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I don't understand the Republican Party
April 19, 2009 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Please explain the Republican Party to me.

It seems as though the Republican party may be at a tipping point. They are certainly floundering, with many of their so-called "leaders" (Palin, Limbaugh, Jindal) struggling for legitimacy. I'm wondering if people can point me in the direction of some good articles on the current state of the party and its future. Articles which are written by people within the party would be preferable.

Specific things I'm interested in:

- The future of the party and specifically if there are currently any serious contenders for leadership.

- There seem to be promonent Republicans who are speaking out against certain aspects of the current party, Kathleen Parker and Meghan McCain being a few examples. Are they being taken seriously? I can't believe that there are more extreme rightwingers than moderate Republicans, so why are the extreme ones (eg Ann Coulter, Limbaugh) getting more publicity? Sensationalism?

- Is Fox News really as influential as it seems to be?

I am in the UK and while I keep up with US politics as much as possible, I feel I am missing some things by not being there. I'm trying to avoid being meta-chatty about this, but this is something which has confused me for some time now. How have the extremists gotten such a stranglehold on the party? How can people not see hate-baiters for what they are? Is it because there has been no reasonable alternative? If anyone could point me to some thoughtful and well-written articles or commentaries that could possibly explain the current state of the Republican party and where it's going, I would be most grateful!
posted by triggerfinger to Law & Government (50 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Steven Schimdt, McCain's Campaign Manager, just give a speech to the Log Cabin Republicans about the GOP stance against gay marriage and other things. His point was that the GOP needs to change on these issues and it's in their beliefs as conservatives to change their mind.

I can't believe that there are more extreme rightwingers than moderate Republicans, so why are the extreme ones (eg Ann Coulter, Limbaugh) getting more publicity?

Basic rule of news, if it bleeds, it leads. Covering a fight is sexy and brings in the eyeballs, which sells advertising.

- Is Fox News really as influential as it seems to be?

No, Obama got elected and Democrats have majorities in the House and Senate.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:09 PM on April 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can't believe that there are more extreme rightwingers than moderate Republicans, so why are the extreme ones (eg Ann Coulter, Limbaugh) getting more publicity? Sensationalism?

The Republican Party is a coalition of interesting groups:

1) Social Conservatives: Pro-Life / Pro-Piety / Pro-Family / Pro-Marriage (ie anti-abortion, anti-evolution, anti-secularism, against equal rights for gay couples)

This is 20-25%+ of the electorate.

2) Fiscal Conservatives (ie. devil take the hindmost)

This is 15-20% of the electorate but overlaps with Social Conservatives a bit.

3) Neo Conservatives (ie. more rubble less trouble)

This is 20-30% of the electorate but overlaps with the first two.

Some time ago somebody here recommended The End of the Republican Era, which while published in 1995 accurately predicted the morphing of the Republican Party into a new Conservative Party.

As mentioned in the Schmidt interview above, the Republican Party has got to figure out if it can water-down the Christianist element within it. Without the Christianists, it loses any chance at national relevance given the present Democratic edge in non-rural states, but with the Christianists it is committed to demonizing vast swathes of the electorate (women, gays, non-fundamentalist Christians).
posted by mrt at 1:23 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't have any particular recommendations, just a pointer that might help you reframe how you're thinking about things: In US politics, there's no tradition of the out-of-power party having a "leader" in the same sense that David Cameron is the current leader of the UK Conservatives. Thinking back to the 2006–2008 Congress, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi had the most political power of anyone in the Democratic Party; however, neither one of them could be said to be the one "leader" of the Democrats. Each party has a "National Committee" whose chair could nominally be said to be "in charge" of the party; currently this is Michael Steele for the Republicans, and while the Democrats were in opposition, Terry McAuliffe had the job first and was replaced by Howard Dean in '05. However, that person doesn't have any political power per se; the national committees deal for the most part with campaigning rather than influencing public policy.

This disconnect between the political power possessed by the opposition party (what little there is) and the actual party bureaucracy probably contributes in no small part to the fractiousness you've noted above. There's no generally accepted standard-bearer for the opposition party, which means that ambitious opposition members can try to maneuver themselves into having power and influence without necessarily being seen as out of line.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:24 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why Rush Is Wrong by David Frum (a conservative and former George W. Bush speechwriter) is worth reading.
posted by amb at 1:46 PM on April 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ross Douthat and Jonah Goldberg have an hour-long conversation right before Election Day, correctly assuming they'll lose the election and discussing the future of the Republican party (Bloggingheads.tv).
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:50 PM on April 19, 2009


Oliver Burkeman's Guardian piece, featuring vignettes from CPAC, is a useful cribsheet for British readers, even though it's clearly written with a degree of schadenfreude: I particularly like this bit:
"In Britain, political change is always imposed from the top down - half a dozen people who have houses next door to each other in London come to an understanding, win a contest and impose their vision on the party," says the former Bush speech-writer David Frum. "In America, change tends to come from the middle up - from the activists." And the problem with activists is that they tend to prefer passionate commitment to pragmatism. "I call them say-it-louder conservatives," says Frum, in a coffee shop around the corner from the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative thinktank where he now has an office. "If people don't like what you're saying, say it louder! Then they'll like it!"
The Next Right is an activist blog fitting that description. Possibly too news-driven for you, but there are some general "where next?" pieces there.

The fact that there's no official opposition hierarchy, as Johnny Assay mentioned, needs to be seen in the context of a more-or-less permanent campaign: the 2010 elections are already being discussed seriously, fundraising is underway, and any Republican with a thought about 2012 is making preliminary moves. The need to keep activists on board for money as well as votes, makes re-invention more difficult than in the UK.

