The Self-Scrutiny of the GOP
One month after the election, we’re well into the second wave of Republican self-examination, with denial, anger, and depression giving way in some quarters to bargaining and even acceptance. (Of course, there are numerous exceptions.) Thus Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio waxing kinder and gentler this week at a dinner honoring the late quarterback and tax-cutter Jack Kemp, as E.J. Dionne details here. More than easily echoed tactical proposals hurriedly gussied up as strategic redefining—reach out to Hispanics and women, cultivate more candidates of color—some of the current talk on how to save the GOP seems to stem from a deeper examination of what’s really ailing it.
Consider the piece in Tuesday’s New York Times from David Welch, a former research director for the Republican National Committee. He reasonably sounds the call for a new William F. Buckley to resuscitate the mainstream conservatism that once defined the GOP’s pragmatic, establishment character. A good argument to make, particularly when the Bircherism that Buckley beat back has its analog in the “moon-bat pronouncements” (Welch’s characterization) of today’s Tea Party. A couple of weeks earlier, it was Ramesh Ponnuru in the National Review acknowledging that the Republican story of the “heroic entrepreneur stifled by taxes and regulations” just doesn’t resonate. “The ordinary person does not see himself as a great innovator. He, or she, is trying to make a living and support or maybe start a family…. About this person Republicans have had little to say.” Admitting you have a problem (extremism coupled with a disconnect from ordinary Americans) is the first step toward solving it.
But then check out Welch’s proposed inheritors of the Buckley mantle: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Karl Rove. How a scion of wealth, a scourge of unions, and a squanderer of nearly $300 million entrusted with him by wealthy investors to secure the robust financial and regulatory returns an Obama loss would have ensured can together add up to one Buckley is hard to see. And while Rove is supposedly reforming his Super PAC to support more moderate candidates in state and local primaries, don’t forget his role in asserting (as Mark Danner reminds us) modern Republicanism’s right to manipulate the “the reality-based community” by creating “our own reality,” a glimpse of which he memorably revealed to Fox viewers on election night.
Ponnuru abides by reality a little more in ceding that the Republicans’ lone electoral bright spot—retention of the House—dates to the midterm gains of 2010 and subsequent gerrymandering of “congressional districts following that year’s census. What [2012’s] House success demonstrates, in part, is that Republicans can do well when they choose the voters rather than vice versa.”
“Choose the voters.” An interesting way to put it, given the party’s efforts in this election to suppress black, Hispanic, youth, and working-class turnout. In other words, likely Obama voters. Elizabeth Drew details the by-now well-known efforts to take away the Constitutional rights of these citizens, but she also documents the blow-back the Republican party suffered—namely, highly motivated Democratic voters who waited all day (and night) in places like Florida and Ohio to cast their ballots. A canvasser in Virginia is quoted as saying the “suppression efforts were so extreme and visible and outrageous that it made people more determined.”
They were motivated too but what they stood to lose, Drew continues.
Millions of voters had come to see Mitt Romney as a threat to whatever they had achieved. It wasn’t just that he didn’t speak to them, didn’t understand their lives, had nothing to offer them; he was actually campaigning on a program that would benefit economically himself and other wealthy people at their expense.
That it’s a party for the rich is a perception that’s dogged the GOP for a long time; polls on how Americans view Republicans look the same today, a month after the election, as they did in 1953. What’s different is how many of today’s Republicans hold views that might be considered extreme—such as the 49% who believe that ACORN, which disbanded in 2010, stole the 2012 election for Obama, and the 25% who want their state to secede from the union. Welch and Ponnuru (and Rubio and Ryan, if to a lesser extent) are right to confront the uncomfortable facts about the condition of their party. But with the same polling showing a 5 point increase in Democratic identification since election day (to 44%) and a 5 point decrease in Republican identification (to 32%), they may need to move faster in clarifying, and administering, their prescriptions.