Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Incredible Shrinking Party

After their resounding defeat in the 2008 general election there was a fairly common consensus that the Republican Party would, of necessity, remake themselves.  A new party would emerge disassociated from the opprobium of the Bush administration and its policies with a recalibrated ideological compass; with upgraded doctrine and technology for the upcoming political battles of the new millenium.

And this internal discussion commenced among Right intellectuals and pundits, including a fair bit of intramural finger-pointing over perceived failures of the Republican party apparatus in general and the McCain campaign in particular.  This debate quickly focussed on the controversial nomination of Sarah Palin as candidate for the vice-presidency, an issue which sharply polarised the respective factions.

Little did they realise that this process would be derailed and abandoned in a scramble by incumbents and aspirants alike to align themselves with a minority, populist movement which has, already, damaged the prospects of the party beyond measure.  The angry, heckling supporters evident in the later stages of the national campaign, the same ones whose shouted epithets the candidates themselves were sometimes obliged to publically disown, have somehow become the Promised Land constituency to which an increasingly broad spectrum of Republican candidates are pitching their policies and oratory.

The debate over the future of the Republican Party has hardly progressed beyond the desperate and defamatory sloganeering of the McCain campaign in its closing weeks.  Apart from the ongoing divide over the perils of Palinism the ideological battle for the ‘soul’ of the Republican party is apparently over and it was aptly summarised recently by Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal:

The history of the modern Republican Party in one sentence: Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller got into an argument and George Wallace won.

Jonathan Rauch – It’s George Wallace’s GOP Now National Journal 27 Feb 10

Instead of resetting the Republican platform to core conservative values they have allowed themselves to be co-opted into settling for a national agenda which appeals to an increasingly incoherent, marginalised and aggrieved minority.

Their gamble, of course, is that the Tea Party anger is reflective of a broader hostility among independents towards the Democratic administration in general and their incumbents in particular and in the short-term economic conditions that will no doubt be the case.  But there are manifest problems with this approach.  Firstly, it assumes that apparent demographic shifts toward Republicans among independents indicate support for current strategy, not just disenchantment with the economy in general.  The map still makes sober reading for Republican strategists:

Nationwide, party support shifted in a slightly more Republican direction in 2009 after a historically strong Democratic year in 2008. Overall, 49% of Americans in 2009 identified as Democrats or said they were independent but leaned to the Democratic Party, while 41% identified as Republicans or were Republican-leaning independents. That 8-point Democratic advantage compares to a 12-point, 52% to 40%, Democratic advantage in 2008.

Thus, even with the reduction in Democratic strength, the party still maintained a solid advantage over the Republicans nationally last year. It follows, then, that most states continued to be Democratic in their political orientation.

Despite the modest shift toward a decreased affiliation with the Democratic Party and an increased affiliation with the Republican Party in 2009 compared to 2008, the United States remained a Democratically oriented nation last year. In all, 33 states and the District of Columbia were either solidly Democratic or leaning Democratic in terms of the political party leanings of their residents. Twelve states were fairly evenly balanced between Democratic and Republican supporters, and 5 states were solidly or leaning Republican.

Jeffrey M Jones – Party ID: Despite GOP Gains, Most States Remain Blue Gallup 1 Feb 10

Reaping windfalls from economic discontent is not a strategy, it is mere opportunism just as likely to be reversed when the economic winds blow more favourably.  It would be imprudent to consider any gains by Republicans in 2010, though they will probably have us believe otherwise, as an affirmation of their party platform, such as it is.  And it spite of the inevitable hand-wringing it is also no reason for the Democrats to revise theirs.  We are winning this thing.

For all the fractious dissent from the Left and our apparent legislative malaise Democrats have strong leadership and a strategy largely based, for better or for worse, on the campaign platforms of the current president.  A retrospective glance at our performance during our years in opposition would tend to confirm this improvement.  And, surely, this is typical and appropriate for an incumbent party but it puts us at an enormous advantage.

Republicans are operating in a virtual leadership vacuum.  A vacuum which invites the intrusive participation of demagoguing non-politicians whom inherited the media bully-pulpit originally intended for the ‘street fighting’ branch of the party.  So who is setting ethical and ideological agendas on behalf of Republicans?  Here’s a disturbing picture from last year:

PRINCETON, NJ — Asked to name the “main person who speaks for the Republican Party today,” Republicans across the country are most likely to name three men: Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Dick Cheney. Democrats are most likely to say Limbaugh speaks for the GOP, followed by Cheney. Both Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly say Barack Obama is the main person who speaks for the Democratic Party…

The responses to the Republican leadership question provide hard evidence that there is in fact a significant leadership vacuum confronting the GOP today. Forty-seven percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents could not come up with a single name in response to the party spokesperson question.

