Are the Republicans Beyond Saving?

Marco Rubio; drawing by John Springs

The spectacle of the Republicans, like teenagers longing to be invited to the prom, floundering about in search of more popularity with American voters, would be comical if it didn’t reflect a near collapse of a workable political system. The Republicans are angry. They had firmly believed that the voters wouldn’t possibly reelect Barack Obama for a second term and that they would retake the Senate. Erroneous polling assumptions fueled their dreams of controlling both of the elected branches, giving them power to reverse most or all of Obama’s policies and impose their own philosophy on the economy. Exhilarated going into election night, they were totally unprepared for the thumping loss they sustained. That left them in a state of shock, and sensing that somehow they had been had.

As the Republicans search for a new and more electable identity they have a fundamental problem. Ever since they took their major right turn in 1964, they have made a series of bargains in order to strengthen their ranks: the Southern strategy, which validated racism; the Christian right; the Sagebrush Rebellion, which represented big ranching and farming interests as well as the mining industry; and the Club for Growth, a highly conservative anti-tax, anti-spending group that can pour money into primaries to knock off incumbents who don’t vote according to their views. However successful momentarily, this series of deals ultimately cost the Republicans broad national appeal and flexibility.

The emergence, as a result of the 2010 elections, of the Tea Party—partly grassroots and partly developed and exploited from national headquarters in Washington and supported by big money—as a national force pushed the Republican Party still further to the right. Many members of the Tea Party, or figures who ran for office with their backing, introduced a new concept of governing: they were against it. For the first time there was a sizable number of House members who had run on the explicit promise never to compromise. At the same time, Republicans took control of a large number of states, with new governors pushing conservative policies and having a significant impact on national policy.

Joe Scarborough, the former Republican Florida congressman turned philosopher at the breakfast table, frequently laments on his weekday morning show on MSNBC the Republican Party’s narrowing of its base and its outlook, and its consequent loss of appeal to the country at large. Repeatedly, Scarborough has expressed his distress over the facts that the Republicans have lost the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential elections, blown two opportunities to retake the Senate, and even lost the popular vote for the House in 2012, managing to hold on to a majority of seats only as a result of gerrymandering in Republican- controlled states.

In a recent speech to a conservative group, Scarborough observed:

I think the debate has been stifled. It has been stifled because we have created this conservative groupthink over …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Subscription — $74.95

Purchase a print subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all articles published within the last five years.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.