Should Leaders Who Can’t Govern Their Party Govern the Country?

This is the question that the turmoil within the Republican Party prompts these days, as the moderate wing of the party battles to maintain control over a grass-roots extremism it has legitimated.

Is this what a dying political party looks like?  This is what flashes through my mind when I read or hear about the Republican Party.  The party isn’t dying, at least not yet: but the very forces of intolerance and intransigence it encouraged are assailing it from within.  Unless the moderate wing of the GOP can reassert itself and prevail, the party will continue its disastrous turn to the right.  Not only will its prospects for power dim, but the entire country will suffer, too.

Extreme conservatism is a minority view
Despite the media hype—fanned by talk radio and cable TV—extreme conservatism is not the dominant American viewpoint.  We are not a nation of extremists.  The desire of the country’s majority for sophisticated, moderate leadership was expressed in its 2008 rejection of Sarah Palin and, more recently, in Republican voters’ resounding rejection of conservative presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry.  Each of these candidates received lavish publicity, arousing fears that they represented the new face of America; in each case, support for these candidates proved meager indeed.

Weakening the fiber of nation and party
Yet the fate of the Republican Party is being directed by this assertive minority.  It’s the faction that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich chose to pander to.  It’s the faction that hates the separation of church and state, that would attack the independence of our judiciary.  It’s the faction that’s against modern medicine.  That’s against female contraception.  That’s uncomfortable with racial equality.  In their quest for power, these conservatives have begun chipping away at principles and institutions that formerly sacred to all Americans and protective of us all.

Moderate Republicans are captive
In the face of this, the only Republicans to speak out against extremism have been members of the Bush family.  During the primary season, Jeb Bush distanced himself from the new conservatism while signalling disappointment at the Party’s loss of vision.  Barbara Bush has repeatedly expressed dismay at Republicans’ uncivil conduct and their disavowal of compromise.

These, though, are just two voices in a party that, by and large, has chosen to amplify and accommodate spurious right-wing demands.  Prior to 2010, there were reasons to hope that the social conservative wing of the party, for want of a victory, was moving into a more quiescent, marginal phase.  Unfortunately, the emergence of the Tea Party, with its new crop of faces, its fiscal focus, and its idealistic hatred of our federal tradition, has given new energy to the disparate elements that make up social conservatism.

Citizens United has further exaggerated the significance of rabble-rousing candidates like Newt Gingrich, whose funding was all out of proportion to the support he enjoyed. 

A terrible tactical decision
All along, moderate Republicans could have tamped down and disavowed right-wing extremism as it began taking hold, like crabgrass, on their impeccably manicured property.  Republicans could have chosen not to assimilate the Tea Party.  They could have refused funding to candidates whose intolerance is extreme enough to qualify as unpatriotic. They could have silenced the racist “dog whistle” that goes by the name of the birther movement.  Instead, moderates have chosen to go along and get along with a dangerous minority.  Why?  Because they need the support and approval of these voters too badly.  Without this virulent sub-population, moderate Republicans cannot hope to attain the majority needed to elect a president or control Congress.

Consumed by a wasting disease from inside
Now this emboldened faction is paralyzing and destroying moderate Republican leaders.  In recent primaries, Tea Partiers have targeted old-line Republicans like Richard Lugar for defeat.  They have reduced House Speaker John Boehner to impotence by stalemating last year’s negotiations over the debt ceiling by refusing to compromise.  Boehner bristled at David Axelrod’s recent allusion to a “Republican reign of terror” but, in truth, moderate Republicans are beginning to bear the brunt of  a “reign of terror” that their conservative wing is waging from inside.

Is Mitt Romney the man to speak truth to power?
It’s hard to imagine Mitt Romney, who wants so badly to be liked, disciplining and harmonizing the unwieldy elements that now constitute “the Grand Old Party.”  In his eagerness to gain office, Romney has promised to be the conservatives’ standard-bearer, while hoping the rest of us won’t consider what that means.  Unlike Jeb and Barbara Bush, Romney lacks the gumption to speak out against a strain of political intolerance that could spell the ruin of Republicanism—and that’s begun to harm the republic, too.

Is the Republican Party Dying?

14 responses

  1. The so-called Tea Party has doomed the GOP to minority status. The changing demographics of the country are not on their side. They fear this. The TP is significantly older, whiter, and more affluent than the country at large. Their hostility towards government, all while they benefit from things like Social Security and Medicare, etc., is simply disingenuous. This explains, in part, their claim that this election in November is the most important in history. If they knew any history they would see the absurdity of this claim.

    Mitt Romney is an empty-suit who says anything and believes in nothing. Barack Obama is not the leader I had hoped for, but the opposition is far worse.