Frank Newport – Limbaugh, Gingrich, Cheney Seen as Speaking for GOP Gallup 10 Jun 09

Current Republican politicians rarely contradict or publicly disavow these spokespersons for fear of losing their ‘core’ constituencies or being publicly called out with partisan calumnies similar to those incessantly slung at their Democratic rivals.  They have tolerated a dragon which has now curled up on their own throne.  The outcome is entirely predictable, here’s Tim Pawlenty, a Republican moderate and presidential aspirant, throwing out some surprisingly red meat:

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty tells the CPAC audience that conservative “can learn a lot” from the Tiger Woods saga, saying they, “…should take a page out of [Tiger’s wife’s] playbook and take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.”

Kyle – Pawlenty: Conservatives Need To Be More Like Elin Nordegren Right Wing Watch 19 Feb 10

Unbelievable?  Surely, but this is the impasse which Republicans have created for themselves.  They are terrified of militant grass-roots primary challenges from a newly empowered, angry minority within their own party which takes its cues from arguably xenophobic and racist shock radio.  They are desperately trying to hold together the increasingly shaky coalition of their lower-to-middle class ‘values voters’ constituencies, on the one hand, and their elite corporate campaign contributors whom have been wringing out enormous profits and lavish bonuses at the expense of the former for decades.  They are without leadership and their demographic prospects are discouraging.  Their moderates, including those whom might actually get elected, are either caving to the militant rhetoric or wisely staying out of the fray while sacrificing essential media exposure.  

They have missed a golden opportunity to reinvent their party in a way that would appeal to independents for a generation, instead of merely an election cycle, and their strategists know it.  The best they can do is prepare to quietly beat off a nomination bid from the likes of Sarah Palin which, if it were successful, could destroy their party altogether; all the while wishing they were half so ‘popular.’  It must suck to be a Republican these days.

It is a sorry mess and it is ironic to note that Roger Ailes and Fox News have probably already done more damage to the future prospects of the national Republican party than any number of Left progressives could ever accomplish.  Jonathan Rauch concludes, emphasis added:

First, with the important exception of race, not one of Wallace’s central themes, from his bristling nationalism and his court-bashing to his anti-intellectualism and his aggressive provincialism, would seem out of place at any major Republican gathering today.

Second, and again leaving race aside, any Republican politician who publicly renounced the Wallace playbook would be finished as a national leader.

Third, by becoming George Wallace’s party, the GOP is abandoning rather than embracing conservatism, and it is thereby mortgaging both its integrity and its political future. Wallaceism was not sufficiently mainstream or coherent to sustain a national party in 1968, and the same is true today.

Jonathan Rauch – It’s George Wallace’s GOP Now National Journal 27 Feb 10

Pity the poor Republicans, grab some popcorn and wish in your hearts for a genuine opposition with some ideological and moral integrity.  Sooner or later we’re gonna’ need them.


  1. As a centrist Independent I am not a sure bet for the Dems at all, but the GOP has driven me several times as far away from them today as I was in Nov 2008.  

    There is absolutely no way you can build a national consensus about being against our nation, and that is what the Tea Party is all about.  I know they would say the opposite, but the basic tenant of their argument is that our government – the consensus we create – is no good and cannot be any good, so all they have to offer is some “follow our minority opinion” alternative that is a basic contradiction of American culture.  Their minority opinion consists of component opinions (like: abandonment of most social services including education; one national religion…) that taken alone are much less popular than the recession-fueled populist  angst they try to embody on the surface, much like the sugar coating of an AIDS virus.  There isn’t anything inside that is nearly as attractive as the thin veneer on the surface.

    It is interesting that only four states are safe from a GOP perspective.  I know that every serious Dem will stress about the light-blue ‘Dem Leaning’ states on that map above, imagine how you would feel if only four states were dark-blue and only one was even light-blue?  Only Alabama is even measurably right of center, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and SC are “too close to call”.  WV is dark blue, for pity’s sake.

    We’ll see how the mid terms go, and Dems still need to govern without having Super Extra Special majorities all the time, but the GOP is still by far the weakest link.

  2. …with the kind of historic analysis and long view you NEVER find in the press these days. That’s why the Moose is, apart from Tiger Wood tittle tattle, a much better resource of understanding US politics than anywhere I can think of.

    The Rauch quotations are fantastic and pithy, especially the George Wallace conclusion. But this must remain one of the more chilling lines of your essay.

    Asked to name the “main person who speaks for the Republican Party today,” Republicans across the country are most likely to name three men: Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Dick Cheney.

    I suppose the bigger question must be… when do the high bankrollers and financiers finally back away from the populist rump. People are constantly citing US corporatism as the problem, on blogs like FDL or Dkos.

    But I remember South Africa. Though their interests might have been venal (in fact most corporations are legally obliged to be venal) business was the key swing constituency that realised there was no long term stability in apartheid, and that the state had to reform, not only to survive, but also to enlarge its number of consumers.

