Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Politix Update: The Republican Party's Very Bad Case Of Future Shock

How can Republicans avoid losing the popular vote in 2016 for the sixth time in seven elections when the party is not only increasingly out of step with public opinion but seems determined to look back and not forward? 

Polls show widespread support for increasing the minimum wage.  The Republican Party is opposed.  For a more inclusive immigration policy.  Ditto.  For access to health care.  Ditto.  For addressing climate change.  Ditto.  Against restrictions on abortion.  Ditto.  Against tax breaks for the rich.  Ditto.  And then there's the seismic shift in support for gay rights and same-sex marriage.  Ditto, ditto.

Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll shows that Americans identifying themselves as liberal are at a 23-year high, which makes the reality of "a recalcitrant minority trying to hold off a tolerant majority," as one conservative deep thinker puts it, even more worrisome for Republican moderates who believe that the way back to the White House is to be cognizant of how out of step with the mainstream the party has become and a willingness to become more inclusive.  And, might I suggest, less bigoted.
There is an undercurrent of angst about the state of the GOP in the otherwise happy-face pronouncements of many Republicans in talking about 2016, and it is not difficult to see how the GOP has gotten itself into such a fix:  Its once-vaunted ability to speak with one voice was overrated to begin with, while it is Democrats who have closed ranks, especially on social issues.  The party is attracting young voters (aka those damned Millennials) in droves and they tend to be liberal, and while its solid black and Hispanic bases are not so liberal, they generally are progressive when it comes to those social issues.  
Richard Land, the Evangelical darling of many Republican right wingers and a guy who claims to always have God on speed dial, was unintentionally revealing about the GOP's plight following the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling when he opined that "It's a sad day for the country, and now the battlefield shifts to freedom of conscience."
Republicans of the right-wing and Evangelical persuasions, which is to say the people who have methodically torn down the Big Tent that the GOP once was, have continued to fight the culture wars despite ample evidence that such battling is the political equivalent of hemlock tea.
Jonathan Martin, punditizing in The New York Times about all the recent developments that have gone against the Republican grain, wrote: "Conservatives have, in short order, endured a series of setbacks on ideas that, for some on the right, are definitional: that marriage is between a man and a woman, that Southern heritage and its symbols are to be unambivalently revered and that the federal government should play a limited role in the lives of Americans."
So far so good.
But then Martin posits, minus any real evidence, that while 2015 "could be remembered as a Liberal Spring," this gives the GOP an opening to turn away from lost causes sharply out of step with the public and focus on a more conservative approach on economic issues and national security.
This assumes some things that aren't likely to happen.
* That Republican presidential wannabes now have a grace period to sort out their differences on same-sex marriage, as well as other contentious social issues, since the high court ruled on the third-rail issue six months before the first primary vote is cast.  I just don't see that happening. 
* That a ceasefire will be called in the culture wars, which seems extremely unlikely because the foot soldiers in these wars are not live-and-let-live folks to begin with, co-existence is an alien concept to them, and pluralism is their perceived enemy. 
* That a more conservative approach to an economy that is creating jobs at the healthiest pace in 15 years will really improve things, and better protecting the homeland against jihadists when over half of all domestic terror attacks since 9/11 have been perpetrated by crazy white guys will both be Election Day non-starters.
It sure didn't look like Republicans were out of touch on access to health care when they opposed the Affordable Care Act way back in in 2010.   (Doesn't that seem like ages ago?) But five years later they are. 
The reasons are several and complex, but two predominate:.
* The party's Chicken Little schtick, which included unrelenting chest beating about "death panels" and other dire consequences it claimed Obamacare would wrought, as well as over 50 House votes to repeal it, eventually had a numbing effect.  Then there is my favorite definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
* By the time the Supreme Court weighed in the other day on the federal insurance exchange question, the ACA was providing benefits to millions of people who could not have afforded health care otherwise.  And as history has proven with Social Security and Medicare, once the social safety net expands, it's pretty much impossible to reverse it.
Although members of the GOP asylum like John Boehner and Ted Cruz vow to continue to try to repeal Obamacare, it has suddenly gone poof! as a viable 2016 campaign issue.  That's a good thing for feckless Republicans because they have one fewer indefensible thing to defend against, according to the conventional wisdom, but it still remains fertile ground for Democratic attacks on the eventual Republican nominee. 
I can picture the attack ads already:
(Fill in candidate's name) wanted to take away Uncle Leo's pacemaker and leave Aunt Sue's cancer untreated.  Now he wants to (fill in outrage).
There are historic precedents for a political party being so out of step, but you have to go back a way -- a long way.
Kyle Kondik is managing editor of Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, Sabato being an astute political scientist with an uncannily accurate knack for calling elections.  (He nailed it in 2012, including the number of electoral votes Obama won.)
"You might look at the Whigs in the mid-1800s," Kondik said. "The party was effectively nativist in its outlook, losing votes from immigrants in that timeframe, and it ended up on the wrong side of territorial expansion, at least as history is concerned. The Whigs of course disappeared and re-emerged as the Republicans. But I’m not sure the historical parallels are there, though maybe if the GOP doesn’t start to do better amongst modern immigrant groups (Hispanics, most notably) or continue to improve with white voters, they could have a harder and harder time winning presidential elections."
Chris Christie has muscled his serious bulk into the already overcrowded Republican presidential primary clown car, not merely defying the odds but logic, as well, since he has made an extraordinary mess of New Jersey and his ethical lapses are egregious and many. 
Christie long ago crossed the line from "brash and bold," which he invariably cites as his chief virtue, to "belligerent and obnoxious," which is what a majority of his Garden State constituents will tell you. And he lies a lot.
"Don’t misunderstand me. They all lie," wrote Newark Star-Ledger editorial page editor Tom Moran of politicians in general. "But Christie does it with such audacity, and such frequency, that he stands out."
It's been a tough summer for the Killa From Wasilla and it's barely July.  First Sarah Palin's abstinence-minded daughter, Bristol, fell on a penis and got pregnant.  Then Fox News cancelled the Mama Grizzly's contract.
As one pundit noted, the only thing that makes a Fox News viewer disappear is death, but not so for the conservative network's talking heads.  Palin has been so incomprehensible during recent Fox appearances and has become so irrelevant (I recently called her "a Tea Party carnival sideshow freak") in terms of the national political scene that she had to go.
Bottom line: Palin needed Fox more than Fox needed Palin.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

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