Monday, February 24, 2014

Will the Republicans go the way of the Whigs?

From Salon:

It would take a huge defeat or a civil war to kill the GOP -- but its dysfunction may augur a new political era

Saturday, Feb 22, 2014

Since at least the end of the Reagan administration, we’ve seen occasional pronouncements from political commentators about the impending breakup of the Republican Party, pulled in one direction by its fire-breathing conservative base and in another by corporate elites and Washington insiders. It keeps not happening. One factor here is just magical thinking on the part of liberals, along with the continual frustration of losing elections to an opponent who combines troglodyte social views with discredited economic fantasies and a paranoid, mythological foreign policy. (Let’s leave aside, for the moment, that on the latter two questions the Democrats are only marginally better.) Wouldn’t it be a nicer country if the nasty Republicans, and the millions of citizens who vote for them, simply went away?

Still, there really are significant divisions within the GOP, as the party’s panicked post-2012 retreat on immigration reform, and the humiliating aftermath of the government shutdown, have made clear. (With lightning speed, Ted Cruz went from Our Next President to Our Next Prime-Time Fox News Host.) To the immense frustration of the Republican establishment in Washington, the party faithful have repeatedly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by nominating some Tea Party zealot or Christian flat-earther who blunders away a potentially winnable statewide election by saying something stupid about women and sex. As things stand, the Republicans have a good chance of retaking the Senate majority in this year’s midterm elections, even though they have no coherent policies on any major issue and their only platform is to run out the clock on the Obama administration and hope against hope they can beat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Amazingly enough, if it weren’t for their propensity to commit ritual suicide in close elections, the Republicans would already hold the Senate majority, in all likelihood.

To a large extent, the predictions of a GOPocalypse that’s coming someday soon but not right now are based on observable political and demographic factors I don’t need to explore at any length here. As John Judis and Ruy Teixeira argued 12 years ago in “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” long-term shifts in the American population, as the country grows steadily more diverse and more metropolitan, would seem to favor the Democrats. And there’s no question that the Republican Party of 2014 is a peculiar coalition of groups with distinct worldviews and ideologies that don’t always overlap: The corporate overlords and 1-percenters, the burn-it-down Tea Partyers, the decaying but still vocal “Christian conservatives” and the Ayn Rand libertarians are united only by a strident rhetoric of American exceptionalism, a professed dislike of big government, and by what we might call the identity politics of whiteness. They can all agree that they hate Obamacare (for varying reasons) and view the presidency of its author as a continuing nightmare. But they disagree about almost everything else.

Another factor in forecasting Republican doom, I think, is the dim historical sense that political parties are not necessarily permanent phenomena, and that we’ve had various permutations of a two-party system throughout American history. Four American presidents belonged to the Whig Party — actually, the number is six if you count Abraham Lincoln and Rutherford B. Hayes, who were prominent Whigs before they became Republicans — and that’s been gone for more than 150 years. The Federalist Party, our nation’s very first, barely limped into the 19th century and was dissolved in 1824. What historians now call the Democratic-Republican Party (technically an ancestor to both of today’s major parties) dominated national politics for more than 20 years and then abruptly split apart. Couldn’t some version of what happened to them happen to today’s Republican Party?

Continue reading at:

No comments: