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Mainstreaming the Fringe Backfires on the GOP

I’ve been arguing for the last four years that the Republican party has created a major problem for itself by trying to ride the enthusiasm of the Tea Party movement to electoral success. It’s been a successful strategy, but it has brought the far-right fringe into the mainstream of the party and now the horse they’re trying to ride is bucking them off. Norm Ornstein has noticed the same thing.

The most interesting, and important, dynamic in American politics today is the existential struggle going on in the Republican Party between the establishment and the insurgents—or to be more accurate, between the hard-line bedrock conservatives (there are only trace elements of the old-line center-right bloc, much less moderates) and the radicals…

As for the party leaders, consider some of the things that are now part of the official Texas Republican Party platform, as highlighted by The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg:

  • That the Texas Legislature should “ignore, oppose, refuse, and nullify” federal laws it doesn’t like.
  • That when it comes to “unelected bureaucrats” (meaning, Hertzberg notes, almost the entire federal workforce), Congress should “defund and abolish these positions.”
  • That all federal “enforcement activities” in Texas “must be conducted under the auspices of the county sheriff with jurisdiction in that county.” (That would leave the FBI, air marshals, immigration officials, DEA personnel, and so on subordinate to the Texas versions of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.)
  • That “the Voting Rights Act of 1965, codified and updated in 1973, be repealed and not reauthorized.”
    That the U.S. withdraw from the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank.
  • That governments at all levels should “ignore any plea for money to fund global climate change or ‘climate justice’ initiatives.”
  • That “all adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves, or their minor children, without penalty for refusing a vaccine.
  • That “no level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms.” (Period, no exceptions.)
  • Texas, of course, may be an outlier. But the Maine Republican Party adopted a platform that called for the abolition of the Federal Reserve, called global warming a myth, and demanded an investigation of “collusion between government and industry” in perpetrating that myth. It also called for resistance to “efforts to create a one world government.” And the Benton County, Ark., Republican Party said in its newsletter, “The 2nd Amendment means nothing unless those in power believe you would have no problem simply walking up and shooting them if they got too far out of line and stopped responding as representatives.”

    One might argue that these quotes are highly selective—but they are only a tiny sampling (not a single one from Michele Bachmann, only one from Gohmert!). Importantly, almost none were countered by party officials or legislative leaders, nor were the individuals quoted reprimanded in any way. What used to be widely seen as loony is now broadly accepted or tolerated.

    This is the dilemma that the GOP has found itself in for the last few years. A large portion of their base actually believes this stuff, which prevents them from being able to publicly counter the bullshit. But failure to do so means that everyone else views the Republican party as a bunch of bizarre extremists. The eye of the needle that needs to be threaded here could only be seen with an electron miscroscope.

    Comments

    1. says

      “The eye of the needle that needs to be threaded here could only be seen with an electron microscope”

      So it’s lucky for the GOP that they are so into science … um…

    2. says

      I’m pretty sure once they realized that the extremist are not the majority, we will see a huge shift in their policies to reacquire the moderate majority. And this split of the party is most likely the start, of course it will take years maybe even decades for them to repair their reputation.

    3. roggg says

      I know it would hurt a lot of people so I’m not entirely serious about it, but sometimes I wonder if it would be better if all the crazies actually got their way. Could it possibly hasten progress towards some kind of renaissance? I dont understand why there’s such a strong movement to undercut any kind of functional society but maybe a collapse might be a wake-up call.

    4. Trebuchet says

      Some actual grass roots have snuck into what started out as astroturf. Unfortunately, it’s crabgrass. Or maybe quackgrass.

    5. raven says

      The GOP did create a monster.

      1. But I’m not sure it is a failure.

      2. They control the US house, most of the governorships, and may do OK in the midterm elections.

      Who says their strategy of grabbing the Dark Side and extremism is failing? Just looking at the present and recent past, it’s not. Romney, the Reptilian Shapeshifter only lost by 5 million votes!!!