I don't know if you remember the internal debate within the Tories between 1997 and 2001, with William Hague in charge. In a way, that ideological discussion was irrelevant: the Tories were worn out, reduced to an rump in elected office, and sapped of talent after years in power (similar to Labour now); only the passage of time and a new generation of pols changed things.
posted by holgate at 1:54 PM on April 19, 2009


More than anything else, you have to understand the two-party system and how it differs from the multi-party systems in England, France, Israel, etc. In those nations, if a party does not have enough votes by itself to name a Prime Minister, it has to put together a coalition government. This requires some concessions and some compromises

In the U.S., each party is more or less a permanent coalition, consisting roughly of the types listed by MRT above. One major constituent group his listing does not account for is libertarians. There are many of those within the Republican party, especially its younger members, and their adherence to the party is not particularly strong. They are likely to splinter away earlier than most of the others.
posted by yclipse at 2:01 PM on April 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


That of course should be "with the Republicans consisting roughly of the types listed by MRT".
posted by yclipse at 2:02 PM on April 19, 2009


The Republicans are in limbo right now, which is not unusual for a party fresh off a few good electoral drubbings. Some are not at all convinced that they need any drastic change in policy, and are waiting for the mid-term elections to see whether this is so. If the party continues to hemorrhage seats and power you shall see even the most troglodytic of them begin to agitate for changes. Elections drive policy and political philosophies in general because they seem to prove what "works" and what doesn't. When this becomes apparent, or seems to, you will see more moderate or pragmatic conservatives making moves for party control. At the present moment, many are busy trying to keep ahead of the Obama wave, and are frantically treading water in hope that the tides recede and dry land appears below their feet. The rest - the most vocal, and I suppose, extreme - are the voices you hear now, on Fox News and elsewhere, desperately trying to rally the (phantom?) troops to a counterrevolution. However, the recent tax day protests suggest, at least to me, a rather meek and unfocused opposition. So, is Fox News influential? Yes and no. Fox News influences those who watch it, and those who fear or detest those who watch it. It is an echo chamber, agitprop blasted from loudspeakers, red meat for the casually ignorant. It is also no less powerful as a bugbear for the left. News about Fox News... Coverage of Fox's coverage... Just try to ignore this nonsense and focus on the movement of politics, rather than the circularity of 24 hour news coverage. The daily pronouncements of each side's punditocracy should be irrelevant to the thinking person. It's like, how many accomplished financial professionals do you think watch CNBC's ranting coverage of the markets? None. They're watching Bloomberg or some such thing, and interpreting much of the available data and information for themselves. Fox, CNBC, are infotainment; information without the burden of context or accountability. Those who consume it will always be on the outside looking in, no matter who is in office, because it is a kind of meta-politics, detached from the realities of governing. That leads to the kind of poverty of ideas apparent in these so-called grassroots protests and the party as a whole. The hate-baiters, as you call them, will soon be relegated to the peanut gallery once again, if not the ash heap, when smart Republicans (who do exist) get a longer view of the new paradigm of Obamaism and suss out what moves they need to make. So, long story short, I think we'll have to listen to the righteous indignation of Limbaugh, Coulter, et al for another year or two, and then will welcome some new planks in the Republican platform, which hopefully will help to improve the dialog on issues of real concern to this country.
posted by kurtroehl at 2:11 PM on April 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sorry, I should clarify - I am an American, though I have lived here for nearly six years. I understand that there are social, fiscal and neoconservatives and what they stand for. I try to remain as openminded and respectful of differing opinions as possible but I think I must not be getting the whole picture because most everything I read references Fox news or some other relatively extreme viewpoint. The Republicans I know (including family members) mostly tell me stuff that they've heard on The O'Reilley Factor or read in Ann Coulter's new book. There seems to be a lot of hate speech from the mainstream right, which to me, undermines any legitimate arguments they may have. I wonder why this seems to have become so prominent and seemingly accepted as political discourse. Also, I do not deny that the left can be just as inflammatory.

I do not mean for this post to be inflammatory at all and I apologise if it comes across as such.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:13 PM on April 19, 2009


Two points to add:
1) No matter what, the Republican Party will have a "leader" by early to mid 2012, when the next presidential primary season is over. Moreso than Democrats, Republicans will rally around their candidate, despite any personal dislike. For example, in the last election, despite many conservatives, and especially the religious conservative wing of the party, saying they would never vote for McCain, they voted for McCain because they could never vote for the Democratic candidate.

2) The Bush administration was a double whammy for the Republicans on the leadership front. First, the Vice President, who traditionally becomes the party's next nominee (or at least the de facto frontrunner) made it quite clear he was not going to run. (Note that should Obama win two terms, it is unlikely that Biden will run for President either). Then, on top of that, due to Bush's historically low approval ratings, anyone else in the current administration was pretty much political poison, and could not have much of a continued political career.
posted by thewittyname at 2:22 PM on April 19, 2009


er..."current administration" should read "Bush administration"
posted by thewittyname at 2:23 PM on April 19, 2009


As Yclipse says, both parties are effectively coalitions.

The Dems are, too. They include Labor (especially unions for government employees and teachers), environmentalists, minority rights advocates, gay rights advocates, and bleeding heart liberals. Whereas libertarians loosely cleave to the Republicans, socialists tend to loosely cleave to the Democrats. The Dems also get the "progressives", who are more or less socialists who refuse to admit that they're socialists.

Each of those coalitions contains fractures. In the case of the Republicans, the neocons (who believe in an activist foreign policy) tend to conflict with the crabgrass Jacksonians (who are willing to let the whole world go to hell as long as America is left out of it; MRT omitted this large and important group, who changed their mind after 9/11, but appear to be changing back to isolationism now that we've won in Iraq).

The single biggest crevice in the Democrats traditionally has been between labor (and its belief in the seniority system) and the bleeding hearts and minority rights activists (who believe in affirmative action, which amounts to dismantling the seniority system).

Both parties have other internal conflicts. The libertarians despise the activist Christians in the Republican party, for example.

The big wildcard for the Democrats currently is the so-called "Blue Dogs". Loosely speaking, they represent a resurgence of what used to be known as "Scoop Jackson Democrats".

Each of the parties has a hot-button issue (at least one) which divides its membership. For the Republicans I would say that abortion is the biggest one; the libertarians mostly are in favor of leaving it legal, whereas it's utter poison for the Christian right.

