Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The GOP in Disarray

That sound you hear is Republicans across the country arguing over who lost the election and how to come back from the brink. Infighting between supporters of John McCain and Sarah Palin started before the campaign was over. I've observed two divergent impulses: coalition building and ideological purging. David Brooks sums up the conflict slightly differently in the New York Times:
In one camp, there are the Traditionalists, the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed.
...
The other camp, the Reformers, argue that the old G.O.P. priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions.
The urge to purge is exemplified by Deroy Murdock, who writes of restoring Reaganism in NRO:
What the Republican party badly needs is a Night of the Long Knives.
First on his purge list:
Comrade George W. Bush
I'm not inclined to offer advice to the Republicans, but I don't think Ronald Reagan ever spoke that way. You might put Dave Burris in the reformer camp. He offers his variation of the the coalition-building approach:
I think it is time for a new three-legged stool that is not an ideological coalition, but geographical instead: Southern Republicans, Northeastern Republicans and Mountain West Republicans.
Southern Republicans (picture Jim DeMint) are the last bastion of the “full-spectrum conservative,” fiscally and deeply socially conservative, sometimes “compassionately” so, can be populists on economic issues (Huckabee) and are culture warriors on issues like guns and immigration. Big proponents of school choice.
Northeastern Republicans (picture Mitt Romney) are fiscal conservatives who are socially tolerant, even liberal, and are to the left of the rest of the party on the environment.
Mountain West Republicans (picture John McCain) are fiscally conservative, anti-pork (Flake, Shadegg) policy wonks with real libertarian streaks and a conservationist bent.
Missing from this analysis is any mention of foreign policy or the neocons who got us in the mess in Iraq. A New York Times analysis focuses on geography, quoting Thomas Schaller:
The Republicans, meanwhile, have “become a Southernized party,” said Mr. Schaller, who teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “They have completely marginalized themselves to a mostly regional party,” he said, pointing out that nearly half of the current Republican House delegation is now Southern.
As Republicans become geographically isolated, it will take more effort to reach out to less ideological voters. One approach is to assert that the U.S. is still a center-right country. But we shouldn't forget that Barack Obama, a black man from a big city who has just finished beating the two biggest brands in politics, is taking possession of the bully pulpit. New York Times columnist Willliam Kristol has noticed that the president-elect has some serious game. Kristol writes that he gulped when Obama started talking about a new dog in the White House:
"We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So — so whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household."
Here, in a few sentences, Obama did the following: He deepened his bond with every dog lover in America. He identified with every household that’s tried to figure out what kind of dog to get. He touched every parent with a kid allergic to pets. He showed compassion by preferring a dog from a shelter. And he demonstrated a dry and slightly politically incorrect wit by commenting that "a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."

Not bad. It could be a tough four or eight years for conservatives.
With a popular new president, a smaller base and its ranks in disarray, it will be difficult for the Republican Party to rise again anytime soon.

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