Monday, January 23, 2012

Twilight of the Gops?

Quoth Doug Mataconis:

[W]hen I look at the results of the South Carolina primary, all I can ask myself is, "Has the Republican Party jumped the shark?"

That's actually a tougher question than it looks like. The GOP has gone from "on top" to "in the wilderness" more than once, including 40 years without a majority in either house of Congress. So positing that it's finally reached the "all downhill from here" point is, well, risky from a predictive standpoint.

But I'm going to take a flyer here and answer Mataconis's question "yes."

The GOP, the original party of big government, spent 30 years -- from Barry Goldwater's failed 1964 presidential campaign to Newt Gingrich's 1994 "Republican Revolution/Contract With America" -- vrooming its sparkly new "party of smaller government" pick'em up truck to the top of the political mesa, spent another six years doing donuts up there without much follow-through ... then drove right off the cliff face under George W. Bush, hitting bottom with a loud smack in 2006.

As PJ O'Rourke wrote in 1991's Parliament of Whores:

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it.

The "GOP as party of smaller government" engine doesn't run any more. They got it to turn over and pump a couple of backfires through the tailpipe in 2010, but flooded the carburetor with the 2011 debt ceiling and budget debacles, when they made it clear yet again that when they say "smaller government" they mean government that gets bigger a little less quickly than the Democrats want.

The Republicans refuse to be the party of "smaller government" for real, and they're just never going to be as convincing as the Democrats at being the party of "bigger government."

The only cards left in their hand are "bellicose government," "competent government" and "moral government," and those cards won't hold their traditional constituencies together.

Ron Paul stands at the head of a fairly large GOP bloc that's done with the Buckleyite "bellicose government" stuff. They're trying to take over the party, but they're failing, and sooner or later they'll go their own way.

The "competent government" bloc's frontman, Mitt Romney, is coming up for rejection a second time in a row, and sooner or later that bloc will likewise blow away on the political winds, to the Democrats or to a new party.

And the religious right has always understood that "moral government," on their terms, means "bigger government" to protect them from TEH GAYZ!!! and TEH FURRINERS!!! and so on (FOR TEH CHILLLLLLLDRENZ!!!, of course). After having their factotums rejected twice in a row (Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum this year) they're also on the lookout for a new bandwagon.

The only things holding the Republican Party together at this point are 1) hatred of the Democrats and 2) Newt Gingrich's ambition. Those two things aren't sufficient for the long term. They aren't nuts and bolts, they're chewing gum and baling wire.

The real $64,000 question, of course, is not what happens to the GOP. It's what, if anything, replaces the GOP. My guess is: Nothing. We're on our way from de facto one-party state to de jure one-party state.
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