Mar 07, 2013 - Issue 507

The Republican Party Devouring Itself - Good

Like revenge, schadenfreude is something to be enjoyed in private. One does want to be careful about gloating out loud over someone else’s misfortune, except when it comes to the crisis in the Republican Party.


What’s not to be happy about the travails of an organization that for decades has had a “southern strategy” of taking advantage of racial intolerance? Of seeking political advantage by demagogically targeting women and men who have crossed the southern border seeking work? Of stirring homophobia in an effort to divide and conquer? Yeah, I know, not all Republicans are like that, but it’s a fair description of the party’s recent history, of the attitudes of its “base,” and its current leadership’s strategies. Every time I hear a GOPer talk about being in the “party of Lincoln,” I want to gag.


Just how bad has it become for the party of Bush, Chaney, McCain and Palin where, according to Politico “There is breathless talk of civil war”? “A fight has broken out within the Republican Party,” says a recent edition of the Economist. “On the face of it, rival camps - broadly, the establishment versus the insurgent right - are arguing about why they lost the last election, and how to stop losing. The loudest name-calling involves a new political fund backed by Karl Rove, election guru to the Bush dynasty and a man with access to deep-pocketed donors. It is one of several establishment wheezes aimed at asserting more control over party primaries that pick candidates for big races.”


That doesn’t mean merely moving resources in the direction of those candidates the Rove crew supports. According to the Economist’s Lexington column, a spokesperson for the Roveites says they are poised to “blast unelectable primary contenders with TV attack ads, if need be.”


As if that bit of inner-party fratricide weren’t enough, the Club for Growth has gotten into the battle on the other side., the website of the group, announced last week that “moderate” Republican politicians who don’t meet the group’s muster are going to face well-financed primary challenges in upcoming elections. The group spent over $17 million during last year’s election cycle. Which, and how many, GOP politicians are going to feel the wrath of the big business club is unclear but six incumbent members of the House of Representatives have already been cited.


“Big government liberals inhabit the Democratic Party, but they are far too common within the Republican Party as well,” read a statement announcing the plan. “The Republicans helped pass billions of dollars in tax increases and they have repeatedly voted against efforts by fiscal conservatives to limit government. will serve as a tool to hold opponents of economic freedom and limited government accountable for their actions.”


It’s not easy to pin proper labels on the contending parties in the GOP inner war. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews says it’s the “center-right” versus the “hard right.” Sasha Chavkin in the Colombia Journalism Review describes the battle as a “confrontation between mainstream and far right groups.” Steve LaTourette, former Ohio congressman from Ohio, says the moderately inclined Republican Main Street Partnership that he heads represents “the governing wing of the Republican Party.”


But these tags often don’t mean much, or obscure what the war is all about. For instance, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl), the prospective Republican Presidential candidate posited by Time magazine as the possible “savior” of the party, is anything but a moderate. He is a climate change skeptic opposed to government action to deal with the problem, wants creationism to have equal standing with evolution in education, and says homosexuality is a sin because “that’s what the Bible teaches and that’s what faith teaches.” The rightwing Americans for Prosperity (AFP) recently released its scorecard for the 112th Congress, ranking members of the House and Senate according to their votes on issues over the past legislative session. Only one senator garnered an A+, a perfect 100 percent rating: Rubio. AFP has been called “one of the most powerful conservative organizations in electoral politics.”


All of the warring factions in the Republican camp (there are more than two) appear to have given up hope of making inroads into the African American community. Lest anyone think Rove is the “moderate” under this canopy writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, he referred to President Obama as “a once in a generation demagogue.”


The more astute observers among the contending Republican factions have come to recognize that while African American voters continue to overwhelmingly support the President, it’s not just because he’s black. It’s also the issues. Obviously, past efforts to split African Americans on the basis of various social issues have come to naught. But that hasn’t dissuaded some black conservatives and rightwingers from continuing to try; witness the unseeming recent efforts by some to convince black people that they should oppose sensible gun control measures. Last week, rightwing internet operative Star Parker, who claims to have a posse of black preachers behind her, held a press conference to proclaim that “Blacks, especially, have a stake in protecting ourselves from the government - a lesson we must share to protect every American.”


One of Parker’s chief ministerial supporters, Dr. Ben Carson, has been added to the featured speakers lineup for the Conservative Political Action convention March 14-16, news that the far right Human Events website called “exciting.”


Some of the Republicans are aware that immigration is not the only issue driving politics in the Latino community. “It’s not irrelevant that Obamacare is most popular with African Americans,” Stuart Stevens, lead strategist of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign wrote in the Washington Post February 25. “And what demographic group is the second-most favorable to Obamacare? Hispanics.”


David Brooks, the New York Times’ resident conservative egghead says, “Voters disdain the G.O.P. because they think Republicans are mindless anti-government fanatics who can’t distinguish good government programs from bad ones.”


Who says voters aren’t hip?