For the Democrats, I would say that gun control is the issue they wish didn't exist. A lot of Democrats believe in it, but the Blue Dogs won't go for it and it's an issue that will alienate the unaligned middle of the voters. (Gay Marriage is another problematic issue for the Dems. It's not internally divisive, and is extremely popular with certain segments of the Democratic coalition, but electoral evidence strongly suggests that overall it loses them more votes than it gains. One state legislature has legalized it; 30 states have passed constitutional amendments banning it, as has the US government.)

The final thing you need to know is that the plurality of voters don't consider themselves to be associated with either party. That's particularly critical. The parties aren't just trying to woo voters from the other party; they're trying to woo the unaligned middle. Generally speaking, that's how you win here.

As coalitions, once in a while some group will switch from one party to the other. Southern segregationist whites used to be Democratic, but in the 1960's and 1970's they primarily switched to the Republicans, who frankly weren't all that happy about having them. However, a lot of segregationists remained in the Democratic party e.g. Jesse Helms. Senator Byrd used to be an active member of the KKK, and is a lifelong Democrat.

The kind of realignment that is happening right now is an ongoing fixture in our political system. There isn't anything new or unusual about it. These things come and go in cycles. Especially because parties in power tend to lose support. That's why the mid-term elections nearly always go against the party who holds the White House. (2002 was a notable exception.) And that's why, since 1952, neither party has held the White House for more than 12 years in a row. After a while the voters decide they want to give the other party a chance.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:41 PM on April 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


To amplify yclipse it may be helpful to understand Duverger's principle and links contained therein. In short, once a two-party system is established, it simultaneously works toward its continuance and against the intrusion of any third-party.

To paraphrase Voltaire: if the Republican party ceases to exist, it will be necessary for the Democratic party to create one. It is far more likely that one of mrt's coalitions listed above would fill the void.
posted by fydfyd at 2:48 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would suggest that when a party shifts from a desire to have the right solution to a desire to win no matter what, they aren't going to win for very long. The GOP wasn't always this way, but since 1994, they shifted toward this. The weird cult of the nominee that happened this year (and in 2000) was a big sign. Look at the manufacturing of up-and-comers and hey-our-guy-is-more-black-than-your-guys and grasping at issues to see what sticks. They are trying to find a way to win, damn the torpedos.

It switches back and forth from generation to generation.
posted by gjc at 2:49 PM on April 19, 2009


a lot of segregationists remained in the Democratic party e.g. Jesse Helms

wwuh?
posted by mrt at 2:59 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I try to remain as openminded and respectful of differing opinions as possible but I think I must not be getting the whole picture because most everything I read references Fox news or some other relatively extreme viewpoint.

What are you reading?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:02 PM on April 19, 2009


However, a lot of segregationists remained in the Democratic party e.g. Jesse Helms.

Helms was elected to the Senate as a Republican.
posted by oaf at 3:06 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


My apologies. I was wrong about Jesse Helms. (The bastard; I'm glad he's dead.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:03 PM on April 19, 2009


You're getting this picture because your political points of reference are international, while the USA is an outlier of a right-wing country for a developed nation. What passes for the left in the USA, is what would be the moderate right-wing party in other developed countries, and what passes for the right in the USA would be one of the fringe loony parties that no-one takes seriously in other countries.
This is why you're struggling to see how to reconcile the hate speech and bizarre antics with the Republican Party being a legitimate party that it could be respectable to vote for.
With the possible exception of Australia, the Republican Party would not be a respectable or legitimate party in most developed nations, but the USA "center" swings far more to the right than other nations, so the Republican Party is within the window of social acceptability here.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:16 PM on April 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


David Brooks is a conservative columnist for the NY Times, and makes frequent appearances on NPR and various news shows. He's generally pretty critical of the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership, but he also frequently comments on how misguided the current Republican leadership is. He was very harsh on Jindal's response to the state of the union, and here's a recent op-ed.

There are plenty of people who would like to see Republicans back in power, just not these Republicans. Also, these people tend to consider their party's chances to be pretty low in the near future.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 4:37 PM on April 19, 2009


Another thing that makes me wonder about the future of the Republicans as we now know them is the growing percentage of people who identify as "having no religion" or as "secular." Yes, they range from absolute atheists to "spiritual-but-not-religious" to "pagan, but there's no check box for that." What they have in common is that the vast majority of these folks are moderate to left in their views. Look at Richard Dawkins; about as atheist as one can get and also a leftie.

Though there are a few social conservatives in this group, I'd say about 90% of the secular/non-religious/pagans and spirituals are very turned off by the anti-gay, anti-abortion, socially conservative types the GOP seems to be banking on to save its collective behind.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:30 PM on April 19, 2009


Rosie - to piggyback on that, we secular sorts are also repulsed by the Republicans' complete inability to understand science.
posted by kldickson at 6:22 PM on April 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is a very long post. It also consists of only my observations and opinions, so take it with a grain, or an entire shaker of salt.

The difference for the two parties isn't one of who has stronger leaders. Both parties never lack for leaders. The difference is in the infrastructure. The Republicans have spent the last few decades building this particular infrastructure up; I'm speaking of Rush, Fox News, Hannity, Coulter, O'Rielly, and on and on. The liberals have Air America, which, while having a following, is nowhere near the juggernaut that the conservatives have. This is huge for whipping up the base and helped drive the Republican successes of the late '90s and early 2000's. However, that same machine has become an anchor dragging the Republicans deeper and deeper.

Here's a little background on where things started to go wrong: After Iraq, and the economic woes of the first Bush term, followed up with a recovery that didn't bring many jobs and left wages stagnant, people were really starting to sour on the Republicans. Health care costs continued to spiral, as insurance premiums zoomed up many times higher than the rate of inflation. The run-up in real estate meant that people with decent incomes had to stretch financially in impossible ways to be able to buy a house. Gas prices were climbing. People were starting to turn towards the "we're not going in the right direction" side of the polls. Then Katrina hit, and the resulting debacle caused massive damage to the Republicans.

