By John Stang
Contrarian conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan offers an interpretation of what he thinks is happening to the Republican Party:
The reasons for this pathological pattern are, to my mind, manifold. The first is that, quite simply, much smaller legislative parties tend to include fewer moderates (because they’re the ones likeliest to lose in swing districts) and so the atmosphere skews far right or far left (my two main historical examples of this are British: Labour after Thatcher’s first victory, the Tories after Blair’s). This was intensified by the pre-2010 purge of any moderates and selection of an even more ideological freshman class in the House of Representatives. The second is the dominance in the GOP of what might be called the Media Industrial Complex. When there is so much money to be made from politics-as-entertainment, the dominant public figures on the right tend to be provocative, polarizing media stars. From Limbaugh to Levin to Hannity, the premium is on conflict and provocation for ratings. After a while, this is all you’ve got in the Republican psyche, and no moderating forces acting against it. In that atmosphere, you need talk-show hosts as president, not governors or legislators. Herman Cain is drawn precisely from that media industrial complex. Mitch Daniels and Jon Huntsman are excluded for the exact same reason.
We’ve seen the polls showing a shift in Americans’ views of inequality and their support of higher taxes for the wealthiest as part of a debt-reduction package. We’ve seen the accelerating moderation on marriage equality and marijuana. We’ve noticed the Tea Party’s further alienation of minority voters, and now, with the Cain circus, possible intensification of the gender gap. We’ve noticed that increasing numbers of voters, including independents, regard the GOP as potentially sabotaging the economy purely in order to defeat Obama. Now we are seeing the effect of all this in actual elections. And the GOP primary campaign has also underlined just how marginal, ideological and inexperienced many of the presidential candidates are. A party that gives a motivational speaker ten times the support of a two-term governor of Utah, re-elected with 84 percent of the vote, with strong bipartisan credentials and an even stronger tax reform plan … well, it’s a party in free-fall that also doesn’t understand that it is.
To watch the evolution of the Republican Party is fascinating. Most of the plans introduced by President Obama have been relatively moderate positions held by many GOP legislatures for years, Obamacare is Romneycare and Bob Dole’s healthcare plan from 1994 and stimulus spending occurred in most administrations, or infrastructure spending if you prefer. All of a sudden, the GOP turned into Howard Beale from Network and decided to collectively yell “I’m mad as hell and I”m not going to take it anymore,” all in the name of trying to bring down a president who is not that much different from them, policy wise.
The Republican Party was once the party of serious businessmen and good ol’ boys. It has now turned into an silly party trapped by its own “Media Industrial Complex” as Sullivan calls it. Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Christine O’Donnell are not real candidates and are jokes, offering very little in terms of serious policy ideas. Rather, they are no more than Snookie with a campaign staff. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, and at one time Newt Gingrich, are the real Republican Party. Alas, that has taken a back seat to the media culture of the right. It is also something to bare in mind that Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck did not finish college and see that culture as elite, which probably contributes to the anti-intellectualism of the party, but I digress.
Populism can be a potent force in politics, especially when it has a strong crop of personalities to bolster it. If you want more evidence, Herman Cain was once a talk radio host, go figure. The storm will pass eventually for the GOP, but when is the question no one knows the answer to.