(Editor's Note: Due to a late production error, we were unable to print Politics as Usual in this week's Standard-Times and have made it available online instead. We regret the error.)
The Republican brand is damaged, perhaps hopelessly, not only in Rhode Island but nationwide.
Much the same way as Democrats went off the track in the 1970s by kowtowing to what became known as the “loony left,” the GOP has been taken over the top by its most radical, right-wing fringe – senators and congressmen who say dumb things about rape and pregnancy in defense of their stand on abortion; candidates who pledge to lobbyist Grover Norquist to never raise taxes, ever for any reason whatsoever; leaders who reject science by denying evolution and pooh-poohing global warning.
The tipping point may have come during this year’s presidential primaries when each and every candidate raised his hand to say he would reject any deal that contained a ratio of 10 times spending cuts to one-percent tax increases. At that moment, any rational person would have to conclude that these people and this party have abandoned all semblance of reasonableness.
When the average citizen sees that Republicans flat refuse to lower taxes for the middle and working classes unless millionaires and billionaires are similarly affected, and are willing to see the United States of America’s credit rating suffer for the first time in history because of that, how is that party going to get anywhere in a system based on people voting?
The result is that a seemingly moderate, reasonable man like Mitt Romney can’t win in a presidential election at a time when unemployment is through the roof, the economy is limping along at a pitifully anemic pace and his opponent’s popularity hovers just below the 50 percent mark. The result is that a good, honorable man and proven leader like Brendan Doherty gets beaten in a legitimate landslide by a guy who crashed and burned Providence’s finances when he was mayor and then lied about it just so he could get himself elected to Congress. Doherty lost because Cicilline was able to wrap the albatross of House Republicans around his neck, convincing voters that Doherty would just add one more vote to a majority party that is held hostage by its far right wing. It doesn’t help for individual Republicans to say, “Wait! I’m not like that. I’ll be independent and compromise.” Nobody yelled that louder or more often than Doherty, and he got whipped by 12 points.
Republicans seem to be taking more seriously than ever the late William F. Buckley’s definition that “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling ‘Stop’, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” There is just one problem with that. Politicians can not prevent history from progressing, any more than King Canute could stop the tide from coming in, no matter how forcefully either of them demands it.
And Republicans right now are being inundated by the tide of history moving relentlessly forward, despite the political warning implicit in the second part of Buckley’s quote. President Obama summed that up nicely in the last presidential debate when he told Romney: “When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”
If your party is all about yesterday, you are going to have a tough time getting elected tomorrow.
But Republicans continue to delude themselves, choosing to believe that their liberal enemies everywhere are in league to frustrate their noble aims. For years they used the old canard that “the mainstream media” – recently changed to the more snarly “lamestream media” — were slanting the news to achieve a liberal takeover. This year there was a new one. For the three months before the election, you couldn’t watch Fox news without seeing – every night – some conservative toady like Dick Morris or Karl Rove saying that the polls you were seeing were misleading because the pollsters, silent partners of the Obama conspiracy, were skewing their polls to make Obama look good and Mitt Romney look bad. The polling agencies accomplished this, the conservatives told themselves, by giving too much weight to Democrats and minorities. It turned out that the pollsters assigned, if anything, too little weight to minorities and Democrats, according to the actual election returns.
Minorities, particularly Latinos, are making themselves into a major force in American politics, with each election cycle, they represent a larger and larger share of the electorate.
Yet Republicans and conservatives continue to whistle past the graveyard, convincing each other that despite all their nasty and vicious talk about “illegal aliens” “invading” the country, despite their insistence of “no amnesty,” their demand for more and higher fences along the Mexican border (but curiously, not along the Canadian border) and their tendency to challenge in a primary any Republican who would even suggest any compromise on the immigration issue short of Romney’s “self-deportation,” they think all they have to do is shove Florida Sen. Marco Rubio out to the front of the stage and Hispanics will embrace them as amigos. “Look: we elected a Latino, some of our best friends are Latinos; we’d even let our sister date one.” Latinos are smarter than that; hell, everyone is smarter than that.
Someone on Fox News, I don’t remember who, suggested shortly after the election that, if Romney had only chosen Rubio for veep instead of Paul Ryan – the sainted, budget-cutting Paul Ryan – they could have beaten Obama.
America simply isn’t as conservative as Republicans think it is. No, the electorate does not have an appetite for the loony left, but they know the radical right isn’t any better. Neither party is known for its centrism right now, but the Democrats are closer than the Republicans are by a long shot. Republicans bragged that they were going to win a majority in the U.S. Senate this year; they lost a net two seats.
Until recently, Republicans were seen for decades as “the adults in the room.” They were, back then, just as “too-white, too-male and too-old” as they are accused of being now, but they were looked upon as serious people saying serious things. Now the GOP is the home of the whack-jobs – Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Todd Akin, Alan West, the list goes on and on. And those are just the ones in politics. How about Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Michele Malkin?
Republicans are being taken less and less seriously all the time, and they are their own worst enemies.
Increasingly, they are viewed as being the problem. A few months ago, I recommended you read a book called “It’s Even Worse than You Think” by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, and in it they demonstrate that it is the “party of no that is at fault for the gridlock choking American government.”
For people who believe that for one party to lose all credibility and all ability to get its members elected to office isn’t a serious problem, I offer you five words: The Rhode Island General Assembly.
And yet – AND YET! – Democrats padded their already lopsided majorities in the RI House and RI Senate last Tuesday. There will be just six Republicans in the House in January, a mere five in the Senate, and the RIGOP appears to have absolutely no clue why that happened or what can be done about it.
The Republican brand is becoming more and more toxic by the day, both nationally and in Rhode Island. If you don’t believe me, ask Brendan Doherty.
Jim Baron covers politics and the statehouse in Rhode Island for the Rhode Island Media Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .