Political Animal

Blog

November 16, 2012 4:36 PM Peeling the Onion of Conservative Delusion

By Ed Kilgore

We are far along now into the post-election season that it’s beginning to become possible to sort out Republican reactions to their defeat. It’s like peeling an onion, essentially, since each new layer brings us closer to the fundamental decisions the Right needs to make to fundamentally change its long-term trajectory.

The outer-most layer is simple denial, which means claims that the results were purely the product of ephemeral developments from candidate mistakes to inferior GOTV technology. All these shortcomings could be addressed by means other than any reconsideration of GOP ideology, messaging, and policy positions. Karl Rove wrote a masterpiece of such claims for the Wall Street Journal yesterday, though there are many others, which can easily be spotted via frequent disclaimers that conservatism is in no way to blame.

Next in there is the tweak approach, which means either addressing particular issues remote from core conservative ideological tenets thought to be magic with some voter group, or adjusting messaging to remove the most abrasive elements. It’s no suprise at all that Grove Norquist is in the front lines of those arguing for a relaxation of anti-immigration policies, since (a) he supports this approach anyway, and (b) it distracts attention from the problems that Grover’s own small-government, anti-tax gospel creates for Latino voters, among others.

Then, at a somewhat deeper layer of seriousness, we have conservatives arguing a big change in messaging on economic issues that does not necessarily involve changes in actual issues-positioning. That’s about the only way to interpret Bobby Jindal’s argument that Republicans need to show how conservative policies benefit everyone, or even Ramesh Ponnuru’s much more elaborate diagnosis of the long-term failure of Republicans to identify themselves with middle-class economic aspirations (other than in calling for more fossil-fuel exploitation).

At the center of the onion are the handful of conservatives who aren’t being self-delusional at all, and believe the GOP needs to make serious, substantive concessions to public opinion, particularly on the core issues of the economy and the role of government. Josh Barro (assuming he is still considered a “conservative” after so many bouts of truth-telling) makes this case about as rudely as is possible:

That is the problem with Ramesh’s prescription that Republicans should find “a way to apply conservative principles in ways that offer tangible benefits to most voters.” Any conceivable agenda that is likely to be effective in getting health care, jobs and higher wages in the hands of the American masses will be unconservative, at least on the terms by which most American conservatives define conservatism.

Chait, of all people, is optimistic that many Republicans can break out of both self-delusion and the trap of ideology:

The confluence of Obama’s reelection, the shock of the win born by Republican self-delusion, and the bargaining leverage Obama has compiled are all working together to force an opening for a reformation of the Republican Party of the sort that hasn’t been possible for more than two decades.

I’ll believe it when I see it.

What is often lost in all these discussions is that an awful lot of conservatives would rather lose elections than change. After all, like the Christian Right that makes up a large proportion of the GOP “base,” they’re use to disappointment and often emotionally enjoy a sense of being a besieged, even persecuted, minority. They often view themselves as promoting eternal truths—some would say divinely-ordained truths—that do not stop being true because a presidential candidate loses most of the battleground states. And aside from all the many avenues of self-delusion available to them, some conservative militants understand that winning regularly is less important than winning big once, and overturning the entire liberal policy edifice in one joyful bout of destruction. They came just close enough in 2012 thanks to their conquest of the GOP and imposition of litmus tests on the entire party to keep that dream alive, so long as Republicans are not allowed to “backslide.” And Democrats, MSM observers, and “rational” Republicans should keep that in mind in wondering why so many conservatives can’t seem to read the hand-writing on the wall.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Ronald on November 16, 2012 4:47 PM:

    Exactly.
    You can make vague attempts to appeal to the 'center', but if the base isn't along for the ride, you're betting on a losing horse.

    The far right wing (the 22% who believe that Bush was a great president, Obama is a foreigner, etc) are dead set on their illusion that Romney would have won- if only he was MORE conservative.

    Unless and until that wing starts to weaken, the Republican brand is in trouble.

  • c u n d gulag on November 16, 2012 4:52 PM:

    I'm sorry, but this onion stinks more that the feet of the barefoot Confederates, who were part of Stonewall Jackson's troops.

    They cannot change because their base of 25-30% of lunatics won't let them. At least not without forming a minor 3rd Party, which will do nothing but suck votes away from their candidates.

    They can't choose between 'The Lady or the Tiger," because their base wants them to choose between a Tiger and a cobra - neither of which are winners, once normal people get exposed to them.

    They are in a unique conundrum.
    And I wish them luck getting out of it.
    SINCERELY!
    We need RATIONAL Conservatives, to check us Liberal's from going TOO crazy - if there can be such a thing.

  • Neil B.... on November 16, 2012 5:04 PM:

    It’s like peeling an onion
    It's more like reading the Onion ...

