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The GOP Is Losing Centrists

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March 23, 2010

David Frum’s Sunday afternoon blog posting, “Waterloo” has been receiving praise for its painfully accurate diagnosis of what ails (or should I say, “Ailes”) the Republican Party.  Among his important points were these:

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

*   *   *

The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government.  Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination.  When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests.  What he omitted to say — but what is equally true — is that he also wants Republicans to fail.  If Republicans succeed — if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry.  And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry.  Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio.  For them, it’s mission accomplished.  For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right:  ours.

On the following evening, Frum appeared on ABC’s Nightline with Terry Moran and this exchange took place:

Moran:   “It sounds like you’re saying that the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, hijacked the Republican party and drove it to a defeat?”

Frum:   “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.  And this balance here has been completely reversed.  The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party.”

During the days leading up to the vote on the healthcare bill, the rallying tea party activists exhibited the behavior of a lynch mob.  Their rhetoric was curiously extreme and anyone with a neutral point of view on the issue had to wonder what was pushing those people to the edge.   Following up on Frum’s thesis, Thomas Frank of The Wall Street Journal seemed to have the right idea:

It is tempting to understand the tea party movement as a distant relative of the lowest form of televangelism, with its preposterous moral certainty, its weird faith in markets, its constant profiteering, and, of course, its gullible audiences.

Tea partiers fancy themselves a movement without leaders, but this is only true in the sense that, say, the nation’s Miley Cyrus fan clubs don’t have a central leader.  They don’t need one — they have Miley Cyrus herself.  And the tea partiers, for their part, have Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the various personalities of Fox News, whose exploits were mentioned frequently from the speaker’s platform on Saturday.  But it was only after I watched an online video of Capitol Hill protesters earnestly instructing one another in what sounded like Mr. Beck’s trademark theory of progressivism that I understood:  This is protest as a form of fandom.

These are TV citizens, regurgitating TV history lessons, and engaged in a TV crusade.  They seem to care little for the give and take of the legislative process.  What seems to make sense to them is the logic of entertainment, the ever-escalating outrage of reality TV.

But maybe, one of these days, the nation is going to change the channel.

That change of the channel is exactly what the Republicans need to worry about.  Karl Rove’s trademark strategy of pandering to the so-called “base” of the party failed in 2006 and it failed again in 2008.  Nevertheless the GOP continues with a tone-deaf strategy, focused on the manipulated emotions of the tea partiers.

As I observed when I started this blog two years ago, a decision by John McCain to continue pandering to the televangelist lobby after winning the Republican Presidential nomination, would make absolutely no sense.  McCain now finds himself struggling against an ultra-conservative tea partier for the Republican nomination to retain his Senate seat.  He has again chosen to pander to the base and in the process, he has painted himself into a corner — boosting the chances for victory by the Democratic nominee in November.

The Republicans just don’t get it.  John “BronzeGel” Boehner’s decision to ally himself with the banking lobbyists has given another black eye to the Republican Party.   Although the voting public has become increasingly educated and incensed about the bank bailouts as a form of “lemon socialism” BronzeGel decided to give a pep talk to the American Bankers Association, advising them:

“Don’t let those little punk staffers take advantage of you and stand up for yourselves.”

Who is going to stand up for the taxpayers (and their children) who have been forced to support the welfare queens of Wall Street?  Certainly not the Republicans.  BronzeGel Boehner has promised to fight a protracted battle against financial reform.  In the process, he and his party are throwing the centrist voters (and the educated conservatives) under the bus.  What a brilliant strategy!



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