setting demanded that, and being general and inoffensive the rest of the time. They also lost two senate seats that were sure bets until their candidates started talking about legitimate rape and how women’s lady-parts really work in spite of what mere science says. No one came off as ironically hip in a retro way. They came off as nasty and mean and very angry, and Romney came off as confused – but he couldn’t be angry enough for the Tea Party crowd and sunny enough for the general electorate, at the very same time. Eventually things just stop working, but this new car died in the driveway.
Something had to be done. That’s why Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus presented his massive blueprint aimed at rebuilding the party, with its searing assessment of the party’s problems appealing to women and minorities. It’s time for Republicans to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, and overhaul the party’s digital and research operations, and hold a shorter, more controlled presidential primary season. Priebus also said the party would spend ten million dollars to send operatives to black, Latino and Asian American communities, presumably to tell them Republicans are really fine folks, with good ideas, which those folks only think are bad for them. This was his Growth and Opportunity Project – kind of like another new car – but it was almost impossible advice – as it may be too late. Sure, make a dramatic statement. It may be like that hip young guy driving down the Sunset Strip in his all-chrome Fisker Karma – no one cares.
Andrew Kohut is the founding director and former president of the Pew Research Center and served as president of the Gallup Organization from 1979 to 1989, and says The Numbers Prove It: The GOP is Estranged from America:
In my decades of polling, I recall only one moment when a party had been driven as far from the center as the Republican Party has been today… The Republican Party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, with just 33 percent of the public holding a favorable view of the party and 58 percent judging it unfavorably. …
While members of the Republican and Democratic parties have become more conservative and liberal, respectively, a bloc of doctrinaire, across-the-board conservatives has become a dominant force on the right… The party’s base is increasingly dominated by a highly energized bloc of voters with extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues.
America doesn’t have those positions, and that’s doom for these folks:
These staunch conservatives, who emerged with great force in the Obama era, represent 45 percent of the Republican base. According to our 2011 survey, they are demographically and politically distinct from the national electorate. Ninety-two percent are white. They tend to be male, married, Protestant, well off and at least 50 years old.
I see little reason to believe that the staunch conservative bloc will wither away or splinter; it will remain a dominant force in the GOP and on the national stage. At the same time, however, I see no indication that its ideas about policy, governance and social issues will gain new adherents. They are far beyond the mainstream. …
Any Republican efforts at reinvention face this dilemma: While staunch conservatives help keep GOP lawmakers in office, they also help keep the party out of the White House. Quite simply, the Republican Party has to appeal to a broader cross section of the electorate to succeed in presidential elections.
Kevin Drum argues back:
This has practically reached the status of conventional wisdom these days. Republicans are doomed because they don’t appeal to the young, or to Hispanics, or to women, or whatever. Their core base of pissed-off white guys is shrinking, and they’re inevitably going to shrink along with it.
That makes sense to me. And yet… there’s something about it that doesn’t quite add up. Republicans control the House, and no one seems to think that’s going to change in the near future. (And no, it’s not just because of gerrymandering.) On the other side of Capitol Hill, Democrats seem genuinely concerned about holding onto the Senate next year. As for the White House, Republicans have only lost two presidential elections in a row, both times in years where the fundamentals favored Democrats. And they continue to hold outsize majorities in state legislatures and governor’s mansions.
This doesn’t seem like the markers of a party so far outside the mainstream that they’re doomed to extinction. Frankly, they seem to be holding on fairly well.
Heather Parton adds this:
Not only that, they are moving their agenda of shrinking government while protecting defense spending and making everyone hate the government at the same time. To top it off the Democrats are eager to do their dirty work for them and take the blame for cutting vital and popular programs. Let’s just say they are a very effective opposition party.
Kevin doesn’t mention the states, but this extreme-party has been doing some pretty extraordinary work at the state level and hasn’t paid a price for it as yet.
Still she likes what Drum says here:
I agree that the Republican Party has some long-term demographic problems that are pretty serious. Nevertheless, it’s not clear to me that the American public is ready to throw them overboard. Or, perhaps more accurately, the American public has so far shown little inclination to throw them overboard when their only alternative is the Democratic Party.
People who vote on social issues will have no problem making that choice at the moment. But on the larger issues of war and peace and the economy, I am guessing that it’s not entirely clear to most people what’s going on. They probably sense that the Republicans are being obstinate and uncooperative, and maybe they don’t like that. But I’m not really sure they think the policy differences are that huge. Why would they? They aren’t. So, if they aren’t going to vote based on the culture war (and not everyone does) they’ll use the “who I’d like to have a beer with” heuristic for president and flip a coin for the congress. That could go either way.
I’m just not sure that the fact the GOP has gone batshit is the guiding fact to most people when it comes time to vote. If anything, the old “not a dimes worth of difference between them” may be more salient. They like Obama, they didn’t like Romney. But I’m not convinced that translates into partisan loyalty. We’ll see. I hope I’m wrong because the Republicans really are batshit…
Drum isn’t so worried:
The GOP has been steadily moving right for more than 30 years now, and even though it always seems like one more step should make them electorally toxic once and for all, it never does. This time we’re convinced once again that they’ve finally taken that final, fatal step, but have they? I feel like there’s more to this story.
There is something more, which Eric Boehlert explains here:
Right now though, the Republican Party, riding a White House losing streak (2-4 since 1992), has a massive messaging problem, thanks to Roger Ailes.
As Variety confirmed last year, “the voice of Republican opposition throughout the Obama administration has been Fox News Channel, and the de facto leader of the GOP its chairman-CEO Roger Ailes.”
