We're going to cruise right past the 2014 election, which I don't believe is going to make much of a difference in the national balance of power, such as it is, to the main event: The 2016 election and the Grand Illusion that the Republican Party will try to pull off again in its uphill fight to reclaim the presidency.
That task is not terribly different than it was in 2012 when the GOP, which had lurched far to the right and away from the electoral mainstream on a host of issues in the preceding years, held its collective nose and acceded to the nomination of Mitt Romney, an empty suit, hapless campaigner and conservative dolled up in moderate drag who, it was hoped, could deceive enough swing voters into believing the party was actually rather mainstream, you know.Successfully foisting the Grand Illusion in 2016 will be substantially more difficult.
Despite Barack Obama's lukewarm popularity and a shameless Republican disinformation campaign that with some success has falsely painted the Affordable Care Act as something akin to the Holocaust, the core curriculum education initiative a Commie plot, the Benghazi attack the most awfulest thing to happen since Pearl Harbor, and global warming a liberal hallucination, the most wretched aspects of today's GOP will have to be locked up in the attic with that proverbial crazy uncle if Hillary Rodham Clinton is to be defeated. These aspects include an aversion to governing and the hard work that entails, infatuation with war, coziness with racism and an utter disdain for Washington helping Americans who lack the kind of essentials (like jobs) that Republican politicians take for granted.
Republicans have plenty going for them -- their own television news network (Fox) and their own court (The Supremes), as well as a depressing number of people who will drink whatever reality-absent Kool Aid the party pours down their throats.
The party's big problem in 2016 is that it doesn't have another Romney. This is because the potential presidential candidates most likely to be appealing to the mainstream are Jeb Bush, who has a surname problem (this despite what some folks naïvely view as Hillary's own surname problem), and Chris Christie, who has a corruption problem (he is so dishonest that he reminds me of an old school big city Democratic power broker and so dumb that he has driven the wealthiest state in the union to the brink of bankruptcy). So, we can forget about either being anointed the GOP standard bearer.
* * * * *Not unlike 2012, this leaves a slew of unelectables, led by right-wing heartthrobs Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. This is because each of these men carry enough negative baggage to make a Sherpa groan, and each in their own way will remind swing voters of how nuttily out of touch the Republican Party has become. This is why moderate party leaders, and there are a few left, are working hard behind the scenes to trip them up.
There is the additional problem that all three men are senators and Congress is held in historically low esteem these days. (The 2016 election could turn history on its ear, but it is worth noting that the last three senators Republicans nominated for president, John McCain, Bob Dole and Barry Goldwater, lost by an average of 282 electoral votes. That is not a typo. Warren Harding was the last Republican senator to be elected president.)
If the party wants to avoid nominating someone from inside the Beltway, there are other Republican governors out there: Take Mary Fallon of Oklahoma (please!) and Rick Perry of Texas, who presumably has brushed up on foreign policy since he bombed so badly in the 2012 primary season and was thrown from the GOP Clown Car by heavyweights (cough, cough) like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
An additional problem few pundits are factoring into the 2016 mix is that virtually all Republicans in Washington -- and governors including Fallon and Perry, as well as Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania -- have bitterly opposed the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid.
A prediction: By 2016, the ACA will be widely accepted as millions of voters and their families benefit from the sea change that is resulting in dramatically increased access to reasonably priced health insurance and the smorgasbord of Republican lies about Obamacare will flutter away in the wind like so many hanging chads. It is a do-nothing Republican's worst nightmare.
* * * * *Speaking of hanging chads, no one -- not Karl Rove or Bill Kristol or the brothers known as the Kochtopus -- could have predicted the mess the Republican Party has gotten itself into as it confronts yet another presidential election season out of step with that electoral mainstream. And deservedly so.
A little history: In 2000, the GOP found itself at a crossroads at the end of Bill Clinton's second term with a slate of presidential wannabees ranging from John McCain and Orrin Hatch, both well respected within the party and without, gadzillionaire Steve Forbes, evangelical Gary Bauer, and wingnut Alan Keyes.
The party faithful nominated George W. Bush because that was the path of least resistance, never mind that he was an uncurious lightweight who had shown no signs of an ability to be presidential as Texas governor. The Supreme Court, of course, gifted Bush the Oval Office and there followed eight years of unmitigated disasters that in turn gifted a Democratic senator by the name of Obama the presidency.
Those first eight years of the new millennium were crucial for the GOP and it blew it. Totally.
Instead of building for the future on a national level -- after all, the time would come when it would run out of Bushes to plant on the White House lawn, and that time has arrived -- it pandered to Christianists and then Tea Partiers while slaying Richard Lugar, Robert Bennett and several other of its most moderate leaders, all arguably presidential timber, at the altar of political purity. And in what one commentator calls the party's "demographic death spiral," it has worked tirelessly to turn off blacks, Latinos and other people of color who happen to be the fastest growing bloc of voters. Then there is the party's woman problem, and I don't mean Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.
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All of this is not to say that Democrats have clear sailing in 2016. Despite a built-in advantage in Electoral College votes, Hillary Clinton does have a problem having nothing to do with her name. That is the fatigue some voters feel after a party has held the White House for two or more terms.
That noted, the big knots that the Republican Party has tied itself in will not be soon undone, perhaps not even for a generation or so, or as long as that nutty uncle is the face of the party. This is a gift to the Democrats that keeps on giving, the first installment being to blow an opportunity to keep the White House in 2008, the second getting steamrolled by Obama in 2012 despite his unpopularity and a crappy economy, and the third in 2016 when it tries and again fails to pull off the Grand Illusion.