    6. abb3w says

      I just finished wasting a few minutes of my lunch-break writing a little bit over at the Friendly Atheist about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; this seems another facet of the same sort of question. Societal-level value-orderings of choices seem to emerge from individual value-orderings via some manner of fuzzy clustering. The desire for political influence in emergence of the broader consensus is driving the “mainstream” conservatives to more association with and tolerance of the “whackjob” conservatives.

      This also may have a parallel with Ed’s earlier post on shunning.

    7. jayhawk says

      “That no level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms. (Period, no exceptions.)”

      Start the presses: “Texas Republicans advocate for convicted felons to own and carry firearms!”

    8. says

      Texas, of course, may be an outlier.

      Texas is an outlier. Of Freedom!

       
      Wes Aaron “I’m pretty sure once they realized that the extremist are not the majority, we will see a huge shift in their policies to reacquire the moderate majority.”
      This was decided in Chicken v Egg. To get the Moderates back they need moderate policies, but to get moderate policies they need Moderates to vote in numbers in the inevitable Primaries.

       
      “And this split of the party is most likely the start, of course it will take years maybe even decades for them to repair their reputation.”
      As long as the Establishment still gets its tax cuts, deregulation, and opposition to any policy or bill that gets in the way of their profit, and I can’t stress this enough, there is no split. Sure, they’ll have more and more trouble winning the presidency, but they don’t need the Executive’s veto pen to stop things they don’t like. All they need is one side of the Legislative, to kill bills they don’t like, or poison them when they can’t. And, sure, the 5-4 splits in the Supreme Court go both ways, but when it has to do with business (or labor protections) it generally goes their way, and when it doesn’t (as with Gay Rights, Voting Rights or Liberated Ladyparts) they don’t care.

       
      roggg “I dont understand why there’s such a strong movement to undercut any kind of functional society but maybe a collapse might be a wake-up call.”
      Well, sure, Mad Max is nice to watch, but I’d hardly want to live there.

    9. Mobius says

      That “no level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms.” (Period, no exceptions.)

      So they are saying that there should be no laws prohibiting convicted felons from possessing firearms? After all, “no exceptions”.

    10. John Pieret says

      That the Texas Legislature should “ignore, oppose, refuse, and nullify” federal laws it doesn’t like.

      I think they tried that once before and it didn’t work out too well.

    11. D. C. Sessions says

      I’m pretty sure once they realized that the extremist are not the majority, we will see a huge shift in their policies to reacquire the moderate majority.

      They’re the majority of the primary voters. If a candidate doesn’t get past that gate, nothing else matters.

    12. Moggie says

      That “no level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms.” (Period, no exceptions.)

      Well ok, but I hope parents exercise some common sense. It’d be madness to give a toddler anything bigger than a Glock 26.

    13. says

      •That all federal “enforcement activities” in Texas “must be conducted under the auspices of the county sheriff with jurisdiction in that county.” (That would leave the FBI, air marshals, immigration officials, DEA personnel, and so on subordinate to the Texas versions of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.)

      I can just see some local Barney Fife ordering around a team of FBI agents, telling them how to conduct an investigation, especially if they’re investigating something very technical, like credit card fraud and identity theft. It would be hilarious. Of course, the flip side would be another “Mississippi Burning” scenario were the local sherif is a member of the Klan who murders some libera activits and when the FBI comes down to investigate, he tells them to buzz off.

      I believe the Texas GOP would label that a “feature” of this plan.

    14. laurentweppe says

      I know it would hurt a lot of people so I’m not entirely serious about it, but sometimes I wonder if it would be better if all the crazies actually got their way

      The far-right is not insane: the craziness is a product of their attempt at disguising their lust for power and privileges as populist outrage, but give them control over the state and the first thing they’ll do is giving themselves a monopoly over firepower and force you a gunpoint to accept you new lot as a serf and potential fuck-puppet for the new lordly class.

