Date: November 08 2012
BOSTON: Where does the Republican Party go in a country that again has affirmed its middle-of-the-road political personality?
Its primary process of selecting a presidential nominee smacked down a frightening queue of ideological hardheads – Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachman and Rick Santorum – but the fundamentalists in its ranks still wield inordinate power and on Tuesday they were the cause of unnecessary self-inflicted wounds.
This was supposed to be the election that Republicans would have won by staying at home – Obama's re-election with the economy in such dire straits was supposedly a democratic impossibility.
But Mitt Romney won back just two states and a couple of seats in the House of Representatives that were traditionally Republican leaning. So much for "take back our country" – it was offered on a platter and they still couldn't take it. By contrast, the Democrats took back two Senate seats and, more importantly, held on to another couple that would have gone to the Republicans had the Tea Party not forced unelectable candidates on the party.
One of the unelectables was Todd "legitimate rape" Akin in Missouri. No sooner had the seat been called than the first dart was fired at Akin by the party's policy chairman, Jason Whitman, who tweeted: "I just want to say a quick thank you to @ToddAkin for helping us lose the senate." Had Romney won the election, he probably would have become a hostage to the radicals.
But having lost, the party now is likely to engage in internal civil war, as it struggles with its policy demons – how to respect a woman's right to make her own health decisions; how to make itself acceptable to the country's huge African-American and Hispanic communities; how to live and work alongside gays and lesbians and to grant them the same citizen rights enjoyed by straights. Above all, to work together as a nation, formulating policies that work towards middle-of-the-road compromises in economic and social policies.
On election night, Ross Douthat of The New York Times, self-described as a "less starry-eyed conservative", wrote: "A weak nominee in many ways, [Romney] was ultimately defeated less by his own limitations as a leader, and more by the fact that his party didn't particularly want to be reinvented, preferring to believe that the rhetoric and positioning of 1980 and 1984 could win again in the America of 2012." But in a purists-v-pragmatists showdown, how can the self-appointed true-believers be cajoled into backtracking from their faith-based absolutes – abortion is killing is murder; homosexuality is depraved, disgusting; Islam is a threat to the fabric of the nation, even when it is "over there".
This calls for painful self-examination, but without it there will be even less chance to win in 2016 and beyond. By some analysis, the burgeoning black and Hispanic communities have reached a political critical mass – the point at which the white electorate shrinks to a level at which the Republicans can no longer be elected has arrived.
Instead of "taking back" the country, this is a party that has to work on accepting the rest of the country. An unnamed Republican strategist was quoted early in the campaign by National Journal, arguing that this was the last contest in which the party could attempt to win on the back of what the Journal described as the "white Anglo vote". "If we lose this election there's only one explanation – demographics," the South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Politico in the days before the poll. "[And] if I hear anyone say it was because Romney wasn't conservative enough I'll go nuts – we're not losing 95 per cent of African Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we're not hard-ass enough."
This point was well made by Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother of the last Republican president, in a magazine interview even before the campaign was over. Likening the party's inability to come to terms with Hispanics to Monty Python's Black Knight, he told New York magazine: "We're competing with ninjas, you know, guys with big, sharp knives, and we have no weapon, and we're playing like we're fighting them, and we get an arm cut off – 'Oh, it's just a flesh wound' – and we're down to the trunk."
But commentators already are warning that the hardliners are unlikely to listen – they still have the numbers in Congress and they are unlikely to heed calls for any kind of compromise, be it in their hawkish foreign policy outlook or in the endless debate on the size and role of government and the national deficit.
The National Interest's Dick Polman wrote on Monday: "[They'll] never admit that President Obama's defense of the role of government might have been persuasive, or that their own rightward lurch had alienated too many voters . . . Instead they'll just hunt for scapegoats." Here, Polman has fun making a serious point by listing their likely suspects – "Hurricane Sandy; Chris Christie; minorities seeking handouts; Chrysler and GM, which got handouts; duh librul mediuh [sic] in general; Nate Silver; Michael Bloomberg; massive voter fraud; Obama's teleprompter; fact-checkers etc, etc." In the hours after defeat those defenders of the ultra-conservative camp did emerge.
Blogging at The Weekly Standard, Fred Barns pushed back at what he predicted would be media demands for party reform, a shift to the centre and social liberalism and acceptance of a lesser American role in the world. He argued: "All that is hogwash, which is why the Republicans are likely to reject it – their ideology is not a problem."
Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, took a swipe at Romney, telling The New York Times that never again should the GOP candidate be "a big government establishment Republican".
"Mitt Romney's loss was the death rattle of the establishment GOP," he said. "Far from signaling a rejection of the Tea Party or grass-roots conservatives, the disaster of 2012 signals the beginning of the battle to take over the Republican Party and the opportunity to establish the GOP as the party of small government constitutional conservatism."
Despite what is likely to be an initial round of "no, no, never" when it comes time to strike some kind of fiscal deal with Obama, such a deal likely can be struck. But immigration is the policy issue some suspect will be a Rubicon-too-far.
Arguing that finding consensus would be tougher, Politico observes: "[Immigration] may be even more illustrative of the internal civil war Republicans seem on the verge of . . . anything that smacks of amnesty will face fierce resistance in the ranks of a GOP caucus that is even more conservative than when the issue was debated in 2007, to sy nothing of the likes of talk radio and cable opponents."
To the extent that immigration is becoming the party's existential threat, the failed presidential nominee and self-styled genius Newt Gingrich told the magazine: "Once we deal with the issue, we'll have a permanent majority for a generation. But until we do, we're permanently in danger of losing."
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