America has said in poll after poll, and in the recent election, that they have finally rejected everything the conservative movement stands for: over-muscular aggression abroad, banning abortion, treating gays and minorities like dirt, transferring trillions of tax dollars from the middle class to the rich, gutting Social Security and Medicare. So have Republicans gotten the message?
Currently the GOP is putting on a great show of soul-searching. They are bashing Grover Norquist in front of the cameras. Ann “Democrats Are Guilty Demonic Godless Traitors” Coulter is saying “give in on taxes, we lost!” The party is trotting out all the women and brown faces they can. But how much of this is serious? How much of the soul-searching goes beyond messaging and into philosophy and policy?
None. Although it seems that many disparate Republican voices seem to be making a cacophony of argument which sometimes borders on heresy to the far-right, that isn’t really what is happening. They are doing three things: trying to cover up their extremism to win new converts, attacking a few extremists for show when it’s tactically advantageous, and meanwhile continuing forward with the same extremism they’ve been lugging around for three decades. Let’s look at all three.
First, they pretend to be warm-fuzzy touchy-feely New Republicans while peddling the same extremism. They pretend that they love the poor and dislike the rich, but keep on attacking programs for the poor and defending tax cuts for the rich. Pretend they love Latinos, even though they’re still working to throw brown people in jail in red states when they have actual governmental power. Pretend they barely know social conservatives: keep quiet about their continuing anti-abortion stance, but keep it in the party platform; and keep bashing Sandra Fluke and other uppity women. Pretend they want to be welcomed again in the blue states, even though they’re peddling the same old message, particularly the nasty anti-union and anti-voter sentiments that killed them in the critical Midwestern states (they’re pushing yet another union-busting bill in Michigan).
And of course, attack Grover Norquist, but only because it will persuade the slow-witted that Republicans are the reasonable party in the fiscal-cliff fight. Even though they’re still sticking to Norquist’s actual policies on taxes, and sticking to a hardline on Medicare and Social Security and Obamacare, and ignoring Obama’s proposals, and then still trying to blame Obama for the impasse on taxes. “We’re totally sane and reasonable now!” Like Norman Bates in Psycho II.
Second, they do things that look like they’re purging extremism, but are really just inside-baseball tactics. Prepare to launch primary attacks on tea-party candidates, but only if they look like they’ll lose in the general election; this may have led to Jim Demint’s defenestration from the Senate. Attack tea-party members of Congress by tossing them off of committees, but only because they threaten John Boehner’s power. Attack Karl Rove and Dick Morris, but only because they made Republicans look bad on television. Get rid of the Iowa straw poll, not because it will promote extremist candidates, but because it may promote candidates that the party can’t fully control.
And third, they pretend everything’s fine and keep pushing to the right. Embrace the rich particularly when they donate, block the poor from voting, use the fiscal-cliff issue to primary RINO candidates in 2014. And if they don’t get what they want, get desperate: advocate secession, try to block the electoral college from reelecting Obama, refuse to even talk to Democrats, spend even more money, promote Palin for 2016. And try to win on process: get more pliant debate moderators, use softer words to mitigate the harsher policies in the party platform, campaign more cleverly than Romney did, suck up to the mainstream media, keep gerrymandering House districts so they can keep more seats even when they lose the popular vote like they did in 2012.
In other words, there is no evidence that they have really gotten the message, that America does not want or need their philosophy anymore.
And here’s a particularly telling point. If a moderate non-crazy movement were to pop up in the GOP, it would need leaders of some kind. Where would they come from? The House Republican caucus is dominated by tea-party extremists who are perfectly willing to crush any House member who strays from the hard line, even their own Speaker, who is already on thin ice over the fiscal-cliff issue. The Republican governors are dominated by hardliners who spent the last two years suppressing black votes, throwing Mexicans in jail, crushing unions, signing anti-abortion laws, and declaring holy war against all things liberal. Nongovernmental conservatives are as far to the right as they have ever been. In the Senate you have Brown, Lugar, Snowe and Hutchison, who are all leaving office. Lisa Murkowski won office as a write-in, beating a Republican tea-party candidate, so she has no pull with the party faithful. So who is left, to lead any heretic movement in the GOP?
Senators McCain, Graham, Ayotte, Collins.
So. Right after Obama was reelected, the Republicans decided they were going to punch him in the teeth by launching an attack on a potential cabinet nominee, Susan Rice, an attack which has no basis in reality and which was discredited even before the campaign ended. Who did the Republicans send out for this barely-sane extremist attack?
Senators McCain, Graham, Ayotte, Collins.
The message to Republican moderates everywhere: stick to the party sheet music. Shut up and color. Either the party is ensuring that these mavericks – two of them blue-state women -- don’t lead an internal civil war from the left, or these mavericks themselves are tacking to starboard to protect their right flanks. If there was any hope of a Republican renaissance, these are the people who would have led it, but the dynamics inside the party will not allow it.