The Gasps of the GOP
by Charles Lemos, Fri Jul 13, 2012 at 08:50:50 PM EDT
Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drums writes that voter id laws are the last gasp of a fading GOP strategy. While I think Kevin's analysis is largely right, I would caution that there is nothing in theory to prevent further restrictions in suffrage nor to employ other tactics that aim at maintaining power. The GOP is at a crucible but it is one of their own making. There has always been a paranoid fringe prone to believe in bizarre conspiracy theories richly spiced with anti-government rhetoric, a fear of some impending catastrophe that actually never materializes, a distrust of the alien and foreign coupled with calls for a nativist redoubt , a sense of betrayal by the powers be thus reinforcing the notion that they and they alone are the keepers of the flames of freedom in American politics beginning with some of the anti-Federalists in 1780s. Patrick Henry was certainly a firebrand and outspoken but one can think of him as the Founding Father of the paranoid set. He declined to attend the Constitutional Convention suggesting that there was a dark movement afoot to establish a monarchy going as far as to demand an investigation.
But this paranoid conspiracy-minded anti-government portion of the American political spectrum has largely been a fringe though in the Vermont of 1830s and 1840s, the anti-Masonic party did capture the state government. And the nativist consumed with alleged Papist plots American Republic Party, better known as the Know Nothing Party, for a brief period in the 1850s won important mayoral contests across the country from Boston to San Francisco while also twice claiming the California governorship. From then in the mid-1850s until the Tea Party of today, the paranoid, conspiracy driven elements remained largely a fringe with minimal electoral success.
The problem for the GOP elite is that in their zeal to win elections in the post New Deal America, they have courted some of the most vitriolic, xenophobic and conspiracy minded elements of the American political landscape. But today's date becomes tomorrow's long-term spouse. In building their electoral coalition, the GOP brought in groups that largely came from the most conservative elements in the South and West. And as they came to rely more and more on this portion of the electorate, the effect was to mainstream the fringe giving clout and providing a electoral vehicle to the delusional.
Over the past half century that has remade the GOP from a national party with a pro-business agenda that accepted the social contract of the New Deal into a party that is increasingly dominant in the more rural regions of the country but moribund in the more urban area. That pro-business agenda is now one steroids and the party now aims to reverse not only the New Deal social contract but the Progressive Era regulatory structure that most Americans take for granted. Since 1960 with only one exception, the GOP after a defeat in a presidential election has nominated an even more conservative candidate in the subsequent election. Only Nixon in 1968 after the Goldwater defeat in 1964 was more to the center. For the GOP, electoral defeat implies a circling of the wagons but as you close that circle you are pushing people out. Hence figures like Bruce Barlett, Jim Jeffords, William Weld, Lincoln Chafee, Loretta Sánchez and Charlie Crist are no longer Republicans. Even among some still nominal Republicans like David Frum and Christine Todd Whitman, there are repeated cries of angst as they see their party self-immolate in the fires of conservative doctrinal purity. But I will quibble with this point that Kevin makes: "They'll also have more and more money on their side, but that's not enough either. After all, there are only so many ad spots available to buy."
Wisconsin, I think, suggests that it is enough. The Tea Party backed Walker outspent his opponent Democratic opponent Tom Barnett by over 8 to 1. According to the Center for Public Integrity, more than $63.5 million had been spent by candidates and independent groups, the overwhelming majority underwritten by out-of-state sources. Another point is that while there are only so many ad spots to buy that implies that those with more money to spend will outbid those with less for available spots. And as they win elections, the GOP will attempt to solidify their control of government by codifying an electoral result into permanent law and hard to undo anti-democratic practices. For the record, we have had in recent memory, Tom Delay's Texas redistricting, the attack on public sector and these voter suppression efforts. It is a coup in steps. Think that can't happen? Look at Hungary now or the fall of the Second French Republic and then get back to me. The belief that the United States is immune to how oligarchic systems operate is to indulge in willful ignorance.