Can Republicans avoid the whirlwind?

Following their election defeat, there has been deep gloom in conservative circles with some suggesting that “America is doomed beyond all hopes of redemption”. This has led to soul searching within the Republican party as to whether it has become “too old, too white, too male”.

The focus has been on how to attract the rising Latino demographic and strategists have been scrambling to get the party to change course, suggesting that it should adopt a softer line on immigration and nominate to national tickets either Latino candidates (like Marco Rubio) or those who are perceived as Latino-friendly (like Jeb Bush who speaks Spanish fluently and whose wife was born in Mexico). Even nativists like Sean Hannity are softening their rhetoric on immigration in the wake of the election loss.

The Republicans can and will gain greater support of minority groups over time but it is not going to be that easy and will not be achieved with a few superficial changes here and there as suggested above. The problem is that the Republicans have poisoned the well of their base with their nativist rhetoric. As this Ted Rall cartoon suggests, it will be hard to get the Republican base to shut up and conceal their dislike for the way ‘the coloreds’ and the ‘womenfolk’ are taking over and ruining ‘their’ country. As Kevin Drum argues, the Republicans have to go far beyond such cosmetic measures to gain traction with the groups they have alienated.

Lightening up on immigration won’t be enough. Like it or not, conservatives are going to need a much more thorough housecleaning if they want to survive in an increasingly diverse future. No more gratuitous ethnic mockery. No more pretense that reverse racism is the real racism. No more suggestions that minorities just want a handout. No more screeching about the incipient threat of Sharia law. No more saturation coverage of the pathetic New Black Panthers. No more complaining that blacks get to use the N word but whites don’t. No more summers of hate on Fox News. No more tolerance for Dinesh D’Souza and his “roots of Obama’s rage” schtick; or for Glenn Beck saying Obama has a “deep-seated hatred of white people”; or for Rush Limbaugh claiming that “Obama’s entire economic program is reparations.” No more jeering at the mere concept of “diversity.” And no more too-clever-by-half attempts to say all this stuff without really saying it, and then pretending to be shocked when you’re called on it. Pretending might make you feel virtuous, but it doesn’t fool anyone and it won’t win you any new supporters.

When it comes to general elections, the Republican base will vote for whoever the Republican nominee is because they have no choice, the way they did with Mitt Romney who had a tough time igniting their passions and only reached that position because he was the last man standing. The problem is that the nominating process requires candidates to run the gauntlet of this base and that filter only lets through those willing to spout extremist reactionary rhetoric.

Remember that the nutty Michele Bachmann won the first contest, the Iowa straw poll, that eliminated the supposedly more moderate Tim Pawlenty, and that at various times we saw Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich all briefly become the party’s darling. Remember too the ferocious reaction that Rick Perry, of all people, got when he tried during a primary debate to defend his state’s policy of offering in-state university tuition rates for the children of undocumented immigrants. He was not only roundly booed, this was seen as dooming his chances for the nomination because it suggested he was soft on immigrants. What did he say that was so appalling to the ears of Republican primary voters?

“If you say that we should not educate children who come into our state for no other reason than that they’ve been brought there through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart. We need to be educating these children, because they will become a drag on our society.”

Yes, that was the horrible sentiment that cooked Perry’s goose. Given that example of a relatively mild concession being seen as disqualifying, it is clear that it will be tricky for Republican candidates to navigate their way through primary elections without inflaming their core group of supporters, especially since Rush Limbaugh and other vocal guardians of ideological purity are still around and still stuck in the past.

The day after the election, Matt Taibbi tuned in to listen to Limbaugh’s analysis of why Republicans lost and what they needed to do and concludes that if Limbaugh is any indication, they face an uphill task.

Similarly, the fact that so many Republicans this week think that all Hispanics care about is amnesty, all women want is abortions (and lots of them) and all teenagers want is to sit on their couches and smoke tons of weed legally, that tells you everything you need to know about the hopeless, anachronistic cluelessness of the modern Republican Party. A lot of these people, believe it or not, would respond positively, or at least with genuine curiosity, to the traditional conservative message of self-reliance and fiscal responsibility.

But modern Republicans will never be able to spread that message effectively, because they have so much of their own collective identity wrapped up in the belief that they’re surrounded by free-loading, job-averse parasites who not only want to smoke weed and have recreational abortions all day long, but want hardworking white Christians like them to pay the tab. Their whole belief system, which is really an endless effort at congratulating themselves for how hard they work compared to everyone else (by the way, the average “illegal,” as Rush calls them, does more real work in 24 hours than people like Rush and me do in a year), is inherently insulting to everyone outside the tent – and you can’t win votes when you’re calling people lazy, stoned moochers.

Of course, the party will change because it has to. Politicians want to win more than they want to be pure and what will be interesting to see is if and how they thread the gap between changing their perception with the rising numbers of young, female, and minority voters while not running afoul of the old, angry, white, male bloc that has served them so well up to now.

Meanwhile the Tea Party has warned that it will not go away quietly into the night. Their analysis of the elections is that Republicans were not conservative enough and have vowed that they will seek to promote more candidates who support its agenda. Of course that is their right and the way the democratic process works. But in the short term it is going to create excruciating problems for the GOP. There is a real risk of a civil war erupting within the party as those with competing strategies seek to gain dominance.

The Republican party leadership is not the first group of politicians to realize that catering to extremists in order to win short-term victories usually results in long-term disasters as those extremists present their bill for services rendered. Political leaders around the world who have tried to use extreme groups to outmaneuver their political opponents have learned this to their regret, though that does not stop seem to stop the next generation from repeating that mistake.

They seem to not pay heed to the sage advice of the prophet Hosea who warned them about this course of action, saying “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”


  1. Jared A says

    It’s baffling to think that there was a time almost a century ago when the republican party was known for its pragmatism.

  2. jamessweet says

    I was just saying to my wife yesterday that I am very hopeful that the GOP will fracture in the next decade. Their present course is simply not sustainable, and as history has shown us (Dixiecrats, anyone?) course changes tend to wreak havoc on political parties.

  3. says

    A century ago?

    Try the 1960s. Nixon, for all his faults, opened China to the west, sought detente with the Soviets, actually had a negotiated settlement in the middle east between Israel and Egypt, created the EPA, and on and on. He would be considered far, far, far to the left of Obama on a lot of current issues.

    Even Bush I was a practical administrator. His problem was reneging on his “read my lips” pledge. The party is still recovering from that, because it’s now a knee-jerk anti-any-tax reaction.

    No. It’s Bush II and the Rovians that started the sharp decline in “conservative thought” to coin a new oxymoron. And fully realized by the far-right Christian Dominionist, racist, anti-everything Tea Party idiots.

    My mother was a life-long Republican and a very smart woman. This time around, she voted for Obama. Why? She didn’t leave the party, the party left her. Left her for the knuckle-dragging mouth breathers.

  4. Jared A says

    I would agree that republican pragmatism extends later in time than 90 years ago. Eisenhower is a good example (I was thinking of Hoover when I wrote that, who I thnk is a rather misunderstood president.) Likewise, the roots of the current state of the republicans goes back further than Rove. Nixon was definitely pragmatic, yet in the same stroke I would argue that his utterly cynical southern strategy laid the groundwork for his fantasy-based ideologically-driven successors.

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