    15. John Pieret says

      D. C. Sessions @ 12:

      They’re the majority of the primary voters. If a candidate doesn’t get past that gate, nothing else matters.

      That is the trap the Republicans got themselves into. They are fighting back with the establishment wing of the party pouring millions into the primary races and, so far, with some success. Eric Cantor has been the only victim of a teabagger so far this primary season and that probably had more to do with his trying so hard to be a national leader that he didn’t spend enough time in his district pressing the flesh. That strategy, however, is leading to other problems. There is still a lot of rancor among the Mississippi teabaggers over how Thad Cochran won his primary. If the establishment wing freezes the teabaggers out, they could start to sit on their hands or actually form a third party, neither of which would be good for the Republicans.

    16. says

      John Pieret “Eric Cantor has been the only victim of a teabagger so far this primary season and that probably had more to do with his trying so hard to be a national leader that he didn’t spend enough time in his district pressing the flesh.”
      Don’t be so blue. His replacement will inevitably be found impure, and Primaried.

       
      “If the establishment wing freezes the teabaggers out, they could start to sit on their hands or actually form a third party, neither of which would be good for the Republicans.”
      Well, most of them won’t sit on their hands. A dislike of their own party pales beside the hate for the other one. And the ones that do sit on their hands were RINOs all along; agents sent by ACORN, New Black Panthers and the George Soros Conspiracy* to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids!

       
      * I saw The George Soros Conspiracy at the Atrium, back in ’79.

    17. John Pieret says

      the George Soros Conspiracy* to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids!

      No wonder the wingnuts think the 2nd Amendment gives them the right to own nukes. If Jack D. Ripper can do it …

    18. lpetrich says

      I found this interesting: That “all adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves, or their minor children, without penalty for refusing a vaccine.” Right-wing anti-vaxxers?

      Also, That “no level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms.” (Period, no exceptions.) Does this mean that prisoners have a right to have guns while jailed?

    19. Doc Bill says

      Somebody please explain to me why Boehner doesn’t have “The Hammer.” Besides that DeLay is no longer in congress. But why doesn’t Boehner have an enforcer. Isn’t that what the Whip is supposed to do?

      Every time I see Boehner he looks like he’s shaking in his boots. He fidgets, his lips twitch, his eyes shift around and he looks like the Bogey Man is about to pounce. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why Boehner can’t get those knuckleheads into a room and tell them what’s what.

      My God, Boehner, do something! Honey traps, drugs, blackmail, extortion, threats … anything!

      “Hey, Gohmert, nice windows youse gots at your house. Shame anything would happen to them. You know, accident or sumptin’ “

    20. freehand says

      raven: The GOP did create a monster.
      1. But I’m not sure it is a failure.
      2. They control the US house, most of the governorships, and may do OK in the midterm elections.
      Who says their strategy of grabbing the Dark Side and extremism is failing? Just looking at the present and recent past, it’s not. Romney, the Reptilian Shapeshifter only lost by 5 million votes!!!

      .
      Yes, but. They are already nearly maxed out in jerrymandering. Every two years election cycle loses them a half percent or so of support as the oldest of us die off. Plus, they are getting wackier every year. It was a winning strategy, but they now have a losing trend. But we do not, I’m afraid, have time to be patient.

    21. freemage says

      Ipetrich: Oh, yeah, anti-vax is the woo that knows no political bounds, I’m afraid. Leftists hate the fact that vaccines are made by large corporations; right-wingers hate that they are pushed by the government. Never mind the fact that diseases that should’ve been wiped out decades ago are allowed to hunker down and work on evolving into a new and deadlier strain; never mind herd immunity. It’s all about the woo.

    22. ursamajor says

      I am not sure that ever increasing craziness will doom the GOP. In other times and places very often what has stopped the crazy is not rationality but collapse or conquest of the society. My prediction is that they are still several years at least from hitting bottom.

    23. says

      Right-wing anti-vaxxers?

