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March 20, 2013 1:27 PM Elephant in the Room

By Ed Kilgore

In his glass-half-full reaction to the RNC’s “2012 autopsy report,” David Frum absolves its authors for their rather conspicuous avoidance of the ideological elephant in the room:

[A]s Reihan Salam has aptly said, the job of developing new and more relevant policies belongs to the policy community and to aspiring candidates, not to the central party organization. That central organization is an umbrella group that must represent all party factions.

Frum goes on, accordingly, to wonder why the report abandoned this reticence when it came to the immigration issue.

But even if you assume that Frum and Salam think there’s a GOP “policy community” beyond themselves and a few others who will come up with “new and more relevant policies” beyond those dictated by “constitutional conservatives,” where do you suppose those “aspiring candidates” are going to come from who are willing to defy the Right’s death grip on the party?

This bugs me especially because it’s an example of a vast difference between the two parties that false-equivalence talk somehow misses. For as long as I can remember, in most parts of the country at least, contested Democratic primaries have featured many candidates proud to call themselves “moderate.” But it’s a rare occurrence in today’s GOP. In fact, I can only think of two successful statewide Republican candidates in competitive primaries since 2008 who chose not to engage in the more-conservative-than-thou competition: Mark Kirk in Illinois and Mitch Snyder in Michigan, both in 2010. And even Kirk felt compelled to spend a good part of his campaign apologizing for his initial support for cap-and-trade legislation in the House. Beyond that, maybe I’m not thinking of one or two other exceptions, but the vast majority of GOP candidates for nominations have insisted they are not just “conservatives,” but “real conservatives,” or “constitutional conservatives,” or in one famous example, “severely conservative.”

And here’s the thing: this uniformity is a relatively recent phenomenon, not just in the Northeast or Midwest, but even in the South and West. The GOP hasn’t just “failed to adjust;” it’s moved hard right.

I can’t help but think of my home state of Georgia in this connection. In 1996, Johnny Isakson, who is now the senior Senator from the state, ran for the Senate and chose to run a radio ad identifying himself as pro-choice. He promptly lost a runoff, and did not make that mistake again. By 2010, in a gubernatorial runoff, the candidate being demonized as insufficiently committed to the cause of outlawing abortion was none other than Karen Handel, soon to become the maximum RTL heroine as the Komen Foundation staff member who spearheaded that group’s disastrous effort to drop its association with Planned Parenthood.

Right now in the runup to the 2014 primary to choose a Republican successor to Isakson’s colleague Saxby Chambliss—who retired after being aggressively targeted for purging as a godless RINO—the jockeying for “most conservative” candidate is sweeping the field, where at least three members of the state’s House delegation are in the early running. You’d think Phil Gingrey, an intense culture warrior with a lifetime 96% rating from the American Conservative Union, would be the “true conservative” in the field. But oh no: he’s a real piker compared to his colleague and fellow physician Paul Broun, the Science Committee member who recently told an audience that evolution and many other scientific tenets he’d learned in school were “lies from the pit of Hell.” And in the end, the “moderate” in the race could be yet another House colleague (and yet another doctor) of these two wacky dudes, Tom Price, who last year threatened to run against John Boehner for Speaker on grounds that the Ohioan had betrayed conservative principles. Price could be saved from the “least conservative” Mark of the Beast, however, if Karen Handel runs. No wonder Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich didn’t seriously consider the race. They’d be hooted off the rostrum as secular socialists.

So with all due respect to Frum and Salam and Douthat and Ponnuru and other serious-minded “reformists” in the GOP ranks, the prevailing issue isn’t talking complacent conservatives into the kind of “move to the center” that normally is the product of two consecutive presidential losses, adverse demographic trends, and abysmal party approval ratings. It’s stopping an even more drastic “plunge to the right” in an environment where Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are becoming maximum GOP stars for arguing that moderation is the party’s problem, and finding candidates to buck the trend is even harder than ignoring the elephant in the room.

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

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on March 20, 2013 1:45 PM:

    Michigan governor Rick Snyder? Or is there a Mitch Snyder whom I'm not finding with a Google search?

  • c u n d gulag on March 20, 2013 1:46 PM:

    Beg to differ, Ed - there's no elephant in the room.

    The elephant's been dead at least 20 years.

    What's in the room, is a mastedon, with the stars and bars across its body, blowing "Dixie" through its trunk.

    They've cannibalized any moderates that were left, and there are NO Republican moderates left - or, at if they still exist, they're no longer viable in this current "Secesh" Republican environment, and have either become Democrats, or are in hiding.

    There is no room anytime soon for the Republican Party to move away from being even further right than they are today, since their nihilistic Manichean base won't let them - and without that base, they feel that they can't win.

    And so, they've painted themselves into the furthest right corner, put-up electrified barbed-wire, and sorrounded themselves with land-mines.
    Sadly, though, no cyanide capsules.

    It's on the fields of Fascism, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and/or homophobia, that they have chosen to do battle.
    And they've decided that if they have to die, they'll die fighting.

    What we need to fear, is the price they'll make everyone who's NOT one of them pay, if somehow or other, they do win.

  • Burr Deming on March 20, 2013 1:46 PM:

    You are right in observing that the GOP is continuing a stampede to the right. I'd like to see you explore why that historically unusual response has taken hold.

