May 08 , 2008
The Collapse of the Republicans
After Bush’s reelection in 2004, which coincided with the Republicans holding control of both the House and Senate by significant margins, Karl Rove spoke grandiosely of a permanent Republican majority. However, his vision has been totally dashed in the last three years, and what looked to him as a great future for the Republicans has turned into a political graveyard.
In 2006, voter anger about the Iraq war, Katrina, and various scandals involving Republicans resulted in the Democrats taking control of both chambers of Congress. In 2008, the Democrats did even better, with a significant expansion of their hold on both houses, and control of 59 seats in the Senate out of 100. That was topped off by Obama’s defeat of McCain, a victory notable for how much Obama has expanded the electoral map, taking states like Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada, and Florida, all of which normally have been considered strongly Republican in the past.
The latest blow to the Republicans has been the defection of Senator Arlen Spector, serving his fifth term as a Republican Senator. But he has officially switched parties, and has joined the Democrats giving them 60 seats in the Senate, once Al Franken’s election in Minnesota is finally certified by the Supreme Court of Minnesota. Sixty is a critical number, as the Senate has an arcane rule that allows any 41 Senators to block legislation by refusing to end debate and call a vote. With 60 Democrats, this “filibuster” option is closed if all the Democrats agree to cut off debate. Filibuster gives a minority party some limited say in shaping policy and blocking change that they are totally opposed to. Without it, the Republicans are truly powerless in Washington.
So what went wrong? How did the Republicans dig such a deep hole? Essentially the party has become captive of an extreme right-wing element that has force moderate people out of the party. The current Republican party is being hurt by its one-note emphasis on tax cuts as a cure-all for any economic problem. It also takes a divisive stand on social issues. While its hardcore base is very religious, opposed to abortion and evolution, and sees illegal aliens as a major problem that requires a drastic solution, many more moderate party members hold no support for these views. They are not interested in a party that makes this the top of the agenda.
The Republicans are also essentially a party for White people. The monochromatic nature of the Republican Convention, or McCain’s audience during his concession speech, makes clear that the current Republicans simply do not connect with Americans who are non-White. The party cannot succeed without fixing that.
The Republicans have also become too Southern. The party’s views fit well with the views of Southern Whites, but are very out of place elsewhere in the country. Opinion polls on a whole host of political and social issues show that people in the South are much more conservative, and much more Republican than Americans in any other region. Nixon expanded Republican support into the South, thereby expanding the Republicans and giving them a huge edge in national elections over the Democrats. But now, what was once an extension of the traditional Northern Republican party has become the party. In the Northeast, the Republicans have been essentially extinguished. Nationwide, identification with the Republican party is down to 20%.
Can the Republicans bounce back? Eventually they will. While many current Republicans reject evolution, it is obvious that to survive the Republicans will have to evolve and adapt, and when they do, they will reemerge as a competitive national party. But they will not do so soon.
The current Republicans are bereft of leadership, and are reduced to carping about Obama and calling him a socialist. They have already forgotten that it was Bush who created TARP, the 700 billion dollar program to bail out the banks, and it was Bush who also bailed out the Big Three auto companies last winter. Obama on the other hand is pushing Chrysler and GM into bankruptcy. Bush also vastly expanded the government through the Medicare Drug benefit, and engaged in huge deficit spending to fund his wars and tax cuts. Republican complaints about deficits and government spending under Obama ring hollow given how readily they all went along with Bush’s policies without dissent.
The Republicans have not offered any serious alternatives to Obama’s policies. Even Warren Buffet just remarked that he thought the government was basically doing the right thing. They have however boxed themselves into a corner. By totally rejecting what Obama has offered, and by repeatedly predicting disaster for America, they will find it difficult to say much if and when a recovery actually does happen. I believe that the economy is already starting to turn around, and that we will see a return to growth by the end of this year, with a strong 2010 coming up. If so, the Republicans will have little to campaign on in the 2010 elections, and may find their presence in the Congress slipping further. At that point, there may be some real internal discussions that will be the start of the rebirth of the Republicans.