    BTW, is this Bengazi thing going to bleed on? The whole scam that Rice either said it was just a demonstration, or that her actually more developed description deviated from the CIA briefing, is false:
    a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/11/16/1162248/-McCain-s-Rice-rage-would-be-better-directed-at-the-CIA">Kos on [Grumpy McBlame] versus Susan Rice, not to be confused of course with Condi Rice who put forth truly egregious intel errors and paid no price from right-wingers, indeed floated as POTUS option...]

    Note well, copied from there:

    ----------------------------------------------------
    Here's what Rice said:
    ----------------------------------------------------
    ...we'll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions. But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy—

    BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.

    SUSAN RICE: —sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that—in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.
    ----------------------------------------------------
    And here's what the CIA's talking points for Rice said:
    ----------------------------------------------------
    "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.
    ----------------------------------------------------
    Kinda similar, no?
    ---------------------

    Sure, maybe there weren't even much in the way of "spontanous demonstrations" at all, but can anyone imagine that no one involved wasn't at least also aggravated by that execrable film - BTW why isn't there more investigation of *that* fishy as hell little snotball - even if also having the 9/11 anni. in mind or whatever. And BTW McCain, didn't you realize, as S. Rice said, that after a big broad-based civil war, many young fellows *would* have RPGs etc "lying around" - well?

    "Fine minds make fine distinctions."


  • T2 on November 16, 2012 5:10 PM:

    as noted, the connection between the Evangelical Conservatives and the Republican mass is too closely linked to, well, de-link. The GOPers saying "we've got the right message, but the wrong messenger" are completely wrong. Whether they know it or don't, whether they'll admit if they do know it, or not, is really not at issue. Conservative Republicans, made up of racists and Evangelicals for the most part, are WRONG. They are wrong on cultural issues, wrong on foreign policy issues, wrong on financial/monetary issues, wrong on environmental issues and pretty much any other issue you can name. WRONG. It's in the history book, they've been wrong for a long time. And America is not letting that 23% of wrong people run the country any more. plain and simple.

  • T2 on November 16, 2012 5:18 PM:

    and as proof of my comments above - long time hard Right Rep Brian Bilbray (R-CA) of San Diego has LOST his seat to a Dem, joining long time hard Right Rep Dan Lundgren (R-CA) on the "see ya later" list. Great to have these Conservative blow-hards out of government finally.

  • Tomm Undergod on November 16, 2012 5:47 PM:

    Perhaps I have missed it, but have yet to see a demographic breakdown of the electorate in 2016, with a new crop of young first-timers, a shift in the ranks of old white men (and other geezers) dying off and being replaced by potentially less troglodytic and less neophobic new members of the aged sector of the moochocracy, plus less anti-gay crap, four years more of correcting unequal treatment of women, continued secularization, etc. etc.

    But apart from any such changes, it certainly would be nice to think the remnants of traditional conservatives would have begun to fight back against the native-American Fascists, hardline racist diehards, and general Birch Society takeover. Perhaps Sinjin McSame can take his arterioschlerotic bitterness out of the Sabbath gasbag arena and out of the senate as well.

    Of course, granted how the Dums sell out at every opportunity, they may self-destruct as soon as the current lame duck session....

    Meanwhile, it is a mistake to think all that black bag loot bought nothing; it kept the majority of the populace from electing a majority of representatives. That matters. And it also kept national issues over on the right side of the spectrum. Until we establish the notion that US conservatives are playing on the same enlightened social-welfare playing field as other leading nations, they will continue to try to dismantle the entire apparatus of 20th Century governance as illegitimate, right?

  • Bokonon on November 16, 2012 5:50 PM:

    Which one is worse - that the GOP continues hitting the public over the head with the same top-down, inflexible program, or that they give up on 50 percent of the public, decide that they are hopeless, and just retreat into angry I've-got-mine obstructionism?

    I think BOTH of these are going on.

    Just to give one example, my congressman (a Republican) won't even take calls from people that don't agree with the GOP's party line - his staff will actually interrupt, talk over you, and hang up. And if you send my congressman a letter or e-mail, most of the time you don't get an acknowledgement - unless you are supportive of the GOP. But when you DO hear back, you usually just receive GOP policy boilerplate, and he will dismissively tell you that you are an idiot and your viewpoints are wrong.

    I guess in the wingnut thinking of my congressman and his staff, people like me are the problem, and they are going to hold the fortress from us savages and reprobates and looters by any means necessary. No engagement. No surrender. No budging.

  • Bokonon on November 16, 2012 5:53 PM:

    Which one is worse - that the GOP continues hitting the public over the head with the same top-down, inflexible program, or that they give up on 50 percent of the public, decide that they are hopeless, and just retreat into angry I've-got-mine obstructionism?

    I think BOTH of these are going on.