    My speculation is that it is technologically driven, it is unstoppable, and that it will eventually eliminate the Republican Party from any national role.

  • Josef K on March 20, 2013 2:11 PM:

    In his glass-half-full reaction to the RNC’s “2012 autopsy report,” David Frum absolves its authors for their rather conspicuous avoidance of the ideological elephant in the room:

    I don't know if this has been noted before here, but isn't an "autopsy" performed when you want to determine the cause of death of something/someone?

    Not that I'd weep many tears if the GOP fractures and collapses into a handful of smaller political parties, but still.

  • Robert on March 20, 2013 3:53 PM:

    About that GOP policy community. If memory serves, the last big thing they came up with Romneycare. Just a thought.

  • mudwall jackson on March 20, 2013 3:59 PM:

    josef k ... for what it's worth

    postmortem:

    an analysis or discussion of an event held soon after it has occurred, esp. in order to determine why it was a failure

    autopsy:

    a postmortem examination ...

  • Yellow dog on March 20, 2013 4:38 PM:

    Mitch Snyder was an advocate for the homeless in DC in the 1980s. Rick Snyder is the current governor of Michigan.

  • schtick on March 20, 2013 7:22 PM:

    There is no conservative/republican party anymore. It is now the teabagger/libertarian party. It's just that they still call it the republican party because they HAVE to or people would leave the party in droves.

  • Rich on March 21, 2013 9:52 AM:

    the report really has been taken far too seriously. This kind of exercise is done so you can say you've looked at the problem. It's a way to "kill" rather than solve a a problem and all though people across the political spectrum do this, it's a particularly Republican tool, going back to the days of technocrats like Hoover and moderates like Eisenhower and Rockefeller.

    The report has prodded some short-term movement on immigration and softened the rhetoric on gay rights, but it's questionable as to whether it will promote fundamental changes in these areas. In the near term, he coercive and well-funded approach of exclusion from voting is more efficient and doesn't threaten their status quo. If the Party can keep being successful with this, change won't be forthcoming.

  • Rabbler on March 21, 2013 12:37 PM:

    When a bus load of moderates goes over a cliff, does it matter what party they were in?

  • smartalek on March 21, 2013 3:22 PM:

    All this is all very well and good.
    But what does it say about our polity, our country, and our future (or lack thereof) that these psychotics, sociopaths, imbeciles, and utter losers are...
    (1): apparently in charge of our federal government
    and
    (B): likely to win the next Congressional election?

  • Ted Frier on March 22, 2013 6:50 AM:

    I went to work for the Republican Party in Massachusetts back in the late 1980s because I did not think it was healthy that Democrats controlled 85% of all offices and that the state might benefit from a more robust two-party politics. In other words, I conceived of sound policy emerging out of a "process" in which "truth" was not fixed but discovered by all parties working together. This is what makes a moderate, in either party, a moderate. Moderation is not a half-way point between extremes on particular issues. It is a preference for "governing" as a learned activity over the mindless application of one-size-fits-all "conservative principles" to every situation. "How" a party thinks is often more important than "what" it thinks," and the GOP has become a "fundamentalist" party that does not permit the sorts of ambiguity in its thinking that distinguishes "moderation" and governing itself.

  • bluestatedon on March 22, 2013 9:48 AM:

    Frum and all the other conservative "thinkers" are studiously avoiding the biggest elephant in the Republican room, and this elephant has shoved the GOP as a whole into a constantly shrinking corner of the room. This elephant has a huge cross branded onto its flank and is carrying a Bible in its trunk.

    Today's Republican Party has become a theocratic party dominated and controlled at the local, state, and national levels by Christianists who believe that the Bible is all you need to direct the affairs of an extremely complex and diverse nation in the 21st century, and should take precedence over the Constitution. It is dominated and controlled by men and women who believe that Adam and Eve had vegetarian dinosaurs for neighbors in the Garden of Eden 5,000 years ago, and that the science of embryology is from the "pit of Hell." It is directed by people who base their fervent opposition to equal rights for people of all sexual identity on the Bible. It is run by people who believe that protecting the environment and all the creatures in it runs counter to the Biblical view that God gave Man dominion over the earth. It is dominated by people who want to destroy the institution of public education because they want all children to attend explicity Christianist private schools.

    It is a political party in which no candidate who openly supports the separation of church and state has no chance whatsoever to get the Republican nomination for statewide or Congressional office. To repeat, the Republican Party is a theocratic party, and in the 21st century this requires such a party to be openly hostile to science and education. In this sense, it has more in common with the Catholic Church of the Counter-Reformation and the Inquisition.

  • adam hickey on April 10, 2013 2:51 PM:

    nt to work for the Republican Party in Massachusetts back in the late 1980s because I did not think it was healthy that Democrats controlled 85% of all offices and that the state might benefit from a more robust two-party politics. In other words, I conceived of sound policy emerging out of a "process" in which "truth" was not fixed but discovered by all parties working together. This is what makes a moderate, in either party, a moderate. Moderation is not a half-way point between extremes on particular issues. It is a preference for "governing" as a learned activity over the mindless application of one-size-fits-all "conservative principles" to every situation. "How" a party thinks is often more important than "what" it thinks," and the GOP has become a "fundamentalist" party that does not permit the sorts of ambiguity in its thinking that distinguishes "moderation" and governing itself.