Across the country, in this year’s run-up to the November election, Republican primary voters repeatedly chose unelectable hard-core conservatives over moderates to run in state, district, and local races — at times against even the open wishes of GOP brass.
“It’s amazing how far to the right the Republican candidates have been, and how out of touch with their districts,” says Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “There’s less and less enthusiasm for the Republican Party, so the only ones answering the call [to vote in primaries] are these very strong conservatives.”
Take New Mexico’s Senate race to replace the retiring Republican Pete Domenici, a relative moderate in a battleground state. Conservatives rallied around ultra-right-wing congressman Steve Pearce over the GOP’s preferred candidate, relatively moderate congresswoman Heather Wilson. With help from national conservative groups like Club for Growth — and despite the last-minute campaigning of Domenici himself on Wilson’s behalf — Pearce won the Republican nomination. As a result, Democrat Tom Udall is coasting to an easy victory. Not only that, but Democrats now stand a good chance of winning both House seats that Wilson and Pearce abandoned for their Senate campaigns.
A similar situation has ensured that a Democrat will win the Virginia Senate seat being vacated by another relative moderate, John Warner.
“The Republicans have really devoured themselves,” says Sargeant. The exact same behavior contributed to the enormous GOP losses two years ago.
“Despite the losses, I don’t see any change in the priorities, or interest in electability,” says Chafee. The fanatics would rather go down with their beliefs intact.
After all, they were willing to let the world economy crash rather than support a bailout bill that violated, in their minds, the sanctity of unregulated, free-market capitalism.
That was a vote that demonstrated, to any who didn’t know, that the GOP leadership — who supported the bailout bill and urged Republicans to vote for it — was no longer in control. A large majority of Republican congressmen voted against it.
It was a perfect example of why, and how, the Republican Party is increasingly removing itself from the national conversation — and resorting only to extremism, anger, accusation, and hate.
Nothing but fervor
American politics has little place for absolutes — theories of pure unregulated markets belong in the halls of academia perhaps, along with those of state-controlled means of production and Hobbesian anarchy. American politics is almost always a debate over degrees: whether degrees of hawkishness on foreign policy, government regulation of business, spending on discretionary items, or distribution of tax burden.
The new, know-nothing, scary conservatives refuse to participate in that discussion. Instead, even prominent Republicans insist, with grave certainty, that all progressive taxation or entitlement programs must be rejected as socialism; that all contact with suspect foreign leaders (even Spain’s, according to McCain) is appeasement; that all behavior banned by the Bible should be outlawed.
Ideological fervor and divisive accusations look increasingly frivolous in a country facing dire, sobering problems. Yet it is all the GOP seems to have.
Two weeks before the election, three top national conservative bloggers collaborated on a “closing argument” intended to convince undecided voters to cast their ballots for McCain. It was well-received in the right-wing blogosphere, and many circulated it and commented that it should prove persuasive to any undecided friends, family, or co-workers.
The essay contained nothing but the same Obama-bashing highlights familiar to everyone by now: in short, Obama is a baby-killer who consorts with terrorists and anti-American black preachers, is stealing the election with his radical ACORN partners, and wishes to appease foreign dictators and implement socialism.
It’s desperation time for these Republican stalwarts, and they’re going nuclear. Relegated to minority status, suffering the indignity of Democratic ascendance in the personage of a black intellectual, they will oppose every policy. Still, they offer nothing in return but wildly overblown insults.
This has happened before, of course. It is exactly what they did when the country elected, to their view, the draft-dodging, marijuana-puffing skirt-chaser Bill Clinton in 1992. Two years later, after blocking Clinton’s attempts to provide rights to homosexuals and health care to the sick, Southern ultra-conservative Newt Gingrich led the Republicans from the wilderness back into the majority. That, as Chafee points out, was the start of the movement that has ultimately led the GOP full circle to where it is today: completely out of power (though not before first dragging the country through impeachment, war, scandal, division, and decline).
For years, Democrats have been forced, unenviably, to engage in debate with such rigid and dangerous arguments. That is about to end. Republicans will comprise roughly just 40 percent of each chamber of the US Congress, and about the same proportion of the state governorships and legislators. The Democrats will no longer need the Republicans.