    Just to give one example, my congressman (a Republican) won't even take calls from people that don't agree with the GOP's party line - his staff will actually interrupt, talk over you, and hang up. And if you send my congressman a letter or e-mail, most of the time you don't get an acknowledgement - unless you are supportive of the GOP. But when you get a response, you usually just receive an arrogant recitation of GOP policy boilerplate (in which my congressman will also tell you that you are an idiot and your viewpoints are wrong).

    I guess in the wingnut thinking of my congressman and his staff, people like me are the problem, and they are going to hold the fortress from us savages and reprobates and looters by any means necessary. No engagement. No surrender. No budging. Us dissenters are occupied territory - not constituents.

  • Ashbee on November 16, 2012 6:28 PM:

    I can't understand why the GOP doesn't pick up the mantle of best governing practices and efficient government. In my heart of hearts I seriously think it's because the GOP is beholden to too many diverging camps.

    For example, instead of holding the anti-immigration flag, why not champion for a points based immigration system like most other western nations have? Points are allotted for age, education, profession, etc. It is the most strategic way to go about attract the "right" kind of immigrants and you automatically get the support of huge swaths of the business community.

    But OH, you can't do that without pissing off the church folk who have campaign for family based immigration for the longest. You can't support a sleek, modern military without nixing a few defense contracts and pissing off the military industrial complex.

    So they are stuck and that's the real problem. When in power the GOP can throw bones to everyone under their tent and be all things to all people. However, when you're on the outside of power you need to pick one consistent, tangible message and stick to it. Under the current status quo they can't without alienating a huge chunk of their team members.

    TO ME, this,along with the coming left splinter, is the perfect storm for creating a multiparty system in this country.

  • Peter Principle on November 16, 2012 6:40 PM:

    A really bad analogy: Peeling onions makes you cry. But in this case the onion is crying.

  • John on November 16, 2012 6:53 PM:

    It is not a simple matter of being pragmatic and saying the policies to date have not worked, let's adopt better policies. For decades they have instilled a sense of victimization and emotional attachment in their base to their policies. They can't just change policies, they have to change identities. That will be really hard. How will they ever moderate on abortion or women's rights? The religious right will brook no compromise on these issues. I don't see any good options for them.

    Maybe they could jettison the hard right and reformulate the Republican Party as a centrist coalition of social and economic interests. Certainly in the beginning they wouldn't have a majority, but they could caucus with some conservative Dems on some issues to pass some legislation. In spite of being unhappy maybe the hard right would vote for them anyway, having nowhere else to go. It begs the question of who is in charge and able to set a direction for the party.

  • Gandalf on November 16, 2012 7:18 PM:

    All things die. And the republican party is close to that. They've had their last hurrah if you consider the supreme court will in all likelyhood become more liberal. They couldn't win with unlimited money at their disposal. Their base is getting older and smaller. Their ideas have been prven repeatedly to be without merit(mainly economic i.e. trickle down). Just what is it that they'll use to appeal to a majority of americans? Nothing really because they basically are only an arm of a very small group of wealthy americans.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 16, 2012 7:55 PM:

    Here's the bottom line: conservatism is a failed worldview. End of discussion.

    They are right on absolutely nothing as it pertains to solving the problems of the day.

    Economics: FAIL
    Global warming and science: FAIL
    Immigration: FAIL
    .
    .
    .
    FAIL

    Republicans are an intellectually dead party. Their worldview is completely, utterly, and easily demonstrably wrong. Period.

  • JSF49 on November 16, 2012 8:12 PM:

    Barry Goldwater told the WAPost in 1998 - when he came out in favor of gay rights - that the Repub party was in grave danger of being taken over by religious fanatics. Woops!

    You cant' cure hypocrisy. How can one be for small government, personal responsibility, the sanctity of the family, and on the side of the Constitution and religious freedom and be anti-choice?

  • Quaker in a Basement on November 16, 2012 8:17 PM:

    Well of course Karl Rove says there's no need to reexamine GOP ideology, messaging, or policy positions. The big money boys aren't about to change their world views and Karl still wants their money.

    Karl will give the interface a new look but the underlying product won't change as long as the money flows.

  • beejeez on November 16, 2012 9:23 PM:

    The American Conservative's Daniel Larison has also been an honest voice in the discussion; he's worth checking out.

    Me, I find the GOP's existential moment fascinating. How are they going to satisfy Wall Street, the Tea Partiers, the ultra-Christianists, the relatively sane middle, the growing minority electorate, the flatly racist bloc and the pro-drug anti-war Paulites? None of these groups likes to lose and none of them like to compromise.

    Democrats should move fast and move smart before they find their sea legs.