    Whether it’s Chomsky or Klein, it seems to me this obsession with US corporations has blinded to US left to the real dangers threatening the country from the right. They sit in Starbucks, typing away manifestos on their Macs, and sending them via Googlemail, as to how US corporate life is now raping the nation.  

    Business is amoral, not immoral. But the populist tendency would, in religious and cultural terms, set the US back forty years (or perhaps to Prohibition). One day the business community will wake up to this, and abandon the republicans in droves.  

  3. I received this from a conservative mailing list. It’s fairly typical of the type of emails I receive from the Right. Read this and then tell me how we deal with it.

    Chicago-Boss Obama and Democrats’ Unprecedented Attack against American People

    For the first time since the loyalists to King George III and the British army moved against the American colonists and patriots, the US government is moving en masse to both stop and silence any opposition from the American people to Obama and any and all of his and his Marxist-Democrats.

    While watching Thursday’s faux Obama-organized Health Care Summit (planned as a day of photo-ops and sound-bites for Obama’s 2012 campaign), it became clear to me and others that the Democrat leadership had and have no intention of listening to sound arguments against the ObamaCare Death Plan, Cap & Trade or any of the other ulterior-motive clandestine procedures they have planned against We-the-People.

    Not since the first American Revolution War officially began in 1775 has the oppression against We-the-People from an opposition government been so intense and so relentless. Now, for the first time in our history, the majority leadership within the US Government is moving against its own people with increasing alacrity, force and determination. They have told us and continue to shout to us in myriad ways that they will refuse to listen to anything we say unless it is to thank them (our new “masters”) for placing us into bondage and slavery.

    Despite increasingly overwhelming opposition from the American people to Obama’s and the Democrats’ Orwellian plans for us, they are moving even faster and harder to oppress us and shut us up. This is how tyrannies are formed, folks. And we are now firmly smack-dab-in-the-middle of our own.

  4. Shaun Appleby

    Some unctious ‘birthday’ sentiments from the Republican leadership:

    House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement marking the Tea Party anniversary, saying this weekend the movement has reminded lawmakers the American people are the ones really in charge of the country.

    “It’s not enough, however, for Republicans to simply voice respect for what the Tea Partiers are doing, praise their efforts, and participate in their rallies. Republicans must listen to them, stand with them, and walk among them.” Boehner wrote.

    Walk among them?  Sounds like a bit of wishful thinking:

    “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

    2 Corinthians 6:16

    Good luck with that.

  5. Shaun Appleby

    Of how this is potentially playing out is the GOP gubernatorial contest in Texas.  Incumbent Rick Perry, who has gone on record suggesting Texas secede from the United States if health care reform is enacted, origninally faced a challenge from establishment Republican Senator Hutchinson.  Confidently embracing militant rhetoric he looked like easily defeating Hutchinson for the nomination until an even more militant populist candidate, Debra Medina, came out of nowhere from the right and established herself as a possible threat:

    While Perry will likely withstand Medina’s challenge, her candidacy is shifting the Texas GOP even further right. But the state as a whole is moving in the opposite direction, thanks largely to demographic shifts. While John McCain carried Texas in 2008, the State House of Representatives–which had gone whole-hog Republican earlier in the decade–was nearly recaptured by Democrats, who now dominate the state’s fast-growing, rapidly diversifying urban areas. In 2010 the Republicans will probably hold on to Texas. But the internecine war among the tea party crowd is a grim omen for the party’s long-term future. If Rick Perry isn’t right enough for Texas Republicans, they’re headed straight off an ideological cliff.

    Bob Moser – Texas Hold ’em, Tea Party Style The Nation 18 Feb 10

    I’m guessing in the heat of the primary they’re forgetting the actual election.  This potentially plays straight into the hands of Democrats as it did unexpectedly in NY-23.

  6. Charles Lemos

    is raising his profile and my guess is that he will run. If he runs, my sense is that he stands a very good shot at winning the Presidency if he can win the nomination.

    That’s still an open question but he’s the anti-Palin. He’s smart, comes off as sane and reasonable, a solid policy wonk capable of taking on Obama detail for detail (actually, I’d bet on Daniels in a debate), folksy without being fake, elitist without being stand-offish. He’s a less well-off Ross Perot without any of the baggage. This is a guy who turned down an invitation to speak at CPAC even though he was in town for the RGA meeting. He simply said it wasn’t his “thing” and that he prefers to “stay in my lane.”

    I don’t know his social policies very well but on economics he’s a fiscal conservative who walks the walk. I expect the deficit and the economy to be  overriding issues.  On these he really can articulate the conservative position in a very nuanced manner. He doesn’t come off as ideological. In fact, his record proves that he’s not. Indiana’s welfare system had been privatized. It wasn’t working so he brought back under state aegis.

