Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Reckoning

I wrote the first post for this blog on November 11, 2012. It began with this:
It’s been five days since President Obama won a second term with comfortable if not commanding margins in the electoral college and the popular vote (now 3+ million and still counting in a few areas). The universe of pundits seems to have arrived at a consensus that the Republican Party has a serious demographic problem. (That Romney lost after winning 60% of the white vote probably tipped them off.) Nor does it appear to be easily or swiftly solvable. It would be one thing if many non-white Americans didn’t like Republican leaders; it is a substantially more intractable problem that many Republican leaders don’t seem to like non-white Americans. So it’s no surprise that many of the questions being asked run along the lines of: “How will Republicans adapt to this new American electorate?”; “Can Republicans reach Hispanic voters?”; “How can Republicans appeal to more women?” etc. etc.

I’m not sure I have the wisest answers, but I am reasonably certain those aren't the right questions. Tactical policy reversals on immigration, gay rights, drug laws, and even tax reform—if they come about—would not provide a long-term solution to the dilemma of right-wing America.  If 2012 is to mean anything worthwhile to the future of the Republican Party (and therefore to the future of America), it has to take the form of an ideological reckoning.
Taking stock now three years and four months hence, it seems that an ideological reckoning may indeed be at hand for the Republicans. But if so, it will be born of crisis not of conviction. Despite a feint in the direction of self-reflection, the Republican Party has not dared to reconsider its identity in the wake of the 2012 defeat. Its leadership has exhibited neither the courage nor the imagination to do so. Consider that the standard bearers of the party elites, first Jeb Bush, then Marco Rubio, never once in their staggeringly well-funded, magnificently failed campaigns offered an idea to the electorate that wasn't eminently predictable. These were not real candidates; they were Republican presidential derivatives.

No, the Republicans find themselves staring into the abyss because of Donald Trump, whom Rubio and Mitt Romney have both called a "con man." They are correct; Trump sells snake oil at every campaign stop. It is a harder truth to realize, however, that Trump's bad medicine is concocted from the same ingredients as the product every other Republican candidate has been pushing for the past four elections, just distilled into something more poisonous. Josh Marshall pointed this out in a post about the inevitable failure of any attempt to run another conservative against Trump should he win the nomination: any conservative they could find basically agrees with Trump on virtually every issue. What could they say to attract voters except, perhaps, that they're not as vulgar?

Defeat could help. Not a split between the coasts and the heartland like 2012, but a landslide defeat. At the moment, the polls suggest that is possible. Republicans are looking towards November and the abyss is gazing back.

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