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Republicans eat their old
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Smart v. Stupid

Republicans eat their old

Will civil war in the elephant party make it stronger, or lead to decades of losses?

  • Fibonacci Blue/Flickr

Since last Tuesday, all of the oxygen in Washington has been consumed by a single issue, whether the civil war now taking place in the Republican Party will make it stronger or lead to a decade of losses.

First the history. The Republican Party has traditionally enjoyed smaller membership than the Democratic Party, going back decades. However during that time, they’ve been able to win a fair number of legislative victories – including most presidencies. They do this by mobilizing the three parts of each Republican victory – affluent folks, some independents, and what I’ve uncharitably called “the stupid wing.” During the Nixon era, this last group was called “right-wing reactionaries.” During the Reagan era, they were known as “social conservatives.”

Today, they are members of the “Tea Party,” a mythical entity created and funded by party insiders like former Congressman Dick Armey. In his Freedomworks bio, Congressman Armey takes credit for writing the Republican “Contract with America.” (Newt Gingrich also takes credit for the document, but it was actually written by a guy named Larry Hunter who cribbed liberally from a Reagan speech.) Dick Armey is as “insider” as they come.

Traditionally, the Republican Party appeals to competitive people and the Democrats attract people who favor cooperation. Republicans believe the victor deserves the spoils. Part of the formula has been to convince the lower middle class that their station is due to the powerful political influence of the poor and lazy. Trust me; don’t try to follow the logic.

Why would party apparatchiks create this Tea Party beast? It was an act of desperation; they needed the stupid wing to have any chance of winning. And it was slipping away. During the Bush era, a lot of social issues that tied voters to the Republican Party lost their power. One by one, churches – even evangelical ones – began to see their role as less about politics and more about bible study. Over time, gay people became more visible, living together became more common than marriage, and abortion both survived and declined. In other words, the sky didn’t fall.

The final nail was the bail out of banking by the Bush Administration. In the conservative dogma, no one (else) deserves a bail out. So today, the affluent wing and the stupid wing are engaged in epic class warfare. Right-wing reactionaries nee social conservatives nee Tea Party Republicans want to stage a bloody coup. Candidates like Kentucky’s Rand Paul and just-nominated Christine O’Donnell in Delaware ran campaigns demonizing the party they seek to represent.

Insiders on both sides agree that the R party is putting up more than a few odd ducks this mid-term election cycle, like Sharron Angle in Nevada and the aforementioned Paul and O’Donnell. But there are also a number of down market whack jobs, like Colorado’s Dan Maes and Carl Paladino in New York. Beyond that, there are candidates like Marco Rubio, Meg Whitman and Linda McMahon, who — while not utterly nutty — are way far right of the American mainstream.

Thinkers on both sides agree that a Republican slate of mainstream candidates would virtually guarantee taking over the House and have a good shot at the Senate. Both agree that tossing in a few dozen loudmouth nutbags makes it less likely Republicans will take over.

Even the nutbags probably agree. For some time now, candidates like Paul and Angle have been doing their best to stay out of the public eye. O’Donnell has started to cancel appearances.

Apparently, they’ve all realized they’re more attractive in the abstract than in the spotlight. Neither Angle nor Paul believes in Social Security or the Department of Education. Paul famously came out against civil rights law, and Angle stepped in it when she implied she’s for armed insurrection if people like her aren’t elected. O’Donnell was once on MTV speaking out against masturbation – and she has no visible means of support.

They are hoping they can lay low and voters will forget what they stand for. And there is some evidence that it’s working.

What's the bottom line? The Democrats see an opening that may allow them to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat – or at least to dodge major losses. For the first time in months they are smiling. Republicans are split on whether or not appealing to an older, whiter and more far right base will energize the party, or doom it. The current operational strategy relies on keeping the oddballs out of the spotlight and hoping that no one notices those giant zits on their noses. Sadly, it just might work.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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