Part of the Republican methodology over the past decade and a half had been to go as far down into the gutter as they needed in order to win elections. The thing is, it worked. Newt Gingrich really re-wrote the playbook on that one. People liked the new, feisty brand of conservatism. As the years continued, this continued, to the point where Saxby Chambliss was able to paint war veteran Max Cleland as almost sympathetic to Osama bin Laden. The Democrats just never could come up with an effective counter to the Republican campaigning. The Republicans were even able to use this to their advantage on floor votes. Vote against the authorization to go to war in Iraq, and you're going to be painted as an unpatriotic congressperson who is afraid to protect America. Many Democrats went along - and got booted out of office anyway. The Democrats seemed to want to make as little waves as possible. John Kerry chose not to fight back against the Swift Boaters, and ended up watching helplessly as his chances to win went down the drain. This started to change after the 2004 election.

After 2004, Howard Dean took charge of the Democratic Party, and changed the dynamics of things. The Democrats started to fight back against the Republicans, although not too well as far as things such as bankruptcy reform and judicial appointments. They started bringing in a new breed of candidates. They learned how to use the internet in ways no one ever thought possible before. This, combined with the souring national mood, created a very bleak picture for the Republicans. They were facing a wipeout and they knew it.

In an election, turnout is crucial. There's only about 20-30% of the voters that you're fighting over; the rest are solidly either in the Republican or Democratic camps. Turning out an extra percent or two of your base can make the difference in a close election. This is where the conservative media folks come into play in this whole equation. Their listeners are not swing voters for the most part. Their listeners are hardcore base conservatives. What these commentators say has huge sway over these voters. Since the Republicans need their base, they've been catering to these voters, and using the media infrastructure to do it. It's blown up in the Republicans' collective face.

The Republicans rolled the dice in 2006 by going really hard to the base. It was the only way they thought they had a shot at the election. Their biggest push was against illegal immigration. This played very well with the base, but it ended up backfiring horribly. The public as a whole is opposed to illegal immigration, but many of these people also have some sympathy for the immigrants. The conservative commentators really helped whip the frenzy on this. What happened next - the backfire - is that the racists started to crawl out of the woodwork. When they did, they were waving the flag of what they felt was government-provided legitimacy. (To be clear - I am not lumping everyone who is against illegal immigration into the "racist" category, not at all. But were some very vocal people who now felt like it was OK to show their "I hate Mexicans" side once this drive started. Here in Tucson, I saw a lot of this.) This was sweet, sweet music to fringes of the base, but really did not play well with a lot of the general public. In addition, gas prices were staying around $3, New Orleans wasn't getting rebuilt, Iraq was on the verge of full-blown civil war, and the housing market was starting to flatten out. While the Republicans were spending all their ammo on illegal immigration, people wondered, "Um, hey, don't you have a country to run here?" They also alienated Hispanic voters, which they had been making big inroads with. The Democrats basically re-took Congress in 2006 by default. It's not necessarily that people thought they were better; they just were sick of the Republicans.

The next two years were not about the Democratic Congress. They were about George Bush. Rush and Friends kept trying to push the "everyone hates Congress now because of the Democrats" line, but it wasn't gaining any traction. Then they were trying to paint Obama as unpatrotic, anti-American, a secret Muslim, and maybe even not a citizen. Nothing worked. Obama swept to victory. The conservative commentators had displayed how little they really matter in the scheme of things. Voters had effectively said, "We've tried your grand experiment. It didn't work and we feel like we've been sold a bill of goods." Sure, they can turn out the base, but when no one wants to be associated with your base, you're going to lose elections.

So what has happened? Rush Limbaugh has stayed as strong as ever, in some ways actually gaining control of the Republican party. Some Republicans criticized him, only to come back to him on bended knee to apologize on the radio. These guys still hold that much influence with the base. It's now got the Republicans in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" position - do you rebuild the party outside of the current structure, or keep the voters that you can count on and try to get enough swing voters to eke out slugfest elections? The voices of those conservatives who are speaking out against the way the Republican party has been doing things have always been there. But as long as the party is winning elections, these people get drowned out. Now that it's become clear that the GOP has lost its way, more people will listen. Will it be enough? If it is, it will take a while. It will likely take a truly transformative candidate, something Palin is not, something Jindal may possibly be able to be perceived as, but most likely someone not on the radar. The party needs to be able to appeal to everyone, not just the margin. I think as long as Rush, Hannity, and O'Rielly are able to drive the Republican narrative, the GOP will be in the wilderness.
posted by azpenguin at 6:36 PM on April 19, 2009 [11 favorites]


The public as a whole is opposed to illegal immigration, but many of these people also have some sympathy for the immigrants. The conservative commentators really helped whip the frenzy on this. What happened next - the backfire - is that the racists started to crawl out of the woodwork.

The Republicans really screwed themselves here. Hispanics helped flip several red states to blue.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:13 PM on April 19, 2009


Howard Dean did not take charge of the Dems after 2004. Rahm Emanuel and Charles Schumer ran the campaign committees that recruited candidates and raised money for the 2006 cycle & that's where IMHO the credit is due for architecting that. Emanuel and Dean in particular were at odds.. I don't have the time and energy to hash it all out here though. Dean was innovative in leveraging technology in his campaign and Obama's team certainly benefitted from that, I'd say but they went way above and beyond...

As for Fox News.. Fox is interesting. They have a lot more conservatives on their shows, their morning shows and evening shows skew highly conservative and GOP talking points make their way on the air on a lot of these programs. But I watch and like "Special Report with Bret Baier" as well as "Fox Report with Shepard Smith" (FWIW, Emanuel recently said that Baier's show is the news show they have on at the White House). Those are news shows and they're pretty fair. Some of their daytime shows are straight news but I'm at work and don't watch them. Fox is weird because.. it's like those comic books with alternate universes: if you happen to believe in facts and reality such as global warming being real & caused by humans, you could watch those 2 programs I cited and they would report based on that. Then you could turn around and watch Hannity or that nutcase Glenn Beck and they would treat it like a big joke or liberal conspiracy to raise taxes/grab power.

