They say you only hurt the ones you love. If that’s so, then Bob Dole and Olympia Snowe must be absolutely infatuated with the GOP. Dole, in an interview on Fox News, said Ronald Reagan could not have made it in today’s Republican Party. He elaborated further by saying, “I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says ‘closed for repairs’ until New Year’s Day next year — and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas.” Snowe, for her part, agreed with Dole, saying Republicans need to “rethink their approach as a political party.”
Bob Dole and Olympia Snowe are but the latest in what has become a long list of conservatives who have expressed their reservations about what has happened to the Grand Old Party. Molly Ball in The Atlantic offers a suggestion on what the Party can do to right the ship. To sum up, Republicans need to heed the lesson that the Democrats learned in 1988, after they got their clocks cleaned for the fifth time in six tries. To be fair, some of her points are valid.
Of all the Democrats’ many problems in the late 1980s, the biggest was denial. Party activists professed that their nominees were losing not because they were too liberal but because they weren’t liberal enough. Or they said that the party simply had to do a better job of turning out its base of low-income and minority voters. Or that Democrats’ majorities in Congress and governors’ mansions proved the party was still doing fine. Some insisted that voters were being hoodwinked by the charismatic Ronald Reagan, or were just too racist and backward to embrace the righteousness of Democratic positions.
That certainly sounds an awful lot like the Republican Party of today. Indeed, an honest and objective view of politics over the years would certainly conclude that each party’s base has probably suffered from the rose-colored glasses syndrome at one time or another. A bubble is a bubble, regardless of ideology.
But here’s where Ball’s train of thought jumps the track. While the Democrats were guilty of clinging to failed strategies and not crafting a message that mainstream America could identify with, they were never crazy or dangerous. Out of touch, maybe, but hardly out to lunch.
Find me the Democratic equivalent of a Michele Bachmann or Louie Gohmert or Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. You won’t because they don’t exist. Walter Mondale may have been the cure for insomnia and Michael Dukakis a Saturday Night Live punch line, but neither embarrassed his party the way the aforementioned dimwits do on a regular basis.
Michael Tomasky nailed it perfectly when he said:
The big problem with today’s Republican Party isn’t its policies. Certainly, those policies are extreme and would be deeply injurious to middle-class and poorer Americans should they be enacted. But Bob Dole wasn’t thinking, I don’t believe, just of policies. He was talking about the whole package—the intolerance, the proud stupidity, the paranoia, the resentments, the rage. These are intertwined with policy of course—indeed they often drive policy. But they are the party’s real problem. And where these “reformers” fail is that they never, ever, ever (that I have seen) criticize it with any punch at all.
And the source of all that paranoia and rage is none other than Fox News and the AM radio dial. For all the talk about the liberal bias in the media, no one approaches the vitriol of a Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. There is no left-wing equivalent that comes even remotely close. Years of stoking a fire under a base that has been convinced everyone is out to get them has created a no-win scenario for the GOP. Anyone who even hints that the Party needs reforming is shunned and called a RINO.
Witness the fallout over Chris Christie’s embracing of President Obama after Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast. Whether or not you agree with Christie’s positions or even whether or not you like the guy personally, he put his constituents ahead of his Party and has paid the ultimate price. The result is that he’s about as popular among the far right as a cockroach at a picnic. Mark Levin refers to him as Krispy Kreme every chance he gets. And you should really get a load of what Limbaugh recently said about him.
This, ultimately, is the fatal flaw in Molly Ball’s reasoning. You see, the Democrats eventually found the strength to pivot to the center and, when they did, nominated Bill Clinton in 1992. Some in the base may not have been all that enthusiastic or comfortable about compromising what they considered their core beliefs, but the majority of them bit down hard and swallowed enough of their pride to see the forest for the trees.
There is no indication that the far right is ready to have such an epiphany. Worse for the GOP, they appear to be doubling down on the crazy. Even now they are actively going after anyone not kowtowing to the Party orthodoxy. Marco Rubio, once the darling of the Tea Party, is being called out for his embracing of immigration reform. How can a political Party be expected to compete on a national level when it can’t even understand basic demographic shifts in population?
The answer is it won’t. The Republican Party seems hopelessly lost in its own feedback loop. It is unable or unwilling to come to grips with a staggering reality: that its own twisted ideology is responsible for its current predicament and nothing short of a complete break from that ideology will prevent what most see as a ghastly demise.