    To be honest, I’ve been looking for kinks in his armour and I can’t find any. Princeton grad, worked for Dick Lugar both during his tenure as mayor of Indianapolis and in the Senate, headed the Hudson Institute, was CEO of Eli Lily and then was Bush’s OMB director before running for Governor of Indiana, his first try for elective office. He was re-elected Governor by 18 points as Obama carried Indiana.  

    As governor, he has balanced budgets (in part because he leased a toll road to a Spanish company) while cutting taxes. No other governor can say that.

    You’re deluding yourselves if you think that the GOP is imploding. The GOP has had this tendency to veer right after losing an election but with Daniels they might be heading to the center. He is a deficit hawk at a time deficits are grabbing attention. There might angle here to attack since he was Bush’s first OMB director. His foreign policy experience is as weak as you might think since he served as Dick Lugar’s Chief of Staff when Lugar was the ranking member or the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Moreover, 2012 is going to center on domestic issues.

    The bigger obstacles are more the intangibles: he’s somewhat shy, prefers old-fashioned one-on-one campaigning to big rallies (in his first run for office, he drove around Indiana in a Winnebago), he’s short (5’7″) and balding so he doesn’t fit the image of a President and outside of Indiana, nobody knows him but the GOP is starting to take notice of what has been a very successful tenure as Governor. I’ve seen five or six articles in the past week touting him including one today in the NYT by Ross Douhat. Daniels also had an op-ed in the WSJ on Indiana HSA. I’m not a fan of HSA because they really don’t help those with chronic conditions but they are hit with the under the 30 crowd.

    And then outside the GOP, Lincoln Chafee up in Rhode Island is toying with the idea of building a centrist party that is fiscally conservative and moderate on social issues. While others (such as David Brooks) are wondering if there isn’t another Ross Perot lurking out there. I can’t think of anyone other than Michael Bloomberg but his stock has dropped somewhat.

    Politics isn’t static, it’s very dynamic. If the economy doesn’t turn, and by that I mean the jobs picture, then Obama is likely in trouble by which I mean beatable with the right candidate. Palin ain’t going to do the trick. Even much of the GOP leadership thinks that she isn’t up to the job (Jeb Bush said she was incurious). But whoever the GOP nominee is, that person is going to come from outside the Beltway. So that rules out John Thune and Congressmen like Duncan Hunter. Paul is 73. The governors seem the better bet. Those Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Gary Johnson (of New Mexico), Rick Perry and Mitch Daniels. Romney has money and experience from the last go around but he’s obnoxious and disliked. Pawlenty too much of a sycophant but perhaps plausible, Gary Johnson is the heir to Ron Paul and Rick Perry should scare the bejesus out of everyone outside.

    I don’t think Huckabee will run. Why give up the FOX News jig? He seems to like it and he’s making money for the first time in his life. Haley Barbour is too much a good ol’ boy with lobbying ties that would drag him down, Jeb Bush has a surname problem, Dick Cheney too old and in poor health not to mention polarizing, Kay Bailey Hutchison is about to lose in Texas and has too much Washington insider to do well, Mark Sanford has a mistress problem, Jon Huntsman is in China. Who else is there? Gates or Petraeus? I doubt either one is interested.

    It’s Pawlenty or Daniels. The former stands little chance. The latter is intriguing because he comes off as sane, principled without being dogmatic, and a heartland boy with Ivy League smarts who has worked in government, ran a think tank, and ran a Fortune 500 company.  He’s also not afraid of being the bearer of bad news.  

    We are about a year out from the campaign for 2012 getting started. In fact, Obama is already getting his campaign up and running. Sort of sad when you think about. We spend too much time campaigning and not enough time governing.

  7. Shaun Appleby

    Of the divisions within the party, this time in regard to the one-man filibuster of Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY):

    One Republican strategist says the division extends outside the Senate, into the conservative movement, where activists are rallying to Bunning’s side while consultants–people paid to get Republicans elected–are advising their candidates to dissociate themselves from the Kentucky senator if and when the issue comes up.

    “I know activists who like this,” the strategist said. “Consultants have told their candidates that if this comes up, be against Bunning.”

    And, indeed, you can find an outpouring of support for Bunning on any number of high-profile conservative websites.

    Brian Beutler – Dems United, Republicans Split, By Bunning Benefits Blockade TPM 2 Mar 10

    So now Democrats have a newsworthy public face for Republican obstructionism, complete with sound-bites, and Republicans are avoiding questions from reporters on the subject.  Nice.

  8. HappyinVT

    obstruction anyway.  Does anyone see the irony in this?

    At least one senator has put a secret hold on the confirmation of openly gay law professor Chai Feldblum and four others to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Comments are closed.