I saw Fox's relentless promotion of those tea party protests as pretty much declaring that much of their network(s) - including Fox Business - were going to take the role of the opposition to Obama. They're also putting Beck on the air every day to go on anti-government rants and scream that the US under Obama is headed toward communism or fascism or one world government etc. I don't know how you measure the impact of this, but in the 90's, that kind of crazy talk got out mostly via talk radio and print media with a small audience, and now it's broadcast on national television to an audience of millions. So I hope it doesn't incite another Timothy McVeigh but you have to worry about the impact of this rhetoric.
posted by citron at 7:59 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Triggerfinger, I am curious as to what exactly you perceive as hateful or extremist positions from prominent Republicans? You are making some really broad generalizations in your question and you sound totally unaware of your own biases.

On to your questions:

- ...the future of the party and specifically if there are currently any serious contenders for leadership.

The American Enterprise Institute speculates on the future of the Republican party and advocates building on the evangelical base rather than throwing it under the bus. Plus four more answers to the same question from AEI, some of which DO advocate throwing evangelicals under the bus.

As far as contenders for the leadership, absolutely. Bill Whalen of the Hoover Institution names names for you. William Kristol talks specifically about Palin and Jindal. Byron York does the same.

There seem to be promonent Republicans who are speaking out against certain aspects of the current party, Kathleen Parker and Meghan McCain being a few examples. Are they being taken seriously?

Parker is pretty conservative, and definitely is taken seriously. Meghan McCain, not so much. Peggy Noonan is probably more along the lines you're thinking of...although she is pro-life, she is not all that conservative, but conservatives read her. In many of her columns, she discusses what she thinks is wrong with the Republican party and what they should do. I love Noonan and would give my right arm to be able to write like her, but her track record for giving astute political advice is not good.

- Is Fox News really as influential as it seems to be?


I have to point out that you can't even mention Palin or Jindal in your question without dripping condescension. Whatever influence Fox has, it has because reporters from CNN/CBS/NBC/ABC/MSNBC, by and large, have the same attitude - "People must be stupid/haters/whatever if they don't believe what I do." Since people do not like to be insulted, they often just watch Fox.

That said, I applaud you for trying to understand the other side, and hope that these links have helped.
posted by txvtchick at 8:33 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


she is not all that conservative

Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now by Peggy Noonan (Hardcover - Sep 30, 2008)
John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father by Peggy Noonan (Hardcover - Nov 22, 2005)
When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan by Peggy Noonan (Paperback - Oct 1, 2002)
What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era by Peggy Noonan (Paperback - Oct 14, 2003)
The Case Against Hillary Clinton by Peggy Noonan (Hardcover - April 1, 2000)

Palin or Jindal in your question without dripping condescension.

Religious nutballs are still nutballs, no? Speaking from a global perspective, of course.

Since people do not like to be insulted, they often just watch Fox.

. . . to their loss.
posted by mrt at 9:23 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Triggerfinger - I've been here for close to 4 years, and I get what you're saying. I get the occasional email/news link/disturbingly hateful joke sent to me by family members as well.

Four things to consider:

1) You're getting the email version of American politics. You know those emails that are endlessly forwarded on with saccharine sentiments and animated sparkly gifs? They're the same things. People send them on without really thinking too much about the content. The people sending them on probably don't really believe Obama or Hillary Clinton are Satan, but the animated thingie is just so cute or clever they couldn't resist forwarding it on. The actual content, though, is probably a considerably more hateful or right-wing than they realise. The latest ones comparing Iowa to New Orleans (flooding) are simplistic and tasteless, but hey, that's propaganda email for you. The person sending it just isn't considering the rest of it.

2) The Republicans are an opposition party again. It's their natural position. They do this very well. Opposition parties can and do lay down with some pretty flea-bitten dogs, and wake up with a serious infestation. In other words, once they are relieved from the actual mechanisms and responsibilities of power, their policies can get as extreme as they like, as they are only ideas, with no real possibility of becoming actualities. You just might be witnessing this sort of thing, via email and links to news outlets/blogs.

3) Yes, FoxNews is influential to people who want their news slanted towards the right

4) That European liberal-humanist tradition? You've been steeping in it for six years. Even the most conservative Tory would be to the centre-left of the Republican party. For all the flaws of Nu-Labour, the Labour party is to the left of the Democrats. After six years, your POV will have shifted. It's one of the things that occasionally comes up as culture shock with new expats who come to the group. You're probably just getting the reverse shock of this.
posted by Grrlscout at 2:14 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The short answer is that extremists have amassed considerable power within the Republican Party. It's no secret that people on the Religious Right worked their backsides off for years, starting with getting people elected to school boards, planning commissions, city councils... and onward to state legislatures and above, right on up to Bush, Palin and Jindal. It is no coincidence that religion is at the heart of at least a big part of their views.

For good or ill, it is hard to imagine that someone like Nixon (without the dark side), who went to China, proposed the Environmental Protection Agency, could gain prominence in today's Republican Party.

(I was far too young to vote in the Nixon era, my parents hadn't met when Eisenhower was president, but a sense that I am representative to a relevant degree in imagining that I probably wouldn't have voted for Nixon or Ike, but I would have respected their "arguments," had less of the you-gotta-be-freakin'-kidding-me response I have to people like Jindal and Palin.)

About 10 years ago, a Republican congressman, who was no moderate by party standards, told me--"This is off the record! This is off the record!!--that extremists had too much power in his party. He related that in the wake of a congressional election in the area where the seat was in play (not gerrymandered, which can subtly cause considerable problems).

National Republican leaders encouraged Brooks Firestone to run. Firestone was moderate, genuinely concerned about the environment in his district and beyond, from the disagree-without-being-disagreeable perspective, had held office in the area and had Democrats' respect, big name-recognition. Some Republicans decided Firestone was not acceptable, nominated someone (Bordanaro?) far to his right. That candidate won the primary, got drubbed in the general.

On a micro level, I've recently had occasion to be around people cut from the Bordanaro cloth (coat). It is striking to hear people who seemingly receive and rehearse talking points from Limbaugh, Beck, et al. Obama wants a socialist tax policy--if I recall correctly, he wants to raise some rates to lower than they were under Reagan. Obama wants a socialist--said with all the disdain one would have for one who tortures kittens for fun--health-care policy.

One I-hope-Obama-fails guy, Frank, has a special-needs kid, lives in a country where there is massively subsidized health care, is getting good care for the kid for cheap, faces going back to the USA and perhaps facing hideous health-insurance costs or an inability to get it.

