Republican Centrism, RIP

Oct 11 2012 @ 2:12pm

Chait reflects on the place of moderates in the GOP:

The moderates, either in exile or in a state of permanent denial, believe that their day will eventually come. Ultimately, they are probably right about this. The GOP cannot keep moving rightward indefinitely. As the economist Herbert Stein put it, any trend that can’t go on forever, won’t. Stein himself was a paradigmatic Republican moderate, one of the sole figures in his party of any standing openly to oppose the GOP’s embrace of supply-side economics and other forms of magical thinking. He died in 1999 an almost totally marginal figure within the party, so his famous maxim may offer limited comfort.

And eventually is a very long time.

By the time the rightward migration of the party has finally halted, the definition of Republican “moderate” will likely have corroded beyond all recognition. Already the extremism of the party has advanced to such a point that its most fervent elements are identified less by their ideology—which is nearly impossible to distinguish any more from that of the mainstream—than by the degree to which their detachment from reality departs from paranoia as a mere figure of speech and approaches actual, clinical paranoia. “Radical” Republicans believe that Obama has created death panels, may have been secretly born overseas, and is plotting a United Nations invasion. The “mainstream” Republicans believe in goldbuggery and a massive plot by climate scientists, and deny the dramatic rise in income inequality in America.

In a follow up post, he splits the remaining moderates into two groups:

On the one hand, moderates like David Frum, Josh Barro, and Bruce Bartlett have come out squarely against the party’s radical turn. On the other, those like Michael Gerson, David Brooks, and Ross Douthat desperately want a more moderate party but persist in a state of denial about the prospects of this happening in the face of deepening radicalism. Douthat is an especially important figure in the piece, as he is an unusually intelligent analyst and unusually engaged with the moral arguments of conservatism’s critics. But the combination of these traits, along with his very understandable attachment to the Republican party (understandable, given his deep social conservatism and abhorrence of abortion) leave him endlessly in search of false dawns of Republican moderation.