“In retrospect, last year’s Republican primary process was entirely disconnected from the actual needs of the party,” party loyalist Michael Gerson wrote recently, “One candidate pledged to build a 20-foot-high electrical fence at the border crowned with the sign, in English and Spanish, ‘It will kill you - Warning.’ Another promised, as president, to speak out against the damage done to American society by contraception. Another warned that vaccinations may cause ‘mental retardation.’ In the course of 20 debates and in tens of millions of dollars of ads, issues such as upward mobility, education, poverty, safer communities and the environment were rarely mentioned.”


In a recent article in conservative Commentary magazine, Gerson and co-author Peter Wehner identified the one that called for the electrified fence: Herman “999” Cain. Their essay, Gerson said, was an attempt to “raise ideas such as ending corporate welfare, breaking up the mega-banks, improving the treatment of families in the tax code, and encouraging economic mobility through education reform and improved job training. Whatever form Republican proposals eventually take, they must move beyond Reagan-era nostalgia.” There’s little chance of any of that happening.


One of the favorite theories of the so-called Republican reformers is that what their party needs is what they allege “saved’ the Democratic Party and the British Labor Party in the early 1990s.


The key to the Gerson-Wehner thesis is: “Republican primary voters, party activists and party leaders have a choice to make, ruthlessly clarified by recent events. They can take the path of Democrats in 1988, doubling down on a faltering ideology. Or they can follow the model of Democrats in 1992 and their own party in 2000, giving their nominee the leeway needed to oppose outworn or extreme ideas and to produce an agenda relevant to our time.”


Bill Clinton “broke a long Democratic presidential losing streak by emphasizing middle-class values, advocating the end of ‘welfare as we know it’ and standing up to extreme elements within his coalition (thereby creating the ‘Sister Souljah moment’). In Britain, says Gerson, former Prime Minister Tony Blair “went after the ‘moral chaos’ that led to youth crime, abandoned his party’s official commitment to public ownership of the means of production and launched New Labor.”


I recall the “Sister Souljah moment.” I was in the Washington ballroom when it happened. Far from courage in the face of extremism it was one of the most cynical moments of political demagoguery I ever witnessed. The dog whistle sounded there was the same as Blair’s anti-crime declarations – maneuvers for which neither of them should be proud.


Writer Michael Tomasky has a slightly different and interesting take on all of this. Calling the Republican reformers “deluded”, he wrote last week in the Daily Beast, “The party they purport to support and care about has been engaged in burning down the house of American politics for three or four years now, and they are saying nothing about it; and until they say something a about it, everything else they say is close to meaningless.”


Tomasky went on, “God knows, policy positions are a problem. But they are not the problem. The problem is that the party is fanatical - a machine of rage, hate, and resentment. People are free to scoff and pretend it isn’t so, but I don’t think honest people can deny that we’ve never seen anything like this in the modern history of our country.”


“Republican elites are rightfully concerned with figuring out how to reform the party’s message and appeal to new demographics - hence the growing support for immigration reform, and the rapid elevation of Florida Senator Marco Rubio,” wrote Tomasky. “Success for this strategy depends on buy-in from the Republican base. But the ongoing push for right-wing initiatives at the state-level - where ordinary voters have the most influence - is a sign that little has changed for the rank-and-file.”


“Every smart Republican in town is saying the same thing: If they don’t expand their party’s ranks, they don’t have a future,” wrote Hilary Rosen in the Washington Post last week. “Republican efforts at suppressing minority voters through a myriad of state laws last year, however, have made that mission tougher. The consequences of those desperate maneuvers, along with the accompanying vitriolic rhetoric, are weighing on the GOP now as its leaders make another run at rebranding a party that needs new ideas more than it needs a new message.”


Jamelle Bouie, a perceptive staff writer at The American Prospect magazine, has written, “In other words, for the Republican base, it seems, 2012 was just a temporary setback. At this point, base voters don’t seem to want the party to change its policies or do anything meaningful to reach out to minorities. But there are still the realities of demographic change, which favors the Democratic Party, and the unpopularity of GOP ideas with growing segments of the electorate. And so the only path left is to change the rules of the game.”


Keep in mind that this is a party that is unceasing in its efforts to dissuade or prevent some people from going to the polls – particularly African Americans, Latinos and students, or, if they get there, reducing the power of their vote through various undemocratic vote counting schemes. Right now they are praying their allies on the Supreme Court will help them out by eviscerating Federal voting rights protection. This is more than a political maneuver; any action to undermine the principle of “one person, one vote” is seditious.


None of the above is meant as a brief for the opposition Democrats. From drone warfare abroad, to cruel mass deportations of undocumented workers, to unjustified handouts to greedy bankers, to threats to senior retirement security, many of their policies deserve nothing but resolute rejection and resistance. However, these days the major mass media is filled with commentaries about how bad the Republican Party’s divisions are for the country, how we somehow need a healthy GOP. Actually, the country doesn’t need the Republican Party at all. Its demise would be a blessing. What we need most is for the “centrist” Democrats to have an arena of their own where they can decide how much they want to deal with a rising formation of the progressive Left. That’s the reform we need right now. Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at Click here to contact Mr. Bloice.