Last year, I wrote a series on “Politics 101,” in which I talked about what various of the “frustrati” needed to do to become a base of the Democratic Party. Not just claim they were, but to actually become one. In one of the earlier posts, I had lesson #5: You have to do it yourself.
You want the party to listen to your concerns? Then get involved with your local party. Don’t expect someone else to do it for you.
I’d like to say I came up with that just because I’m smart, but the reality is that it’s exactly what happened in the Republican Party.
I’ve written any number of posts about the Republicans, including more recent ones decrying the open racism that they’re evincing. Scott Erb has an excellent post on the Republican “crazies.”
For the Republicans, this is mess they brought on themselves. Since Reagan was elected in 1980 the formula has been the same: give voice to some of the radical fundamentalist positions to get support, and then ignore them when governing. Reagan could wax poetic on his pro-life stance, but never made it a priority in his Administration. Karl Rove wooed the religious right to support George W. Bush because they provided high voter turnout, enthusiasm and money. Yet their influenced declined after the election.
But in 2010 the crazies started to take over the asylum. The GOP calculus went awry
I agree with part of this, but it wasn’t in 2010 that the crazies started to take over the asylum. It started over 30 years ago, and for the past several years, the crazies have been running the asylum. As I said in my earlier posts on politics,
It’s pretty simple. They got involved. They recruited candidates, provided warm bodies for campaign staffs, voter contacts, door-to-door work, money, and made sure they got their people into the voting booth. They did it over and over again,
At the time I was giving a lesson to various “frustrati,” but that’s exactly what “the crazies” did to the Republican Party. While some harbor hopes that the more moderate voices – the “sane Republicans” – will speak up, or that Mitt Romney will somehow develop a spine and return the party to realism, the problem with those hopes is that they rely on the idea that the sane actually control the party. They don’t.
In order to understand why I say that, you have to understand how political parties – and in particular national parties – are structured. They’re not really “top down” organizations, they’re “bottom up.” That is, local party organizations (town, city, county) elect delegates to the state party, which then selects delegates to the national party. Local parties select candidates for local offices, along with “vetting” or “approving” candidates for other offices. The delegates they elect to the state party create the platform for the party in that state, determining its direction. The state parties in their turn create the national platform.
What we’ve had for the past 30+ years is a concerted effort by various far-right groups to move into the party structure at the local level, onto the state level, and now the national. They’ve been quite successful at it, too. What 2010 saw was the final step in that process. Yes, it was aided by massive amounts of money from various backers like the Koch brothers, but the candidates and control of the party were already mostly in place before that. The actual result of 2010 was to enable them to purge the remaining “moderates” from their positions.
The other aspect of why there are so many “crazies” in office, or running as party candidates on the Republican side is who is voting in primaries. Primaries are “base elections,” where “the average voter,” or even “the average party member” isn’t going to show up. It’s where the activist factions show up, and make their impact. While most of us know at least one (or more) sane Republican personally, that doesn’t mean that that person one of the ones voting in primaries. So you have cases where someone like Bob Bennett suddenly getting shown the door. Not because he wasn’t conservative, but because “the crazies” showed up in force to oust him as “not conservative enough,” while the “sane” ones didn’t. In the general election, they depend on suppressed turnout of Democrats and independents, along with the sane Republicans voting the party line, because they’re loyal to the party. It worked for them in 2010.
Which is why I don’t expect the Republican Party to change this election cycle, or have any hope of Mitt Romney suddenly veering back to the “moderate Republican” he was as governor. He can’t. The party he leads has been taken over by its far Right component, and the “money people” who thought they controlled it are now riding a tiger. He has to play to that, or he stands little chance of winning.
What will it take for the Republican Party to change? Losing. Lots and lots of losing. They’re already on a path towards that, because they went for the short term gain of embracing the most radical – and racist – parts of their party. In the process, they’ve alienated not just African Americans, but also Hispanics, women, and independents. In the long term that choice will come back to bite them – and it might bite them this year.