      In spite of stereotypes, anti-vax nonsense appears to be near equally split between left and right. That leaves staunch anti-GMO activism as possibly the only anti-science belief of the contemporary left, but I’m pretty sure we could get the right to turn against GMOs too. Just have Obama endorse them.

    24. D. C. Sessions says

      They are fighting back with the establishment wing of the party pouring millions into the primary races and, so far, with some success.

      Yes, in order to hold onto power they’ve become mad themselves.

      It lets the “principled conservatives” do the only thing that really matters to them: hold onto power. But the price has been to give the barking mad fringe dictate policy.

    25. smrnda says

      ““That no level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms. (Period, no exceptions.)”

      Start the presses: “Texas Republicans advocate for convicted felons to own and carry firearms!””

      I once had a person from Texas tell me that it’s legal for me to have a gun and to open carry in Texas. I am legally blind.

      All said, the problem is when your voting base are idiots, you can’t call them idiots or still get elected, and then an idiot will actually take your place.

    26. dingojack says

      MO – “As long as the Establishment still gets its tax cuts, deregulation, and opposition to any policy or bill that gets in the way of their profit, and I can’t stress this enough, there is no split.”

      I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but corporations (and the 1%) don’t want to live in ‘Mad Max’ world either. Cause when the well-armed proles turn around and see all the goodies the 1% have, and that they don’t, it’s then the shit really hits the fan… (They fear it’ll make Pol Pot look like a pussy-cat).

      Dingo

    27. raven says

      Cause when the well-armed proles turn around and see all the goodies the 1% have, and that they don’t, it’s then the shit really hits the fan… (They fear it’ll make Pol Pot look like a pussy-cat).

      This is true.

      1. In Loonytarian paradises in the third world, one job is always available. Armed security guard. It’s mandatory that you hire gunmen to protect yourself and your stuff.

      Hondorus, a Loonytarian paradise with marked economic inequality, is now the murder capital of the world and desperate parents are throwing their kids at the USA and hoping they make it.

      2. I’ve seen it. One of my old friends for about forever is a daughter of one of the Philippine elites. They employ armed guards a lot, including to protect their rice fields. From what, people stealing rice?

      Most of the family spends most of their time in the USA because it is safe. One of her relatives was assassinated during a dispute with campesinos.

      3. The number of gunmen you employ is a lot. In Ukraine, the ultrarich don’t hire bodyguards. They hire armies. IIRC, the Ukrainian Lrmy had ca. 80,000 troops, the militias of the ultrarich had 20,000 troops. A few guys standing around with Ak-47’s isn’t going to do it.

    28. raven says

      I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but corporations (and the 1%) don’t want to live in ‘Mad Max’ world either.

      Most of them aren’t that self aware. They really focus on the short term and anything beyond a year or so doesn’t exist. The ones who think about it don’t care. They will move offshore when it happens.

      1. When have economic and political elites ever voluntarily given up their power and money?

      They usually give up their heads first to howling mobs.

      2. One of my friends now ex-spouse did that. He made an incredible amount of money during the Bush go-go years as a “hedge fund manager”. Like Romney.

      And like Romney it was probably somewhat, somehow illegal. His money is all way offshore on a Caribbean island and he doesn’t dare come back to the USA. It’s OK, huge money buys a lot and the weather and fishing are great.

      He only sees his kids when they get on an airplane. And he doesn’t have much to do most of the time and drinks constantly. I’m sure the alcohol will shorten his life.

    29. wpjoe says

      @19 “Right-wing anti-vaxxers?”
      I think this has to do with Gardasil, the cervical cancer vaccine that works by preventing infection with some strains of HPV. Some parents worry that vaccination against STIs will cause their children to be more promiscuous. They put this concern above the concern that the women in their lives will die of cancer.

    30. abb3w says

      @30, wpjoe

      I think this has to do with Gardasil, the cervical cancer vaccine that works by preventing infection with some strains of HPV.

      That may be part of it; however, the polling data suggests a more substantive factor is that the autism-vaccine link is about as likely to be believed on the right as on the left.

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