The Republican Spiral, Down, Down, Down
There has been talk of the Republican Party becoming a regional party without much in the way of influence in the national debate, but until recently the Dog did not take this very seriously. After all, ours is a two party system. The few times where a third party has popped to anything like viability in the last 100 years it is has coalesced around a single presidential candidate (the Bull Moss with TR and Ross Perot with the Reform Party being the best examples) they have never managed to gain significant numbers of elected officials in State Houses or Congress.
All this lead the Dog to assume while the Republican Party might have to suffer some defeats, sooner or later it would return to something approaching electoral parity with the Democrats. In the end where else would those who were of a more conservative bent, go? Recent polls and actions by the Republican Party have the Dog rethinking this position. It seems more and more likely the GOP will not be able to return from ignominy and become a force in the nation again.
The Dog thinks it is pretty clear how the Democrats managed to gain control of both Houses of Congress and the White House. The country got a very good look at what the Republicans would do, if they were allowed to have it all there way for 8 years. In short, it was a disaster from top to bottom. The government was neutered, both in the agencies and the courts. Wars started, deficits soared, citizens were spied on, torture was used on prisoners, etc, etc, etc.
The Dog does not need to list it all, you were there, and you lived through it. The thing is as all this was happening there was a small hard core of the nation who supported the Worst President Ever, no matter what. They became habituated to defending the indefensible. Some of them had economic reasons for doing so or single issue reasons for staying the course with a failing Presidency and Party. This is not uncommon, but what was is the level to which the popularity of the President fell, and the level of absolute loyalty his base provided him.
This lead to the very messy Republican primary season and the selection of Sen. McCain, not as the candidate the Party wanted, but as the last man standing. When the inevitable defeat of Sen. McCain came, the Republican Party did not learn the right lesson. Their base, who were happier with the VP Candidate than the Presidential one, decided that the reason they lost was not that they had alienated many Independents and moderates with the “Drill, baby, Drill” and support of the wars and other obviously failed policies, but because they did not hit the culture war wedges hard enough.
The Party was in deep enough trouble before the base started breaking anyone who would question Rush Limbaugh as a good voice for the Republican Party. They also made a major tactical mistake in trying to be the obstructionist Party. There is something to be said for being a minority that can prevent a strong majority from ramming through whatever they want. The problem with this tactic is you have to have some kind of basis to do it on. It needs to be principled and balanced if it is to bring adherents to yours side.
The Republicans have been branded (in the marketing sense) as the “Party of No”. This is a very simple and devastating branding, but it only works because it is flatly true. At every turn the Republicans have voted “no” on issues that are important to the vast majority of Americans. There can be and should be differences on policy, but to, as a nearly monolithic group, vote no on critical legislation like the ARRA (America Renew and Reinvestment Act) is tone deaf beyond belief.
The Dog is sure the Republicans were secure in doing this because they were listening to their base. The problem is their base is a very small portion of the population, too small to even assure them of the level of the minority they currently hold. The base of the Republican Party has become like a reverse Conch shell, they are twisting tighter and tighter around the hard core center of the culture wars. For so long they have told each other they are the only ones who are right about anything, that they are the victims and they can not change their view lest they be swept into evil that they are now nearly completely unable to hear or process new information.
This is the real danger for the Republican Party. In the last two weeks two back to back polls have found those who self-identify as Republicans (as opposed to those who are registered that way) has fallen to 20%. This makes both the Democratic Party and Independents both have nearly twice the number of people who will cop to being one or the other. This 20% is the same group that supported President Bush to the bitter end. They are the ones (some of them) who turned out to teabag on April 15th, and yes they are the folks who only watch Fox News and listen avidly to Rush and all the sad little copies of him. These are the folks who believe our declaration of a Health Emergency on the Swine Flu issue is a political ploy to get the HHS Secretary Nominee confirmed.
The issue of torture has done the Republican Party no good at all. First off it sets those who would defend the criminal President Bush are spun up to the highest levels. They demanding the Republican leadership defend the indefensible, torture itself. The problem for them is the nation as a whole has pretty much made up its mind; what we did was torture, no if’s and’s or butt’s about it. So while Republicans are defending the former President they are declaring to the nation they are flatly wrong about this shameful issue. It is gong to get worse for them not better as more information comes out and more and more citizens demand we wipe this stain to our collective national identity away by investigation and prosecution.
All of this leads the Dog to think they are in a vicious cycle, where the hardest of hard core Conservatives are in charge of the Republican Party base. Anyone trying to take an even vaguely moderate stance (the kind of things that will have to be said and do to become relevant again) is disloyal and will be marginalized and purged. The base has not absorbed the lesson that as a nation we have decided their point of view on the issues, big and small, is wrong and we will not go that direction. This is a hard lesson to absorb but it is the first step to returning to relevance. Since they will not accept new information, and since they have cast their opposition (us) as evil and un-American, they are unlikely to change.
This leads to an opportunity for a new Party to emerge. What that will look like is very unclear right now, but we should not kid ourselves as Democrats that our electoral victories are all due to the public wanting to do things our way. When your choices are a Party you disagree with most of the time and the bat-shit insane, well that is not really much of a choice, is it?
With the number in Independents that are now out there, a third major political Party could coalesce pretty quickly. We know that most of those who are Independent voters came from one Party or the other and still mostly vote that way. They just don’t want to be saddled with the label Democrat or Republican. The Dog thinks it is a lot more likely that some new relatively middle right Party will happen rather than one of the smaller Party’s like the Libertarians would gain prominence. Those who have left the Republican Party, but not joined the Democrats are looking for something new, not to be part of some existing structure.
In the end it seems like the Republican Party is going down and has no way to come up. This is both an opportunity for moving the Democratic agenda forward and a danger for the Democratic Party. While we are likely to hang on to our majorities in Congress and grow them in some States, if we do not have another Party whose ideas we must contest against to prevail we run the risk of overreach. Many good things can come from this overreach, but in the end it will lead to some kind of rebalancing. We will not get to choose who our new opposition is (if one emerges) but we can be sure that sooner or later we will not have it all our way, even if the Republican Party does go the way of the Dodo.
The floor is yours.
Cross posted at Square State