    The far right of the GOP actually wants to roll back the clock to the pre-New-Deal Era. They are serious about this. John Boehner has been made a fool of by his own party. They think the elections of 2010 will be repeated in 2012……they are mistaken about that. The overwhelming majority of Americans are moderate voters……..they do not support extreme “solutions” and never have…….

    • The pattern seems to be one of selective success for the Republicans. The party is too big and powerful to die away anytime soon, but I think its prospects for national dominance may be waning for some of the reasons you name (i.e. demography, the march of modernity). The Republican Party will continue to attract the support of many who dislike what the Democratic Party is offering. As I have suggested in many of my earlier posts, both parties need to change (and perhaps be challenged by a real third party) in order for the nation’s prospects and governance to improve.

      Some interesting research has been done on Tea Party voters suggesting (as you do) that they do not actually want to alter the entitlements or do anything draconian along those lines.

      To imagine what the death of a major American political party might look like, we’d have to go back to the death of the Federalist party in the 1820s or that of the Whigs just before the Civil War. They died out, despite having many adherents, when they could no longer win the presidency. Afterward, the Federalists remained popular in New England, and the Whigs, in their time, continued to have many followers in both North and South. The Whigs had a great cadre of capable and respected leaders (like Daniel Webster, for instance, and the up-and-coming Abe Lincoln), but when it couldn’t come up with a set of ideas compelling enough to win more voters, the party broke up and faded away. It’s hard to imagine anything so complete happening with a political party today.


  2. I cannot believe what I just read. You have somehow failed to understand and comprehend the message of the far right. With neither thought nor insight, you have convoluted an entire political party without understanding even the slightest knowledge. At least pretend to understand political thought. The simplistic cliches you offer have nothing to offer except the as-usual lunge to an all-government solution. My best evidence of your untamed mockery is your belief that Newt Gingrich is a conservative. Excuse me? That alone offers proof you know not what you speak. Your shallow insights, molded by a century of utter failure, simply offer neither sage commentary and only proof that do as you are told to believe. Failure indeed.

    • Newt Gingrich became an extremist the day he proclaimed that, were he president, he would ignore and defy Supreme Court decisions with which he didn’t agree.

    • I don’t wish to get into a discussion on the far-left politics of Newt Gingrich; however, I am surprised you of all people, Susan, would take issue with Newt’s stated view. After all the far-left has stated their ideologic hate and detestation of the Constitution up to and including the current resident of the White House. Strange you would criticize one of your own.

    • John–In order for my other readers to take you seriously, you need to supply some facts to bolster your assertions. Please do tell us about Newt Gingrich’s “far-left” positions. What are they, specifically? Last time I looked Newt was a life-long Republican. And what, specifically, makes you think that the “far left” “hates” the Constitution? What evidence do you have? Discuss away–but with facts, please.

      Please read my “about” page, where I state that I write about politics from an independent perspective. As you know from having subscribed to this blog for several months, I’ve published posts critical of the Democratic Party, too. The analysis I offer in the present post is little different from what is coming out in many quarters (say, in the new book by the non-partisan team of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein). In fact, my assessment is not too different from the point of view of Jeb and Barbara Bush! Would you assail their patriotism and character, too?

      Reverence for the Constitution is important, as is reverence for the tradition of compromise that was essential to its making. The common ground in American politics is large. Let’s keep looking for it! SB

  3. Susan, your lack of knowledge is oft-putting. I didn’t really think I would have to school anyone about political thought processes. Looks as if I am wrong. I’ll end the discussion by simply stating that Newt Gingrich has stated his professed love for single payer healthcare, his undying love for public sector employment and on and on. Just look it up; it’s not that hard. And as far as the Constitution, all you have to do is go study the views of the Progressive movement. Of course, don’t forget the comments by Chris Matthews on Hardball about the Constitution. I won’t do your work for you.

    • One thing is clear: if you’d been on my dissertation committee, I never would have gotten my Ph.D.

      Sounds like you really dislike Newt Gingrich. The good news is, I don’t like him either.

      If you don’t enjoy my blog, feel free to unsubscribe. I can send you the instructions if you like.


  4. I enjoyed reading this post very much. You were very logical in your thinking and in writing this outstanding essay. Yes, the mainstream GOP seem to be in quite a dither in dealing with the extremists who call themselves the GOP too. It is very bad for their party and worse for the nation. Most voters of both parties seem to want the “clock” to be at twelve — in the middle, that is. . . . As for you, Mr. Schaffer—your ideas and thoughts are most extreme. I find your comments to be very wrong and misleading.

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