Friday, February 15, 2013

More on the continuing viability of the Republican Party

Elizabeth Drew usually doesn't stray far from the Beltway Village consensus. But she still does some solid reporting.

Her NYR Blog piece, Are the Republicans Beyond Saving? 02/11/2013, does a good job of summing up the arguments around that question. She reminds us that the current Republican search for a brand re-tooling is most immediately a result of the 2012 election:

The Republican Party is having its own form of PTSD. According to one of the most respected party elders the Republicans firmly believed that the voters would reject Barack Obama for a second term and deliver the Senate back into their hands. Wishful thinking combined with erroneous polling assumptions left them totally unprepared for the thumping loss they sustained and they are still in something of a state of shock. "They’re still close in time to that event," the party elder said. "You need to keep that in mind. Right now they’re groping around in a dark room."
Apparently, the "party elder" required anonymity to make this observation.

She's rightfully skeptical of the Republicans' commitment to immigration reform:

The immigration issue is also caught up in presidential politics. Florida freshman senator Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions have been obvious as he has rocketed to fame within a few months of hitting Washington. Rubio's eagerness to have a starring role on immigration has been welcomed by Republican leaders as a sign of their newfound sympathy for Hispanics, but he will have to negotiate a tricky course on the issue of border security. He has promised conservatives that he will insist that southwestern governors be given a veto on whether the border between the US and Mexico is sufficiently impenetrable before other immigration reforms can go forward. But Charles Schumer of New York, speaking for the Senate Democrats, says there will be no such trigger.

Thus far Rubio has been engaged in the positive if somewhat risky task of proselytizing fellow Republicans to his view that the party must be more open toward illegal immigrants and their families, but he can go only so far to satisfy their needs, and in the end he will have to decide whether he prefers a bill or a campaign issue.
This is her most important point:

The focus on the somewhat hoked-up drama of the serial crises about funding the government has has tended to obscure the more fundamental point: the Republicans are succeeding in pushing the president toward precisely the wrong economic policy for a nation still coming out of a severe recession. The Washington debate is dominated by the argument — based more on ideology than on history and seeming ignorance of the fate of European nations that have blundered into ruinous austerity programs — that the most urgent thing to be done is to cut spending. That proposition has become such a truism that neither the president nor a significant number of elected Democrats are willing to publicly challenge it.

Americans who long for a group of moderate Republicans with whom a Democratic president might deal — Bill Clinton enjoyed such help if he didn’t always use it wisely (and thus failed to pass a health care bill) — are in for a disappointment. That Republican Party is gone and the base of the party isn't going to permit its return, at least not for the foreseeable future. If anything, the party lines are hardening. The Republican leaders are desperately trying to make sure that the kinds of nutcases that have received nominations for Senate seats in the last two elections, at the expense of more reasonable candidates, only to go on to lose what were likely Republican seats, will no longer jeopardize their party’s fortunes.[my emphasis]
They punked the Democrats once again over the filibuster, rendering it much more difficult for the Dems to use their majority in the Senate to best advantage. And the signs of this supposed kinder, gentler approach on the part of some Republicans are hard to see.

And we shouldn't assume that the Republicans look at the results of the 2012 election with complete despair. On the contrary, lots of things went their way, as Bob Moser explains in What Democracy Lost in 2012 The American Prospect 01/28/2013. Big money under the Citizens United rules had a big effect. As Moser writes:

While more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans in House races overall, the GOP scored its second-largest majority in 60 years. Many of those victories were made possible by gerrymandering, but money was clearly a factor: House Republicans outraised their Democratic counterparts by a sizable margin, and far more dark money was behind conservative candidates. The same was true in state races, where large infusions of cash can overwhelm the opposition, and where Republicans also spent considerably more. After the votes were tallied, Republicans controlled 28 state houses, 30 state senates, and 30 governorships. Although conservative groups’ attempts to purchase control of state supreme courts failed in some cases, they worked wonders in others. In North Carolina, one outside group alone threw $1.9 million behind conservative judge Paul Newby, whose narrow victory over Judge Sam Ervin—grandson of the Democratic senator who led the Watergate committee—gave conservatives a 4-3 majority on the court.
Democratic and progressive complacency about the Republican Party's viability is not only unwarrented but reckless.


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