  • gvahut on November 16, 2012 10:33 PM:

    The Republicans need to realize that their 50% + 1 vote approach in swing states means they have to do a lot better than that to capture enough states for a presidential election victory based on the varying constituencies in those states, because they can't tell radically different stories (i.e., lies) in different places. That means widening the appeal, and effecting fundamental ideological movement, which they appear incapable of doing.

    Given his utter failure, I also kind of wonder if Rove will return again as a Koch sucker in 2016.

  • rdale on November 16, 2012 11:09 PM:

    "The outer-most layer is simple denial, which means claims that the results were purely the product of ephemeral developments from candidate mistakes to inferior GOTV technology." As our newly-elected President said to the Mittbot, "please proceed, republicans!"

  • Ron Byers on November 17, 2012 7:25 AM:

    The problem is there is no media constituency for a "kinder gentler" conservatism. The conservative entertainmnet industry sets the agenda for Republicans and they make all their money pushing hard right ideas to the base. Hell the conservative entertainment industry has abandoned fact based reality (news) for reality show style entertainment--better ratings. As long as Fox is rewarded for inflating its bubble, Republicans will be in a state of decline.

  • MuddyLee on November 17, 2012 10:44 AM:

    Sane people - do not stop fighting for sensible government - the 2012 election is over, the battle with the crazy conservatives goes on - they can still filibuster in the Senate and they have the House majority, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are still on the air and have lots of disciples. 2014 is just around the corner, Citizens United means lots of crazy money will be thrown around. In the meantime try to patronize businesses that are not demonizing Obamacare.

  • SecularAnimist on November 17, 2012 10:50 AM:

    Ed Kilgore wrote: "We are far along now into the post-election season that it’s beginning to become possible to sort out Republican reactions to their defeat ..."

    Are we far enough along that it's beginning to become possible for you to give HALF AS MUCH ATTENTION TO DEMOCRATIC REACTIONS TO THEIR VICTORY that you give to the Republicans?

    Good grief, I can understand why virtually all of the corporate media's post election analysis has been all about the Republicans -- what do the Republicans think, how are the Republicans reacting, what do the Republicans need to do to win next time. That's easy to understand because the corporate media is owned by the same people who own the Republican Party, and it's their job to root for the Republicans, and to ignore, disparage and marginalize the coalition that gave the Democrats an overwhelming victory.

    But what the hell is going on here, on a supposedly progressive blog? Where are the posts about how labor, women's rights groups, environmental protection groups, immigrant rights groups, civil liberties groups and the rest of the Democratic coalition are reacting, and what THEY intend to do to advance their agenda and KEEP winning elections?


  • rrk1 on November 17, 2012 11:11 AM:

    It's only eleven days since the election. The dust hasn't settled. The Rethugs are still in a state of disarray, but they will get it together as they did after the 2008 landslide.

    There isn't going to be much change in their approach. Delegitimize Obama; impeach him, obstruct him, and double down on voter suppression for 2014 and 2016.

    Much of the right wing toxic stew has a very rigid mindset devoid of flexibility or even the thought that it has to modify its positions. These are religious fundamentalists, absolutists, literal interpreters of the Bible. They aren't going anywhere on abortion, homosexuality or same-sex marriage. They want a theocracy. The corporate/1% believe they should rule, or at least be immune from taxation and regulation, and that isn't going to change. The libertarian wing is split between out-and-out anarchists and the Randian greedheads who elevate selfishness to a sacrament - spiced with a big does of social Darwinism. They neither believe in compassion or collective responsibility on any level, yet many of them consider themselves "Christian".

    Holding this fractious bunch together in a 'base' is becoming increasingly difficult, but if the fundis can vote for Mormon Romney, as they did despite the predictions to the contrary, then some evil genius like Rove will find a way to glue them back together for another go. Unlimited money certainly helps.

    The predictions of a smaller, impotent GOP post 2008 never came to pass. This time expect a change in tactics, but not in direction. This dog will learn new tricks, but it will only be another way to steal the steak off the grill.

  • Varecia on November 18, 2012 2:17 AM:

    SecularAnimist: "...Where are the posts about how labor, women's rights groups, environmental protection groups, immigrant rights groups, civil liberties groups and the rest of the Democratic coalition are reacting, and what THEY intend to do to advance their agenda and KEEP winning elections?..."

    Good point. I think the state of the GOP has been pretty well examined in the short time since the election, and I really don't think there's much more that can be gleaned or said about it.

  • Alatea on November 19, 2012 6:21 PM:

    If memory serves, the GOP underwent a similar "crisis" in 2008. Didn't David Brooks write a column about the death of the GOP? There was much moaning and wailing and tearing of garments for a few months - then it was back to business as usual.

    I expect this time will be the same. By March the election will be old history, a new wave of non-reality bases optimism will take old and it will be on to the next election - with an unchanged GOP.