I (politely) related the financial/health benefits he and his kid were getting from the current situation, asked if he would take advantage of state or federal programs to help his kid and if so, how he squared that with opposition to "socialized medicine."

"Uh, er... ."

It's a too-typical view: the response to Katrina shows government doesn't work, government handouts are for lazy people, but if need be, a lot of those people of the party of personal responsibility are first in line for government assistance. (I have also heard a lot from Frank and his friends that Clinton is responsible for 9/11, the financial meltdown, etc.)

I worked for a Republican who signed right up for FEMA insurance for his beachfront home, railed against lazy people who wanted to live off government handouts.

Language is important and plenty on the Left are foolish in how they describe those on the Right, but yeah, there are too many people in the Republican Party who are greedy, stupid or both.

There are a few relatively moderate Republican voices, Brooks among them, who are saying as much with slightly nicer verbiage.
posted by ambient2 at 2:55 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, mrt, Noonan used to work for Reagan, and she dislikes Hillary Clinton. In fact, the only person she dislikes more than Hillary Clinton is GW Bush, and she essentially endorsed Obama in the last election. Triggerfinger asked for articles preferably written by people within the party, and Noonan is a good place to start.

Religious nutballs are still nutballs, no?
Comments like that leave me speechless. I'll let triggerfinger evaluate how it addresses her question.

. . . to their loss.
The blog link you posted links to the pew poll summary the blog is based on. You might want to review it. According to Pew, the news source with the lowest percentage of "low knowledge" viewers is O'Reilly, and his "high" and "medium" -knowledge viewers combined are the highest on the list. Limbaugh's audience essentially ties with NPR's.
posted by txvtchick at 6:19 AM on April 20, 2009


That of course should be "with the Republicans consisting roughly of the types listed by MRT".

Though I am curious how the percentile breakdown was arrived at. Not that I have a better one, I simply wonder how it was arrived at.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:32 AM on April 20, 2009


Just remember that there are plenty of us that cannot fundamentally understand how a thinking person could proclaim themselves to be a Democrat.

Two sides of every distribution.

Today's Republicans are being pushed to accepts rather Talibanesque social conservatism. The Republican Party of Eisenhower, Rockefeller and Nixon is but a faint memory, with only a handful of survivors still in national office.

Republicans still have a chance for national relevance by pushing on the fiscal conservative side of their heritage. Just look at Schwarzenegger.

Last year Obama made a pretty bold, straightforward speech laying out the rationale for the separation of private faith from public policy. Until a Republican like Schwarzenegger is free to say similar -- not "politically correct" WRT the fundies -- things, Republicans will be the party of idiots to me.
posted by mrt at 7:33 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I simply wonder how it was arrived at.

SWAG from the fact that their coalition brought in ~50% of the vote and the evangelical/fundamentalist vote is ~20-25M, likely the largest bloc of voters. The pro-military segment is from the unconditional support for the Iraq War, which stood at around 30% when the UNSC maneuvering was still going on in the run-up. Fiscal conservatives then filled in the gap.
posted by mrt at 7:39 AM on April 20, 2009


Just remember that there are plenty of us that cannot fundamentally understand how a thinking person could proclaim themselves to be a Democrat.

Take a look at the demographics from the 2008 race. Those who consider themselves Independents made up 30% of the voting populace and 44% of the total populace considered themselves moderate as opposed to Liberal or Conservative. Both those segments went for Obama. Can't find any cites right now, but one of the reasons that Obama want the majority of indies and mods was because they were turned off by some of the antics of the GOP/McCain/Palin.

The fringe gets a lot of notice because they're loud and strange and if they're fired up they can bring out the votes (see 2002 and 2004 and the various bills about gay marriage).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:46 AM on April 20, 2009


The United States is going to be a majority minority country by around 2042. Black delegates were 2% of the 2008 Republican Convention, which was largely made up of scared old white people. As long as the Republicans stir up and exploit the fears of a shrinking segment of the population, they're going to have trouble.

Just remember that there are plenty of us that cannot fundamentally understand how a thinking person could proclaim themselves to be a Democrat.
Democrats integrated the armed forces, signed the Civil Rights Act, had the first female vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket, had the first black presidential candidate on a major party ticket, elected the first black president, and won World War I and World War II.

posted by kirkaracha at 8:01 AM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


OK I have a real problem with that comment that poor people who are Republican are too illiterate to think. that's just hateful and classist.

Anyway I really came here to recommend another source, the blog Little Green Footballs (who started AFAIK as strong supporters of Iraq war and neocon thinking in general), I have not checked this blog in a good while because.. they are conservative, which is not the problem, what is is that I find a lot of their comments re: the Middle East and Islam to be incredibly offensive. But they're lately at odds with who they call the kooks on the right, so the posts discussing that are prob worth a read.
posted by citron at 8:11 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thank you everyone for your thoughtful and considered answers, as well as the links provided, all of which I have printed off to take home with me tonight. I knew this was a contentious issue and I’m sorry if I came off in a condescending manner but I’ve never been good at putting my thoughts on paper unfortunately.

To clarify a few things, I think what I was essentially trying to say is that I know there are intelligent people with good and reasonable arguments within the Republican Party but I don’t understand why the more extreme members are the ones that seem to be the most prominent. As Brandon Blatcher pointed out with his link on immigration, I think this tactic is doing them more harm than good…why are they carrying on with it? I’d like to know how the extremists – whom I believe are the minority within the party – have come to pretty much represent the party. Why is no one else stepping up to the plate? Is it because there is a lack of a charismatic leader at the moment? Thinking back to 2004, I thought the state of the Democratic party was in fairly dire straits. We needed a charismatic leader like Clinton or Reagan, and Kerry was the best we could do, which was far from good enough and it didn’t surprise me at all that Bush won - even though there was already some discontent brewing among American people.

