Why are nutters taking over 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 $25.16, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

The previous three posts have pointed out that the Republican Party is becoming more and more identified with the nutters, which consists of a coalition of birthers, deathers, tenthers, and Christianists. You can now add to that list the ‘foppers’ (standing for ‘frightened old people’) who seem to have bought into the notion that health care reform is part of some kind of secret agenda specifically aimed at harming the elderly. The comic strip Doonesbury has a nice series of six cartoons (beginning on September 21) on the foppers.

These groups are driving out from the Republican Party the old style conservatives who, whatever their politics, are reality-based and cannot believe that their party is being taken over by people who seem to be almost unhinged.

How did this come about?

When one observes these nutters in action at raucous town hall meetings, teabagger events, and the recent rally in Washington, it becomes clear that this phenomenon seems to be the product of a sense of inchoate and impotent rage, prodded from behind the scenes by those who want to oppose any Obama initiative. The nutters are really angry and, like wounded bulls, whirl around blindly seeking any target to gore. I think the rage is fuelled by the growing realization that they have lost the battle on many of the issues they hold dear.

One of those issues is homosexuality. I think it should be clear to anyone that the anti-gay movement is in its last throes. Equal rights for homosexuals is, I predict, at most a decade away. The corpse of the anti-gay forces may twitch occasionally and win an occasional battle here and there, but that is it. Discrimination against gays on a personal level will continue for some time because of religious bigotry but institutional barriers to equality will disappear. I think what happened in Iowa is telling. Gays were allowed to marry and the sky did not fall. Life went on as before.

Just yesterday the city of Cleveland (located in the state of Ohio which has a reputation for being socially conservative) proudly announced that they had won the rights to host the international Gay Games in 2014, beating out Boston and Washington, DC. The mayor Frank Jackson said that the city “is prepared to roll out the welcome mat to the LGBT athletes, their families and spectators from around the world. Fans of the Gay Games will find that Cleveland is a great place to celebrate sports and culture and that we have tremendous assets and amenities for them to enjoy.”

More and more young people, even the children of homophobes, simply don’t see why homosexuality is a problem or why gay people should not be left alone to marry or adopt children or simply be allowed to live their lives like any other person. People are realizing that gays are just like other people. Once your attempts to demonize an out-group fails, your war against them also fails because people won’t want to join your crusade.

The other issue that is driving the nutters batty is abortion. The power of the anti-abortion forces reached its peak between 2000 and 2006 when all the forces were aligned in their favor. George W. Bush was president, the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court was definitely conservative. And yet, abortion was not outlawed and only small additional restrictions were placed on it. This caused some frustration in the rank-and-file base of the Republican Party, which felt that their leadership had not pushed hard enough for their agenda. They realize that their time has passed and there are unlikely to be any advances by the anti-abortion movement in the near future.

But the final straw was the 2008 elections when they lost the White House and got trounced in both houses of Congress. If there is one thing that is clear it is that Obama drubbed McCain in the election, fair and square. So why is there this grasping at straws by the nutters that his presidency is not legitimate?

From the peak of power in 2006 to being completely out in 2008 is a steep drop. It is this sudden descent into political impotence that I think is driving this group of people in the Republican Party into the arms of those who warm that dark forces are at work, destroying the country from within. They cannot believe that they have lost so much power and influence so soon, and they suspect sinister elements at work behind the scenes. Hence the charges aimed at challenging Obama’s legitimacy as president and the strange calls that they want to “take back our country”. The phrasing ‘our country’ is telling, implying that he is some kind of usurper.

Is racism at work here? Former president Jimmy Carter seems to think so.

In the next post, I will examine that charge.

POST SCRIPT: Leave Aetna and Cigna alone!

Will Ferrell and a host of other actors speak out for the real victims of health care reform: the beleaguered insurance company executives.


  1. KuraL says


    The GOP is today in the grip of raving mobs also because of the way some of its cheerleaders have driven schooled the mobs. One of the “deep thinkers” of the reactionaries, that scholar Jonah Goldberg differentiates the GOP from the Democrats as follows. The GOP is a coalition of ideology, while the Democrats follow the principle of “ideology of coalitions”. To become a GOPer you must subscribe to a few (Jonah even lists them helpfully) tenets, unshaken. To become a Democrat it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are willing to pool your resources to achieve certain ends. Apart from the fact that Jonah’s ideas are a joke -- even for a GOPer -- this is silly in so many different ways. Of course the Democratic party hosts NRA members, and the GOPers do host pro-choicers. But what is sadly happening is that the GOP is now in the grip of mobs that subscribe to those tenets on Jonah’s list taking them to be a creed. And once ideas become a creed, intolerance follows.

  2. Jared says


    I think your description of what drives the nutters in the Republican party is spot on.

    I might add that I think the reason that they are taking over is a historical one, and is actually the result of a consistent strategy from the Republicans for decades that has finally backfired.

    I know that the following narrative tends to oversimplify, but I think that it is more or less accurate.

    Demonizing your opponent has always been common in politics, but more than any president before him, Nixon knew how to use backlash politics for his benefit. He did this by fostering resentment against his political enemies in the populace at large. He really knew how to then take this fomented rage and direct it to getting people to side with him. It is a cynical strategy, but more importantly it is a short-term strategy. It wasn’t about getting people to side with your ideology, but to make people feel that the ideology of his opponents was irreconcilable.

    However, even though it is a short term strategy, every successful Republican candidate since (at least for president) has used backlash politics as a major tool. It especially had a resurgence with Newt Gingrich’s rise to power in ’94 and then with Karl Rove and Bush ’43 in the 2000 and 2004 elections. FOX News has also stoked the fire and made a business out of it.

    Yet, the entire point of backlash politics is that it is cynical. The problem is that while you can sideline them, you can’t directly call out the “true believers”. This means that while most of the leaders are cynical, some real crazies could be in there, too. We know Rove and Cheney are cynical and I that think Bush is, too. Certainly Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are cynical, and probably Bill O’Reilly.

    But this has been going on for decades. I think finally what has happened, especially with the Bush-era bliz, is that the nutters are finally outnumbering the “puppeteers”. They reached critical-nutter mass.

    When the GOP’s bubble inevitably popped these people weren’t going to back down and wait for the cycle to progress like the leadership. The resulting split is what is driving the “old style” conservatives out, but they helped create this monster.


  3. says

    KuraL and Jared,

    I think both of you make very valid points.

    Cynical politicians always overestimate their own cleverness in using this kind of politics. They think they can loosen the leash on the beast to attack their opponents, and then rein them in once they have served their purpose. But what happens is that the beast becomes too strong and breaks free from the leash and runs wild.

    This is indeed Nixon’s “Southern strategy” coming home to roost.

  4. Jeffrey Quick says

    The teabaggers aren’t trying to take over the GOP. The GOP is trying to take over the teabaggers. And some at least aren’t having it. Anyone voting for a Democrat or a Republican is voting for the status quo, and that is no longer acceptable.

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