It’s fitting that the RNC report, which represents a concerted effort by the GOP to turn the page on its losing ways, arrived the same week Ailes was busy taking his book-release star turn and presenting himself as a clarion voice of the conservative movement. Via the book we learned Ailes, when not making weird media references to Hitler and Stalin and comparing Islamic charities to terrorist organizations, dismissed America’s first black president is “lazy” liar who’s “never worked a day in his life.” (Ailes was clumsily misrepresenting comments Obama had made about himself in a 2011 interview with Barbara Walters.) Then in an interview with the Daily Beast, Ailes lashed out at another prominent African American, Van Jones, calling him a “communist infiltrator” who ” has one job, to stir up racism whether he can find it or not.”
So yes, thanks to a curious bit of timing, this week nicely captures the two paths, or the two options, that lay before Republicans. There’s the “Growth & Opportunity” path of tolerance vs. the Roger Ailes path of divisiveness.
Boehlert argues that Fox News is a real problem for Republicans now:
The GOP can turn itself inside out if it wants, but if Fox News, the self-appointed face and voice the GOP, doesn’t change, none of it matters because Fox will still be pounding home every negative stereotype that party leaders now want to erase. (Antagonistic, paranoid, narrow minded.)
That’s the only approach Ailes knows: the phony Outrage Machine approach. (Obama did what?!) But it’s growing stale. In January, Fox logged its worst ratings since August 2001. (Ratings rebounded somewhat in February.) Even some conservative pundits have grown bored of the Fox News model. It’s the decade-old model that features the same tired voices making the same tired claims.
This is what is standing in the way of Republican progress and electoral success:
Fox’s slash-and-burn, name-calling style is part of the GOP’s larger messaging trouble and is a key reason the party is perceived as angry, intolerant, and out of touch. As conservative Erick Erickson wrote this year, “Who the hell wants to listen to conservatives whining and moaning all the time about the outrage du jour?” (Ironically, Erickson joined Fox as a contributor less than two weeks after leveling that criticism.)
The permanent state of victimhood that Fox markets on behalf of the GOP might keep a loyal audience of Obama haters happy on cable television. But all it has produced for the party is two landslide Obama victories.
Boehlert also cites Esquire’s Ton Junod – “For all his instinctive showmanship, and for all his purported populist genius, Ailes saw Obama cobble together his new majority right under his nose, and knew neither what to call it or how to stop it.”
Boehlert – “Priebus and his colleagues at the RNC now think they know how to stop the Democratic majority, but Roger Ailes isn’t interested.”
Roger Ailes may screw things up, but the New York Times’ Charles Blow points out they’re screwed up enough as is:
The current intramural squabbling on the right is just too delicious for words. At least for nice words….
Senator John McCain called the far-right darlings Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Justin Amash “wacko birds” earlier this month. (McCain later apologized for that burst of honesty and candor.)
Ann Coulter used her Conservative Political Action Conference speech to take a shot at New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, who was not invited to speak this year. Coulter quipped: “Even CPAC had to cut back on its speakers this year, by about 300 pounds.” What a lovely woman.
Also at CPAC, the half-term ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, took a whack at Karl Rove, challenging him to run for office himself. “Buck up or stay in the truck,” she said with her usual Shakespearean eloquence. Rove shot back that if he were to run and win, he’d at least finish his term. Ouch.
Donald Trump took to Twitter recently to call the conservative blogger Michelle Malkin a “dummy” who was “born stupid.” It’s hard to know whom to side with when two bullies battle.
But all this name-calling, as fun as it is to watch, is just a sideshow. The main show is the underlying agitation.
That would be this:
The Republican Party is experiencing an existential crisis, born of its own misguided incongruity with modern American culture and its insistence on choosing intransigence in a dynamic age of fundamental change. Instead of turning away from obsolescence, it is charging headlong into it, becoming more strident and pushing away more voters whom it could otherwise win.
And the poster-child for that is Michele Bachmann, who set up the Tea Party Caucus in Congress and did so want to be president. Now she’s on a roll again:
PolitiFact rated two of her claims during her CPAC speech last Saturday as “pants on fire” false. The first was that 70 cents of every dollar that’s supposed to go to the poor actually goes to salaries and pensions of bureaucrats. The second was that scientists could have a cure for Alzheimer’s in 10 years if it were not for “a cadre of overzealous regulators, excessive taxation and greedy litigators.”
She also said during that speech that President Obama was living “a lifestyle that is one of excess” in the White House, detailing how many chefs he had, and so on.
The Washington Post gave that claim four Pinocchios, and pointed out that “during last year’s GOP presidential race, Bachmann racked up the highest ratio of Four-Pinocchio comments, so just about everything she says needs to be checked and double-checked before it is reported.”
And in a speech Thursday on the House floor, she said of the federal health care law:
“The American people, especially vulnerable women, vulnerable children, vulnerable senior citizens, now get to pay more and they get less. That’s why we’re here, because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”
Factcheck.org pointed out that her “facts” didn’t match her hyperbole.
This is the shiny new car, with which you can make a statement? Blow is not impressed:
People like Bachmann represent everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. She and her colleagues are hyperbolic, reactionary, ill-informed and ill-intentioned, and they have become synonymous with the Republican brand. We don’t need all politicians to be Mensa-worthy, but we do expect them to be cogent and competent.
When all the dust settles from the current dustup within the party over who holds the mantle and which direction to take, Republicans will still be left with the problem of what to do with people like Bachmann.
Yes – Andrew Kohut runs the numbers and finds it must be kind of lonely being a Republican these days. No one’s outraged at gay marriage anymore or outraged at the idea of universal background checks for those who want to buy guns, or the idea of banning the civilian use of military weapons, and even the Israelis aren’t outraged at Obama anymore – in fact, all the outrageous gizmos on the snazzy new car don’t impress anyone. We can learn from machines. Go for something cogent and competent, that won’t break down. A baby Toyota might do.