I also think that Obama was helped in no small part because of the economy. Had Lehman Brothers not failed and the economy had not gone to shit in September/October, I really believe it would have been a much closer race and that McCain would have stood a real chance of winning. This is despite that Sarah Palin was regarded by most (excluding the base) as being an extremely poor choice for VP. I still think the GOP could have pulled it off had it not been for the economy and McCain’s ill-timed statements and actions regarding it.

I think the political and cultural landscape has changed significantly since I moved and though Fox has been around for a long time, it seems as though they’ve really only achieved the status they have in the last 5-7 years or so. I can appreciate that I am reading a lot of the US news in UK newspapers and while they inform me about the news – it’s more of an “arm’s length” thing where I am unable to really understand public sentiment around issues as I used to be able to understand from hearing it on the radio, TV talk shows, people around me talking etc. Though I read tons of things on the internet from lots of different sources, truth be told, I get a lot of the my feelings about how people feel about things from reading Metafilter, occasionally watching the Daily Show and reading HuffPo, which has written quite a bit about the current state of the GOP. I am well aware that these are far from unbiased sources, which I now know is probably a big part of my problem in understanding. I want to read opinion pieces, but opinion pieces that are measured, well-thought out and non-hysterical. I’ve tried to watch The O’Reilley Factor but it just winds me up as it is none of those things. I will look forward to reading David Brooks, Peggy Noonan and some of the other columnists linked.

I am curious as to what exactly you perceive as hateful or extremist positions from prominent Republicans? You are making some really broad generalizations in your question and you sound totally unaware of your own biases.

txvtchick, I think you’re probably correct in stating this. This is kind of why I asked this question. The hateful and extremist positions I’m talking about include things like a lot of the McCain/Palin rallies where people were engaging in hate speech and the response from the McCain campaign was (I thought) weak, at best. Limbaugh is a prominent member of the party and has a long history of divisive and inflammatory statements. Things like bans on stem-cell research is an extremist and unwarranted position, in my opinion. These are just a few examples off the top of my head but thank you for your helpful response and your links, which I look forward to reading later.

Just remember that there are plenty of us that cannot fundamentally understand how a thinking person could proclaim themselves to be a Democrat.

Skull, this is exactly the conversation I would like to have with conservatives and exactly the kind of thing I would like to read. I want to understand and I want to discuss it in a calm and reasonable way, without throwing insults around. Any Republican that I’ve asked just gets inflamed and starts throwing things they’ve heard O’Reilley or Limbaugh say at me.

Thanks again for those of you who provided links as well as those who took the time to explain their position, it has been very thought-provoking and helpful.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:04 AM on April 20, 2009


I'd recommend Nixonland, which I am reading right now. Not only does it give a lot of good historical perspective on how the Republican party became so conservative--I'm continually shocked when Perlstein mentions "liberal Republicans"--but it also acts as sort of a cautionary note with certain (understated) parallels to the present day: a Democratic president elected over a senator from Arizona by a landslide, with commentators wondering if the Republican party is finished... a rising Republican star that no one seems to take seriously... chilling stuff.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:47 AM on April 20, 2009


but I don’t understand why the more extreme members are the ones that seem to be the most prominent.

Hey, it worked in before, it'll work again, right?

In retrospect, the Republican dominance was due to fail, by the way it was built. Sure, you can turn out the "God hates fags" crowds and help win elections, but once you've done that and got anti gay measures passed, what then, what's going to bring back that crowd? And in bringing out that crowd, who are you pissing and turning away from your party? Remember, George Bush got the majority of the Hispanic vote in 2004, which helped him win against Kerry. It was smart, because Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the population. Yet Obama flipped that in 2008, partially because the crazy arm of the GOP wanted to be hardnosed about this. I didn't like Bush, but I thought his ideas about immigration reform were good and should be seriously discussed, if not implemented. Imagine if that had happened, Hispanics would have lined behind the GOP in massive numbers. Yet they flubbed that, and flubbed it HARD. They literally turned an important segment of the population! Why? Arrogance and short-sightedness couples with changing times. Hispanics are growing. Younger people, who grew with technology and homosexuality and blacks and mexicans, and aren't afraid of those things and they've reached voting age.

The GOP, composed of many older, white americans, is still living in the past (self link to a political website I run). Also, they sold their soul by rigidly supporting Bush. Had they fought against his deficits and torture policies, they'd at least look credible to a lot of Independents, who are they ones who decide elections these days. Instead, nominated McCain and Palin and become a joke to a lot of people.

You're right about Obama being helped by the economy. Nate Silver over at fivethirtyeight has a graph on there somewhere that shows how drastically Obama's and McCain's polling numbers changed once the economy problems became front page news.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:52 AM on April 20, 2009


Strangely, I recently had this conversation with an Austrian diplomat. I think it's challenging to underestimate the discomfort a significant number of people have when people try to legislate morality based on their holy book.

It's worse because it's not uncommon that there is also the message subtle or otherwise that those who think differently are heathens, unpatriotic, fundamentally lesser people.

(To be sure, having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and Saudi Arabia, I can say that I've no time for extremism. I'm Theo Van Gogh.)

As Obama, Dean and others have pointed out, the opposition's best interests are not served by calling those people kooks. Of course, the obverse: people are foolish to call those on the other side commie tree-huggers.

It's believed Reagan borrowed the line from somewhere, but he long ago said something along the lines of, "I've always thought it was okay for people to do things as long as they don't do it in public and it doesn't scare the horses."

I couldn't agree more.

There's a real sense that the Reagan-related view holds little or no sway in the current Republican Party.

And now, having had dinner at 8 p.m. local time in a Middle East country where alcohol is illegal, time to motor along the Gulf to the above-mentioned diplomat's house, shoot some pool and drink some Heineken he brings in thanks to diplomatic privileges.

Send bacon.
posted by ambient2 at 10:09 AM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


"How have the extremists gotten such a stranglehold on the party? How can people not see hate-baiters for what they are? Is it because there has been no reasonable alternative?"

No, it's because the Republican party is a walking paradox. It used to nominally be about generally keeping government out of your business, less spending, lower taxes, letting the lowest possible levels of government make their own decisions, and staying out of international problems unless important interests were threatened. But that requires government types to say, "choose me, so that I can legislate myself out of a job. By the way, I'm only here to help you in these limited ways." Politicians, whose livelihoods depend upon governmental power and activity, inevitably become less and less inclined to think this way as they stay in power longer. It's also hard for elected, non-true believers to refuse to "do something" when the human tragedy stories start rolling in.

