Forgive me for indulging in some schadenfreude

Almost from the moment that Sarah Palin was selected by John McCain as his running mate in 2008 and I saw how the crazies in the party seized upon her as one of them, I warned that this was a turning point for the Republican party and that McCain would bear the responsibility for creating a monster that would threaten to devour the party. As I wrote back in September 3, 2008:

I think that this decision is going to haunt McCain. His and her ardent supporters are trying to put on a good face and saying that this move is a ‘game changer’. I think they are right but not in a good way for him. It risks changing a narrow race into a blowout victory for Obama.

And so it proved. Shortly after the 2008 election, I wrote that by selecting Palin, McCain had opened a Pandora’s box that he would regret.

But in many ways, McCain’s choice of Palin will do a lot more harm to the Republicans that Lieberman did to the Democrats, even though the latter actually campaigned against the Democratic candidate and provided cover for some of the most despicable allegations made against Obama. In the end, Lieberman represents just himself, a voting bloc of one, and will eventually disappear, most likely losing his next senatorial election in 2012.

But Palin does represent a large constituency that will not go away even in the event that she does, and this group has been newly energized by the Palin selection and their claim to power is what is going to cause problems.

McCain belongs more to the old-style conservative Republican wing of the party, does not seem particularly religious or enamored of the religion-based agenda of the social values bloc, and he probably saw that bloc in the subservient role it has traditionally played, which is to mainly turn up on election day. It is very likely that when McCain selected Palin, he saw her as bringing female and outsider and youth and energy credentials to the ticket, nothing more.

I think it is now obvious that the vetting of Palin prior to her selection to be McCain’s running mate was cursory to the point of being almost non-existent. I am almost certain that he did not realize that the elevation of Palin would open a Pandora’s box of expectations of the social values bloc of his party and did not anticipate the outpouring of religious fervor that would accompany her selection. For the first time, the religious base has had one of them be part of the top leadership. Now that they have got so close to the driver’s seat, they are not going to return to the back of the bus. I think they will insist on a true believer as the next leader of the party.

This is where the battle lines are going to be drawn within the Republican party. What is happening now is that the culture wars that were used in the fights against Democrats is becoming a weapon to be used within the Republican Party, to determine who the ‘real Republicans’ are. The Southern strategy tactics of dividing the country on cultural issues that worked so well for the Republicans on the national level for nearly four decades, has now suddenly turned in on itself and is being used to divide up the party internally in order to see who will lead it and in what direction it will go.

Now Steve Schmidt, McCain’s campaign manager seems to realize the gravity of what he has done, saying that he regrets creating a “freak show” wing of the party by pushing for Palin. He says that the party should stand up to the “asininity” that she and others represent.

Good luck with that, Steve. You can draw a straight line from Palin through the Tea Party to Ted Cruz. The only question is whether that line turns around, stops there, or goes right towards the cliff.

My bet is on the last one until the party gets a major shellacking.

This short scene from the film Game Change with Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson) and Palin (Julianne More) captures the dynamic at play.


  1. Trebuchet says

    Unfortunately, Palin’s 15 minutes of fame lasted through 2009 and 2010, when she was able to parlay her opposition of Obama’s ill-timed push for health care reform into a massive Republican victory in the House of Representatives and, more importantly, in state legislatures. Those legislatures, in turn, were able to use their redistricting power, as required after the 2010 census, to gerrymander Republicans into control of the house and of those same state legislatures for years to come.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    The decent Republicans (if that isn’t an oxymoron by now) should split off and form a new party. The GOP is beyond all hope of redemption, IMO.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Schmidt’s just playing with scapegoatery if he blames Palin for the current meltdown.

    The Repubs laid their bed in three stages:
    • Nixon’s “southern strategy” exploited the backlash against civil rights to bring in the racists and rednecks;
    • Reagan’s cultivation of Falwell & his “moral majority” brought in the bible-bangers;
    • Karl Rove’s quandary in 2000 resulted, inevitably, in mobilizing the hateful-goober vote.

    Palin (reportedly forced on McCain by the hyperchristian faction) was just the shit-mint on the pillow.

  4. says

    I’m pretty sure they already have: how else would you explain the rightward lurch of the Dems in recent years?

    What I would like to see is actual liberals abandon the Democratic party and form something that actually represents liberal values, rather than the sugar-coated corporatism that the party holds to now.

  5. Jeffrey Johnson says

    By empowering the loud angry and ignorant populist base of the GOP, the Tea Party/Palin phenomenon does seem to have created a circular firing squad scenario over the struggle for control of the Republican Party.

    I don’t think the choice of Palin actually created that base. Perhaps it did something to legitimize whack jobs by putting a whack job in line to be one heart beat away from the Presidency. So we could say the choice of Palin was like a spark that ignited the already dry and flammable tinder.

