Today is Saturday, February 27, 2016
Politics as usual? Not anymore. The Republican Party is in serious trouble and the CNN non-debate the other night illustrated all too uncomfortably just how serious their problems are. The GOP leadership has lost control of their ideals and message to the extent that their Speaker, John Boehner, gave up and resigned, and their more traditional and more electable Republican, Jeb Bush, has left the presidential race, leaving two freshman Senators and a non-politician and former Democrat-turned-obnoxious-foul-mouthed-demagogue in the lead. It is a very sad state of affairs for the Party and it does not bode well for them in the future.
But this is something of their own making and we have seen it coming for at least six or seven years since the Tea Party formed back in February and March of 2009 and the mid-term elections of 2010. At that time, in reaction to the economic collapse and the failures of the G.W. Bush administration that led to the collapse and its policies to try to stop it, fiercely ideological, anti-politics, and anti-Federalism elements within the party attacked the mainstream Republicans and the party leadership, and in coalition with the radical Christian right hijacked the party’s processes and put a stop to ‘politics as usual.’ They allowed no more consensus, no more compromise, no more politics and no more discussion. They dug their heals in and obstructed all political process in the Congress. They blamed ‘government’ and ‘politics as usual’ for the country’s problems, echoing the radical ‘John Bircher’ mentality of the mid-20th century. But then, that mentality has existed in the GOP since the mid-1960s, albeit kept fairly marginalized by party leadership who believed in the political process.
This anti-political element in the GOP started in 1965 in reaction to their 1964 loss to President Johnson and his liberal social and economic agenda. The Vietnam War destroyed Johnson’s presidency, and in 1968, Richard Nixon courted those radical voices in the GOP and in a strategy known as ‘The Southern Strategy’ successfully courted former conservative Southern Democrats who hated Federalism and the new era of civil rights, integration and social equality. Reagan followed the strategy in 1980, but he expanded his base by allowing a radical Christian right-wing a place at the GOP table. Reagan, however, with Party leadership, was able to keep that radical element from exercising too much influence. In anger, the radical Christian right wing devised a strategy of their own to infiltrate local and state political offices, essentially creating a socially conservative Christian political movement throughout the Midwest and the South. Gradually, over the next twenty-plus years they exercised their political muscle well enough to make serious gains in Congress in 2010. Those freshman congressional Christians found an opportunity to attach themselves to the coattails of the new Tea Party who came in at the same time. Their collective status as ‘outsiders’ and their incredible lack of political experience or understanding of politics as the art of consensus and compromise created havoc in Congress and seriously undermined the effectiveness of government. The more ineffective it became, the louder the people screamed for outsiders to come in and fix it.
In addition to this political history, conservative media expressed the same quasi-Christian, anti-politics and anti-Federalism attitudes through Beck, Huckabee, Hannity, Limbaugh, et al, and Fox News with their intense propaganda efforts to attack the political process and denounce ‘consensus and compromise’ as inadequate and a failure in fixing the country’s problems. This added to the din and desire for outsiders to come in and do something.
Much of this is also in reaction to Obama’s election and re-election as the first partly African-American president and an avowed liberal whose policies to address the Bush Administration’s global economic mess were anathema to the new breed of anti-politics and anti-Federalism Republicans. Obama’s election unveiled the barely disguisable neo-Confederate nature of the Tea Party and the new wave of Republicans in Congress and those who supported them. Their insistence on a strict interpretation of the Constitution ‘as it was written and literally meant by the Founders’, their resistance to federal Court rulings regarding American society and social equality, insisting social policy is a Tenth Amendment States’ Rights issue, their rejection of the principle of Judicial Review of existing laws, their view of the Second Amendment as a right to defend themselves against ‘government’, and their view that the Fourteenth Amendment only applies to African-Americans and no one else, are all clear echoes of the Confederacy’s complaints against the federal government in the late 1850s and early 1860s. The old slogans, ‘The South Shall Rise Again’, and ‘Forget, Hell!’ are no longer historical relics of a previous century, but they have become, ironically, yet, in fact, revived sentiments within the GOP since 2008 when Obama was elected.
These anti-politics, anti-Federalism, anti-judicial, quasi-Christian, socially conservative ideals are now dominant among those in Congress, the Party, and among the rank and file. Their confederate, un-American mentality and insistence that outsiders, especially ‘business leaders’ come in and run the country like a corporation instead of a political system, has led to the current state of affairs. And it is, therefore, no surprise that they support someone like Donald Trump. Trump is, perhaps, more apolitical than anti-political, but his refusal to accept consensus and compromise; his direct, often vulgar, retrogressive and bombastic style and rhetoric regarding Hispanics, Muslims, and women appeal to these confederates in the Party. His disdain for politicians and the political process, preferring instead to bully, punch and insult his way through it appeals to the confederate mentality in its frustrated inability to feel heard in a Federal system that doesn’t take a fundamentalist stance on the Constitution and States’ Rights.
And thus, this is where the GOP is today. These anti-politics and anti-Federalist (a.k.a. neo-Confederate) voices are having their day and they have their outsider, champion demagogue in Donald Trump, who uses force and intimidation in order to get himself heard, yet offers nothing of substance to the American people, and he is enough of an egotist and narcissist to enjoy and wallow in the adulation and media attention, whether positive or negative. However, he is probably electable as a presidential candidate should he get the nomination, given their gerrymandered control in the states. Mainstream Republicans will be making a concerted effort to bring him down before the nominating convention this summer, but even if they cannot, the old GOP is no more. Their self-undoing over the last few decades and especially since allowing the Tea Party and radical Christian right to take control will lead again to future failure even if they succeed in November. Trump will not handle well the realities of governing. They are probably facing a future of embarrassment in the face of extreme incompetence and experience, but that’s better than another Democrat, which would be stomach-wrenching for them. They will have to figure out finally who the GOP is and what they really stand for, because if they maintain this ‘anti-politics and anti-Federalist’ ideology, they will not find any traction with the younger generation or the growing racial and ethnic minorities, and they will cease to exist as a political party fading away like the Whigs of old. It is a sad state of affairs.