That "old" way of thinking describes the branch of the party to which I belong. We got thrown overboard a long time ago as the party bosses decided to turn left and try to wield government in order to win the influence of social conservatives and stay in power. THAT is why Palin's bunch is in charge. The alternative is to return to us - but doing what we want is a lot harder and diminishes their own gravy train.
posted by pandanom at 10:35 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


By "left" I mean expanding government reach instead of limiting it.
posted by pandanom at 10:37 AM on April 20, 2009


This MeFi thread had a comment leading to this article, which may help give you some more local context as to what sort of effect Fox News has on the US. I've never read the Daily Mail, but the same sort of paranoia and sometimes outright falsehoods seem to poison the American mentality through Fox News. Whenever I talk to someone who says, "oh, I never look at anything other than FNC and the local paper," I already know there will be no actual communication taking place. They have their worldview, which doesn't jibe with reality, and nothing short of forcible reeducation will change that.

Since I'm not into forcible reeducation, I'm left to sigh and walk away, saddened to learn that yet another person has volunteered for brainwashing.
posted by hippybear at 11:19 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Skull, this is exactly the conversation I would like to have with conservatives and exactly the kind of thing I would like to read. I want to understand and I want to discuss it in a calm and reasonable way, without throwing insults around. Any Republican that I’ve asked just gets inflamed and starts throwing things they’ve heard O’Reilley or Limbaugh say at me.

Somebody didn't like it, since my comment has been removed. But that's okay -- debate with the left usually involves silencing the right.
posted by _Skull_ at 12:03 PM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can't believe that there are more extreme rightwingers than moderate Republicans, so why are the extreme ones (eg Ann Coulter, Limbaugh) getting more publicity? Sensationalism?

The biggest mistake you can make is assuming there can't be people who have radically different points of view from you. Look at poll numbers to see what people believe. look at the results of the last election to get an idea of American beliefs - Obama won, but there were still a large minority who voted for McCain/Palin, and a "silent majority" who chose not to vote at all, showing they either didn't care who won, didn't think it made a difference, couldn't be bothered to get around to it, didn't think they understood things well enough to choose, or otherwise rejected the whole system.

Remember that before this election, our country elected Bush, twice, Reagan, twice... People really do disagree. (I have a relative who voted McCain/Palin, says she didn't like McCain much and Palin even less, but that they were far superior to Obama in her mind. She thinks Obama is a socialist and has said she is "very frightened" for the future of the country. I believe she watches Fox. And she is smart - job in computer programming, working on an advanced degree, etc)

It's possible the tide is turning, that Obama marks the beginning of a new era in the US and so forth, but it's pretty early to make that claim. There was a lot of hope when Clinton was first elected, and no one really expected the "Contract with America" / Rush Limbaugh stuff to be taken seriously. But it ended up basically crippling Clinton for the last 6 years he was in office, after those first midterm elections. So the tea party stuff may seem like nothing, but there could be real momentum there, and the important thing is not to make the same mistake of just dismissing it.

Put in very simple terms, it seems to me that republicanism stands for consumerism, getting rich on your own, being right, doing what's right, being number one, having faith (not necessarily in god, but in some core value), not taking anyone's shit, and getting what you want on your own. As long as Americans love action movies and cowboys more than character-driven dialogue and modern art, there will always be a streak of republicanism in the national psyche. (and that's what they mean when they say democrats are "elitist").
posted by mdn at 1:40 PM on April 20, 2009


The biggest mistake you can make is assuming there can't be people who have radically different points of view from you.

IMO the issue WRT the question is that many Americans, enough to provide viewership and listener base for Rush, Hannity, Savage, O'Reilly, etc have radically different points of view from the global mean.

But I agree with you about the American action-oriented spirit. This has always been a land of opportunity, with rich natural resources that were free for the plundering for the first three centuries of our history. People with any gumption had no excuse not to grab an axe and head West!

It's my theory that settler colonies like ours tend to be more less socially-oriented, I haven't been to Australia but I gather they have a similar social dynamic.

I consider myself a left-libertarian and honor this tradition. The left part of me sees that this isn't the 19th century any more and there is a role for government to serve as a regulator to limit the damage a free-wheeling economy can do to itself.

This puts me solidly in the educated Euro tradition of neoliberalism, maybe not a Conservative in the UK but close, and certainly a Liberal or (new) Labour), plus of course the mainstream of continental political thought.

But here 50% of the country thinks I'm Maoist or whatever. Go figure.
posted by mrt at 1:56 PM on April 20, 2009


Triggerfinger thank you for your thoughtful response.

I get a lot of the my feelings about how people feel about things from reading Metafilter, occasionally watching the Daily Show and reading HuffPo, which has written quite a bit about the current state of the GOP. I am well aware that these are far from unbiased sources, which I now know is probably a big part of my problem in understanding.

May I suggest realclearpolitics.com. They lean right in their editorials but typically post interesting editorials from both the left and the right on their front page posts.
posted by txvtchick at 3:13 PM on April 20, 2009


In advance of the 2006 midterm elections, the New York Times ran a creative interactive graphic showing the different coalitions and factions within Republican party (linked from the Wikipedia page for "Factions in the Republican Party"). The graphic also listed the issues on which the different factions came together (they did the same from the Democrats). Several ideas in that coalition seem pretty durable, which is why I think talk of the GOP's demise is premature, even if tactical missteps of the sort AZPenguin describes have probably let the wrong factions in the party take control, to the GOP's (and God, this entire country's) detriment.
posted by hhc5 at 7:12 PM on April 20, 2009


... have probably let the wrong factions in the party take control,

How so? The largest blocs were the "anti-Washington" and the "tax cutting" blocs, with the "traditional values" not far behind. THose are the ones that I think of when I think of the Republican party, and those are the ones that represent the most people. It seems like majority is ruling, no?
posted by mdn at 8:53 AM on April 21, 2009


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