    There are so many other factors at work here: the growing dominance of the evangelical religious conservatives, the migration of the Dixiecrats of the south to the GOP, the white anxiety over the specter of becoming a minority of the American public, the financial crisis and panic over the fact that, as a result of plunging employment and policies already in place prior to 2008, deficits expanded without the help of any President to over a trillion dollars, and add to that the fact that a black man was made Comander-in-Chief. A perfect storm of panic and fear that brought the crazies out of the woodwork because they thought they and only they had the good sense to do something about the disasters that only they could see. This is the classic pseudo-conservative paranoid style so well described back in the 60s by Richard Hofstadter. Back then it was communism and civil rights that drove the panic. Today you can substitute terror and Islam and a complicated changing world in which the US must adapt its policies to the rest of the world and in which white Christians are a shrinking majority, soon to be a minority.

  6. Guess Who? says

    That clip was well-picked. Palin is a willful liar, a grifter, and talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk of a Christian. She’s a bully who uses others as human shields to protect her from her own wrong-doing. No wonder the right love her so.

  7. Mano Singham says

    I agree that Palin did not create that base, whose origins go back many decades. But her elevation to running mate gave them a sense of empowerment and a feeling that they were the only true Republicans that they did not have before. None of the previous Republican presidential or vice-presidential nominees came close to representing the people she represented. She was the first real outsider from the Republican establishment and that is the significance. As a result Romney was forced to choose someone like Paul Ryan and the next time they may not be satisfied with even the VP slot.

    Let’s see how this plays out …

  8. Jeffrey Johnson says

    Obama’s ill-timed push for health care reform

    Ill-timed? If not then, when?

    I think people imagine it was ill-timed because there was a lot going on in the economy, and they think somehow the ACA is “budget-busting”. It is not, as many have claimed, as if the President took his eye off the economy because of the ACA. The ARRA stimulus had three years worth of spending, and after that public opposition to more stimulus was driven to a fury by Republican fear and loathing. Everything the President tried or might have tried to create jobs was actively blocked by the Republicans starting in 2011.

    But there are many ways in which the ACA is the most fiscally prudent legislation in a long time. Way more so than the Bush tax cuts, or any other legislation passed under the Bush administration. And more fiscally prudent than taking whacks at government spending during a period with a massive gap in real and potential economic output, as Republican governors and the austerians have forced with their downsizing, tax cutting, and debt limit hostage taking. The net effect of a long term decrease in the rate of health care spending growth is the single biggest positive impact on our projected long term fiscal deficit of any legislative action taken during the Obama administration or Bush administration combined.

    And politically, it was then or never. There is a chance that not doing health care then just might have avoided the “shellacking” of 2010. But most of the younger liberal voters who voted for Obama in 2008 sat out in 2010, and many independents were freaked out by the deficits. A lot of liberals were pissed off about not having the public option or single payer (I was, but I didn’t blame the President for that. He couldn’t wave a magic wand.). Imagine the reasons for not voting they might have dreamed up if there had been absolutely no health care reform? Republicans successfully used the deficits to portray Obama as a big spender, even though that is one of the biggest lies of the last decade. Republicans have done a masterful job of intentionally creating fear, confusion, and uncertainty with their blatantly dishonest rhetoric. So even without the ACA, the Republicans were likely to have taken the House. After 2010, no health care reform would have been possible, except for something far weaker than the ACA, some trivial GOP patch to the existing system that would have done nothing to expand coverage to 30 million new Americans.

  9. Jeffrey Johnson says

    The rightward shift in the Democrats started after Reagan wiped them out. Clinton formalized it. Obama has moved the Democrats, believe it or not, to the left.

  10. Jeffrey Johnson says

    I think that’s exactly right.

    It was people with long simmering resentments, which they kept quiet about, who suddenly saw one of themselves on the national stage, and for the first time they dared imagine they had something important to add to our political dialog. Perhaps in some strange way, in the long run, its good for the country to get that festering sore out into the open air, so it can slowly be desanitized.

  11. Trebuchet says

    Ill-timed? If not then, when?

    Dunno, and I can’t really argue with anything you say. I just remember getting very nervous when health care came to the top of the agenda in 2009, remembering the same thing happening in 1993 with the result of Newt Gingrich taking control of the country in 1994. 2010 was a particularly bad time for this to happen, due to the aforementioned gerrymandering.

  12. Jeffrey Johnson says

    It’s true, the fact that it was a census year increased the pain substantially. It’s something I hadn’t even thought about going into the election, but the costs became all too clear in 2012. It also enabled a huge cut in government employment at the state level, the likes of which had not occurred under Reagan, Clinton, or either Bush. That was just throwing fuel on the unemployment fire, a wet dream for Republicans all the way around: gut government services, keep unemployment high so that plutocrats are happy, and politically damage Obama by dragging down the recovery.

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