Friday, May 01, 2009

The Republican brand crumbles

Blogging against the Republican Party is becoming too easy. After utterly blowing the first 100 days of the Obama administration the Republicans have launched an attempt to re-brand themselves that is doomed to failure. Why? Because it's just more of the same. There's absolutely nothing new here, and the American people have already rejected what the Republican Party offered in 2006 and 2008. Offering the same thing all over again is a recipe for failure, especially when you are up against Barack Obama.

Let's briefly review the 100 days of "fail" brought to the GOP by John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mitch McConnell:

1. The GOP failed to block a single Obama agenda item while at the same time letting the GOP be branded as the "Party of No." To the extent that the economy turns around as the result of Obama's stimulus package, Republicans will have no claim whatsoever to that success. The Republicans have painted themselves into a corner where they have to hope that the United States fails economically, and Americans sense--and resent--that fact.

2. The public face of the Republican Party is Rush Limbaugh, and no one in the GOP is allowed to contradict Limbaugh in public, and Rush Limbaugh is not well liked by the vast majority of Americans. Limbaugh is a millstone around the neck of the GOP.

3. The agenda of the Republican Party is almost entirely devoted to self-defense at this point. Most of the Republican Party's energy is now devoted to keeping Dick Cheney out from in front of a war crimes tribunal. With all their energy devoted to obstruction, GOPers find themselves without the energy or ideas to compete with a positive force like Barack Obama. Dick Cheney is a giant iron ball chained to the leg of the Republican Party.

4. Sarah Palin, the designated next Republican presidential candidate, has already fatally damaged her 2012 campaign, but there is no way that the GOP will be able to select someone else. Palin has the nomination sewn up and will lose to Obama by what may be the largest margin in American history. Obama will start his second term with amazing political capital.

5. Americans are fleeing from the Republican Party: a mere 21% of Americans are willing to self-identify as Republicans, compared to 35% who self-identify as Democrats. There are still pockets of strong Republican support, but Republicans are not going to be able to compete nationally in the foreseeable future.

6. The defection of Arlen Specter handed the Democrats the ability to pass legislation without a single Republican vote as long as the legislation is moderate enough to hold the Democratic Party together. The Democratic Party would have achieved this goal in the 2010 mid-term elections, but the GOP's gift of Specter puts the Democratic Party and Obama about 20 months ahead of where we thought we'd be on key issues like health care. Specter won't help us do everything, but what he will do will help us ensure Democratic victory in 2010. We won't get everything we want from Specter, but we should have a solid record of achievement to show off in 2010 and 2012.

That last point is the really fatal one for the GOP. The GOP needs the United States to fail in some way--for the American people to come crawling back--but the GOP has largely lost the ability to intervene in the affairs of the United States, for good or ill.

To further illustrate how fighting the Republican Party has become something like shooting fish in the barrel, I offer this as exhibit #2.

This is the "Goposaur," the creation of uber-blogger Markos Moulitsas. It's an amazing bit of political satire, and it's going to stick, so get used to seeing it pretty much everywhere. Kos and a lot of other people have spent many years wrestling the GOP to the floor. Many of us have made painful sacrifices to win our nation back and we aren't going to let up anytime soon.

Where does all of this lead us? What does it all mean?

I think it means the end of the Republican Party as we know it. Barring some catastrophic failure on the part of the Democratic Party--not impossible, but not very likely--the Republican Party is going to collapse in the not so distant future. This could work itself out in a couple of ways. A complete collapse could, ironically, lead to a quicker recovery. If the Republican Party collapses entirely and goes the way of the Whigs it would open up a place for a new conservative party to form. There are certainly many different small conservative parties competing for the chance to become the successor to the Republican Party--though all of them seem badly flawed to me in terms of their ideology and ability to appeal to independent voters.

A far more likely scenario is what I call the "slow collapse." I think that this script has already begun to play itself out. In the slow collapse scenario the Republican Party becomes essentially powerless against the Democratic Party, but retains enough power for its leadership to basically squelch any new third party that could arise on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Someone like Eric Cantor poses very little threat to Barack Obama, but Cantor controls enough money and organizational power to crush any threat from the Right.

The tragically-misnamed Teabag Party is a perfect example of this dynamic. Apart from its profoundly unfortunate name (it's hard to see how the Right will top the "Tea Bag Parties" unless they decide to throw "Sausage Parties" on the 4th of July) the Teabag was at least an attempt at grassroots organizing. But it was swiftly overcome and co-opted by the Republican Party and Fox News. What could have been the spark of a new conservative party was swiftly snuffed out by the Republican establishment. The same lesson can be drawn from the Republican Party's treatment of the supporters of Ron Paul. For the foreseeable future dissent within the conservative movement will be undermined and co-opted by the Republican leadership. The Republican Party will be a regional party unable to compete with the Democratic Party, but it will not tolerate the emergence of a successor conservative party.

This means that the Democratic Party has been presented with a golden opportunity. We could see a twenty year Democratic majority, with a corresponding opportunity to affect the direction of our nation's future. The progressive grassroots and netroots will have a key role to play in this process. Politicians, once in office, tend to become more conservative and less interested in rocking the boat. It will be the progressive netroots that will serve as an internal mechanism of loyal opposition. We will hold Democratic electeds accountable and work to ensure that they use the majority we helped create to move this nation forward and implement much needed reforms. Working to promote change and progress through the vehicle of our own party will be a greater challenge in the future than simply clubbing the largely defunct Republican Party.

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