Update on the future of the Republican Party

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $31.65, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

When I last wrote on this topic in July, I compared the various factions within the Republican Party to see which segment was likely to take leadership. The four major groupings I identified were the old style conservatives, the rank-and-file social values base, the Christianists, and the neoconservatives.

At that time I said that while there was no clear winner yet, the first group seemed to be on the outs in the party, the second group seemed to be becoming more vocal, while the third and fourth groups seemed to be lying low for the present, trying to gauge which way the wind was going to blow. I said that a good indicator of the relative strengths of the groups would be the prominence given to them by Fox News.

Since then the picture has sharpened somewhat, and the outlook for the party is not good.

What seems to be happening is that a highly vocal subset of the rank-and-file base, those whom I have called the nutters, seems to be becoming the public face of the party. This group has a visceral opposition to Obama, making wild assertions of him as a fascist and/or socialist and/or communist, has absurd ‘birther’ and ‘deather’ obsessions, and irrational opposition to any health care reform.

As if that wasn’t enough, to the birthers and deathers, you can also add the ‘tenthers’, people who think that the 10th amendment to the US Constitution, which states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”, can be used as a vehicle to block legislation they don’t like.

Ian Millhiser writes that tenther sentiment is not new.

Such retreat to fringe constitutional theories is one of the right’s favorite tactics during times of historic upheaval. The right-wing South justified both secession and the Civil War on the theory that the Constitution is nothing more than a pact between sovereigns that each state is free to leave at will. In the immediate wake of Brown v. Board of Education, 19 senators and 77 representatives endorsed a “Southern Manifesto,” proclaiming — in words echoed by modern-day tenthers — that Brown “encroach[es] on the rights reserved to the States” because the “Constitution does not mention education.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent much of his first term combating a tenther majority on the Supreme Court, which routinely struck down substantial portions of the New Deal.

In their latest incarnation, tenthers argue that “Barack Obama’s health-care reform is forbidden, as is Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.” They don’t stop there. They add that “The federal minimum wage is a crime against state sovereignty; the federal ban on workplace discrimination and whites-only lunch counters is an unlawful encroachment on local businesses.”

This kind of lunacy aimed at turning back the clock on landmark social progress has been actively promoted by the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio and TV talk shows and this hysterical rhetoric has been given huge amounts of publicity, encouraging these groups to think that they represent some kind of mass popular movement when in reality they are on the fringes of the body politic. As a result, this group seems to be influencing the Republican Party well out of proportion to their actual numbers.

Some of the Christianists like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, seem to be moving towards the nutter group, and the resulting coalition threatens to take over the party.

The Republican Party leadership seems to be caught in a bind. Although the nominal leaders in congress are not themselves rabid nutters, it is clear that they are fearful of them and will not say anything that is even mildly critical of the crazy rhetoric they spout. They cannot bring themselves to repudiate this vocal and passionate group and its advocates in the media, but realize at the same to time that to endorse these ideas is to declare themselves to be also nuts.

They have created a monster and don’t know what else to do but cling on to its tail.

Next: What we can learn from the potential candidates for the Republican nomination in 2012.

POST SCRIPT: Mary Travers

The folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary combined wonderful harmony with a lifetime of consistent support for social justice and progressive causes. Mary Travers died recently of leukemia at the age of 72. Here is the group singing one of their big hits If I had a hammer.

In I dig rock and roll music, they poked some good-natured fun at that genre and some of its practitioners.


  1. Paul Jarc says

    In their latest incarnation, tenthers argue that “Barack Obama’s health-care reform is forbidden, as is Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.”

    So then, what is the constitutional basis for these programs? I’m in favor of them, and I’d like them to be legal, but I don’t see how they would be.

  2. says


    The issue of what the tenth amendment allows and disallows has see-sawed back and forth between restrictive and expansive interpretations of what is allowed. But since 1937 when the Supreme Court ruled that Social Security did not violate it, they have been expansive, and thus allowed a wide range of federal actions, many of them under the heading of interstate commerce.

    I am not very knowledgeable about this but a good summary of this history can be seen here.

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