This was to be the winter of their deep content. Having won the mid-terms on a platform of pure fear and panic, they had Washington DC in their pocket. The agenda was going to be theirs – even if they hadn’t run on much of a platform. They would prove to be a capable governing party again, get the Congress in order, and finally put an asterisk next to Obama’s name for two years.
And what has happened since? We’ve had an attempt to ban all abortion past twenty weeks, with an implicit claim that some rapes are not legitimate (because they weren’t reported to the cops). Critical Republican congresswomen balked, and a largely symbolic vote on a day devoted to pro-life activism collapsed in disorder. Before that, the House voted on the most draconian legislation yet that would require, by some analyses, deporting up to 10 million undocumented immigrants. Moreover, the polling of the base shows, as Aaron Blake argued, that
Although [Republicans] supported citizenship over deportation 43 to 38 percent in November 2013, today they support deportation/involuntary departure over citizenship, 54 to 27 percent. That’s two to one — a stunning shift.
Meanwhile, Obama’s ratings among Latinos have sky-rocketed and Jorge Ramos is now unrelenting in his attacks on the GOP. On economic policy, the Republicans have focused on the Keystone Pipeline and free trade treaties. And that may be it. Dave Camp’s real tax reform proposals fizzled. Cutting Medicare or social security in today’s climate is a very heavy lift. Reform conservative policies have not found a compelling advocate. On foreign policy, the decision to invite Binyamin Netanyahu to address the US Congress (again!) over the head of the sitting president is a grotesque blunder. That’s particularly so as the speech will take place two weeks before the Israeli elections – a piece of meddling that really will hurt the US-Israel relationship.
But don’t take it from me, take it from Fox News:
And what is the argument the GOP wants to make on Iran? That it should be the US that derails the critical last stage of the talks? And that, after doing that, we should respond with a new war in the Middle East to prevent what would then be a rush to get the bomb in Iran? Makes. No. Sense. If the GOP wants to fight the next election on the basis of re-entering the Iraq War with ground troops or a huge bombing campaign against Iran, they’re welcome to try. But the American public is not as obsessed as Sheldon Adelson and AIPAC with the Middle East. And the Iraq war was not a Clint Eastwood fantasy. Even Americans haven’t forgotten that.
Then we had the spectacle of last weekend’s Steve King confab in Iowa. In Roger Simon’s words, the clown car became the clown van. The crowd egged on the far right to go further over the edge. The one candidate who might begin to appeal to more than the base – Bush – was a no-show. By all accounts, Scott Walker gave a bravura performance, which may be the only salient thing to last once the vapors have lifted (and he’s worth watching). But to have so many wackos deliver such red meat to a far right base – with Palin and The Donald delivering random strips of steak tartare – is not a basis for appealing to the broader middle any major party has to, if it wants to govern and not merely scream.
The Palin speech was truly a wonder – an Allen Ginsberg-style Republican “Howl”. I know that with respect to her, I’m an alcoholic who shouldn’t go near a bar – but I couldn’t help myself. Watching the stream of narcissistic, delusional consciousness was like downing three shots of Jäger at once. And there were times when it seemed as if she’d done the same thing (just pick any three minutes at random):
A party that nominated a deranged fantasist like this for vice-president – and still lets her rally its base – is, to put it mildly, a joke. Her one political strength – her ability to channel populism – is undermined by the fact that the GOP has a much less appealing set of proposals to address that, compared with the Democrats. This is an era when cultural populism may finally be weaker than economic populism. Obama’s SOTU was simply a reminder that in this moment, with growth returning but all of it going to the very top, the left-of-center party has the advantage. And a right of center party that refuses to raise any taxes on the extremely rich is at a steep disadvantage. There are some reform conservative ideas that are worth airing in that respect – but they are not stirring the base and do not have – as of yet – a plausible GOP proponent or candidate. The only one who might pull it off has the Bush name hanging like an albatross around his neck. And Romney? All he will do is generate energy against him from the base.
Of course, this could change. Events could intervene; the economy might falter again; Putin could do something very reckless. One candidate may surprise us. But right now, the GOP looks to me like a party unable to see any enemies to the right, with few policies to address soaring inequality, deeply alienated from Latinos and African-Americans, and with a foreign policy that looks increasingly like Cheney’s.
That’s not a party headed back to government. If it stays the course, it’s headed toward oblivion.