Thursday, October 01, 2015

Politix Update: Why A Delusional GOP House Thinks It's Reached Political Nirvana

“The reality-based view of the world is obsolete. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. When we act, we create our own reality.” ~ BUSH ADMINISTRATION INSIDER (2004)
The long journey of the elephant was by turns arduous, dangerous and thrilling, but after many advances and many setbacks, it finally has reached what its followers believe to be political nirvana.
The elephant set out on this journey through the darkest depths of the jungle after a movie star turned conservative god had ascended to the throne, and the elephant's might would be undisputed for a decade.  But then the elephant lost its way, a victim of changing political winds and a slick upstart who ascended to the throne and often outplayed the elephant at its own game.  
This eventually passed, and the elephant soon lumbered into an oasis where it was able to forage to its heart's content while waging a bloody war against its foes abroad and a cultural war against its foes at home.  Flush with success, it rewarded the jungle's oligarchs and turned a (very big) deaf ear to the pleas of less fortunate natives.  The elephant even stacked the jungle's highest tribunal to do its bidding.  
But the natives became restless and a young newcomer with a funny name took the throne.  Not to be deterred, the elephant stood in the newcomer's way and threatened to crush him.  Although the newcomer survived, the elephant still got its revenge by packing the jungle assembly with its own followers, but there still was a problem -- an irritating thorn in its foot in the form of one the assembly's biggest leaders, who cried a lot and was insufficiently loyal. 
The leader was thrown over the tallest falls in the jungle, leaving the elephant's followers to revel that they finally had reached political nirvana.  And who would dare dispute such a boast once they saw the welcoming sign over the gilded, vine-entwined gate at journey's end.  It read:
It is obvious that the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party -- which is to say the young, hair-on-fire congressmen that the party welcomed with open arms as the elephant in our fable neared the end of its trek -- has fooled no one but themselves as they frolic in the gardens of Fantasyland and celebrate John Boehner's trip over the falls
If the lunatic fringe's long-term goal is to hang on to the House of Representatives, the vagaries of geography and the party's often underhanded redistricting schemes may make that so for the foreseeable future.  But because there is little overlap in what happens in House races and in the House itself with the quadrennial slugfest known as selecting a Republican presidential nominee, the fringers may well keep the House but most definitely won't have the final say in choosing who that nominee is.
This seems surprising and is somewhat counter intuitive considering the tail-wags-dog clout of the fringers.  But consider that while blue state Republicans (which is to say those typically more sane and more moderate) may be a distinct minority in the House, they still have the delegates and resources to decide who does get the nomination. As Nate Cohn notes in The New York Times, in 2012 there were more Mitt Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago's Cook County than in West Virginia. Overall, the states that voted for President Obama in 2012 hold half of the delegates to the Republican National Convention, which makes it all but impossible for a narcissistic oligarch like Donald Trump or an authoritarian extremist like Ted Cruz to be nominated. 
Then there are the unhappy campers known as Republican evangelicals.
George W. Bush promised them culture war victories in return for their votes, which they delivered en masse in 2000 and 2004, and then in their view reneged on his promises.  Is this a gullible group, or what?  (Perhaps an unquestioning belief in Biblical infallibility will do that to you.)  In fact, it is the view of many evangelicals that the Republican Party has betrayed them, notably the fringers, ever ready to summon cardboard cutouts of God as stage props.  And so you have the amazing sight of not a few evangelicals supporting Trump although he is profoundly hypocritical, foul-mouthed, thrice-married and nonobservant insofar as the God thing
Maybe they believe that God, like Trump, wants them to be rich.
But all that is only the beginning of the hash the lunatic fringe -- which ironically calls itself the Freedom Caucus -- has made out of the GOP's national prospects by believing that it has reached its very own nirvana through obstructing instead of leading, scoring purity points with its followers instead of helping govern, and always overplaying its hand. 
Doing crazy stuff like repeatedly trying to repeal Obamacare (some 50-plus separate votes and counting) and attempting to blow up the government in order to deny Planned Parenthood funding not only doesn't translate into taking back the White House, it makes it substantially more difficult for the eventual nominee, who will be a party establishment moderate like Jeb Bush.  Or perhaps Jeb Bush. 
(Note that the continuing resolution that passed the House on Wednesday only funds the government through December 11, meaning that it will be the fringers themselves who will be waging a War on Christmas as federal workers' paychecks are threatened by a shutdown.)
The inability of the conservative movement -- both realists and delusionists -- to reconcile itself to modern political realities is profound. 
Forget about American exceptionalism. The sense of privilege, whininess and alienation among even movement (old school) conservatives is palpable.  Then there is the stone craziness of the fringers who still have a bad case of the ass over the New Deal some 80 years later, believe in pink ponies, threw Boehner over the falls and are now gunning for Mitch McConnell.  (As it turns out, the Senate majority leader, who has been far more "disloyal" to the fringers than the hapless Boehner ever was, is safe.  This is because McConnell and Republican senators in general see the futility of pointless brinksmanship.) 
Meanwhile, Bush and other establishment moderates will have to kowtow to the fringers and their followers through the long primary season -- something we have seen plenty of already, notably in Iowa -- and then in the run-up to the convention.  And while the eventual nominee will tack hard to the political center as did Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008 in the hope mainstream voters have short memories, the nominee will never be able to completely scrape the unhinged lunatic crud off his wingtips. 
And so the sorry state of a Republican Party that is obdurately stuck in the past, endlessly lurches from crisis to crisis and keeps trying to eat itself  pretty much guarantees a Democratic victory in 2016 regardless whether the House remains Republican and the Senate, as well. 
Consider this daunting obstacle, only one of several, to taking back the White House: Even if the Republican candidate wins the same 59 percent share of the white vote that Romney won in 2012, he would have to win 30 percent of the nonwhite vote to get a popular vote majority.  Romney won a mere 17 percent of that nonwhite vote, which included 8 percent of the black vote.  Given the GOP's unwillingness to reach out to minorities, something that has been amplified to a Janovian primal scream this year, the 2016 standard bearer will be fortunate to do even that well. 
Although I do no anticipate a GOP loss next year of 1964 proportions, some Republicans fear that will happen.  That was the election when Barry Goldwater, a prototype of today's Freedom Caucus lemmings, faced off against President Johnson.  "My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones," Goldwater infamously argued, and his followers actually believed that he would clean LBJ's clock.  Instead, he was drubbed in a 44-state landslide and the president promptly used his new supermajority to push through those twin fringer evils -- Medicare and Medicaid.
If there is a wildcard in all of this, it's not the fabled elephant, it's the Democrats.
Will Hillary Clinton be so weakened by her self-destructive email problems that the party's once formidable lock on the White House might be broken?  I don't think so, but that is the only plausible scenario for a Jeb Bush emerging triumphant.  Despite all the lunatic crud on his wingtips. 

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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