Purists on either side of the fence value “purity” over “getting something done.” It’s remarkable how often they wave aside the consequences of that, writing it off as “necessary” if they can’t get their way. If they can’t get “all,” then they want “nothing.” They also share a remarkable ability to filter their perceptions in a way that often puts them into an alternate reality. The difference between the two sides is that the purist Left is not a major force (all their rhetoric to the contrary) in the Democratic Party, while the purist Right are a force in the Republican Party.
Which is not a good thing. In looking back over the past three years, what has been striking is the amount of damage that the Tea Party and various other right wing groups, like Americans For Prosperity, have done. If I wanted to destroy the Republican Party as a national party, I couldn’t have done a better job. One has only to look at the dysfunctional House of Representatives to see how inept Republicans have become. Yes, they’re “purer conservatives,” but they’re not any good as elected representatives.
It was even more striking when it came to the Republican primaries for President. In my memory, I can’t recall a primary where people like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, or Rick Perry would have been considered contenders, let alone front-runners. Yet at various points, they were. With that, all the candidates moved far to the right in order to win. What astonished many observers was that the eventual winner, Mitt Romney, did not move to the center as they expected after getting the nomination, but instead stayed out on the right. Why? Because he didn’t have a choice. While I can, and did, point out the numerous flaws in his campaign, that he had to stay on the right to keep the party behind him is indicative of how off the rails the party has become.
This is the end result of a long-term effort by various radical Right groups. Over the years, they’ve moved their supporters into various party positions, elected them to lower-level and state government positions, and reliably turned out to vote in primaries. They’ve become “the base” of the Republicans. Fueling this farther was their losses in 2006 and 2008, which they regarded as being caused by “a lack of purity,” and the explosion of latent racism when the reality of a black President was in front of them.
This has led to the Republican Party becoming mired in an “alternate reality” of America. You can’t go to any open discussion board on the Internet without seeing them trot out how they want to “defend the Constitution” using means that aren’t in the Constitution or blatantly unconstitutional. The constant attacks on “entitlements,” without any recognition that they are the ones receiving those entitlements. The continued embrace of supply-side economics, despite the experience that it doesn’t work. Denial of climate change and attacking science in general, attempting to insert their particular religious beliefs as law, pandering to and promoting racism, and a firm belief that they are the majority.
My education is in science, and for many years I worked in research laboratories. One of the first things you learn is “the data is the data.” That is, no matter what your hypothesis, grand theory, or fervent belief was, if the data didn’t back you up, then you were wrong. You could come up with the world’s best explanation for “this is how it should work,” but if it didn’t work that way when you tried it, then you went back and came up with an explanation that explained how it did work, not say “well, the data is wrong!”
Which is what the Republicans are doing these days. They’re coming up with all sorts of reasons why they weren’t “wrong.” They’re explaining it as not being “pure enough,” not communicating their message adequately, voter fraud, and any number of other reasons. The data doesn’t back them up, so they deny the data. We tried supply side economics. If giving tax cuts to the wealthiest people actually created jobs, we should be in an economic boom right now, instead of coming out of a recession. If deregulation of the financial sector worked, then we wouldn’t have had the massive fraud and collapse to the world’s economy. They are most definitely not the majority any longer, and and by locking into their current stances, they’ve ensured that they’re heading further into the minority.
Nate Silver has been doing analyses, and says that 191 of the current House districts are “strongly Republican.” I don’t doubt his figures for now. But that is not a permanent situation, and some Republicans realize that. The demographics of this country are changing, to where we are on a path to becoming a “majority minority” country. No one racial or ethnic group will be “the majority” in this country. In addition, the younger generation – those under 30 – are becoming much more socially liberal. The “dog whistles” which worked in the past don’t on them.
What the Tea Party and other right wing groups have done is to make the Republican Party a party of “angry Christian white males,” and “scared old people.” They’ve alienated women, Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, and other minorities. Their actions, and proposals are causing independents to take a close look, and they’re not liking what they see. As time goes on, and by that, I mean within the next decade, the Republican Party is on a path towards becoming a small regional party. As various “minorities” start to become a larger part of the electorate in those states, along with the inexorable loss of the “scared old people” and more socially liberal young people replacing them, states that were “solidly Red” are going to start to become “Blue.”
It’s going to take serious losses over several election cycles to hammer the need for change home with the current Republican Party. But eventually they will realize that “the data is the data.” Right now, they’re denying that, and if this past year has shown anything, it’s that they’re headed towards a number of painful reminders.