Insight. Antics.

Party Afoul.

In Politics on November 19, 2012 at 9:45 am

In case you didn’t hear, Barack Obama was reelected as president. (I’m not sure how I would feel if you actually hadn’t heard until now. Simultaneously flattered and abhorred that Brief Wit is your only source of news?)

The postmortems have come hard and fast since Obama’s victory, like that scene in The Avengers where the Hulk punches Thor in Grand Central.

In his own dissection of the loss, Romney inelegantly echoed the “47 percent” version of himself by saying Obama bestowed “gifts” on demographic groups. What you call “gifts,” I might call “rights” or “decencies,” but hey, let’s not parse. (Even Newt gave him grief for it.)

In the end, what looked to be the case became the reality.

Yes, Mitt Romney was so obviously and easily cast as a tone-deaf robber baron at possibly the worst time in 80 years to be labeled that way. But Romney was not just a bad candidate for his own message, he was a bad candidate for the GOP’s message. And, like a riesling paired with a ribeye, the GOP’s message was not very palatable to begin with.

Indeed, the predominant feature of these campaign postscripts has been clear-eyed criticism of the Republican party, chiefly its issue stances and waning appeal to a changing population. The takeaway: the GOP has run afoul of the electorate.

As the analyses have fluttered out, one of the earliest and most succinct was also probably the most palpable portrait, from former Bush reelection adviser Matthew Dowd on Good Morning America. He said that the GOP had become a “ ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ America.”

(I’m not saying it’s all over, but Sean Hannity’s already applied for Food Stamps.)

One thing is all but certain: Karl Rove’s permanent Republican majority is a no-go. (Turd Blossom womp womp.) That doesn’t mean Democrats will be in perpetual power, nor should they be cocky or naïve enough to think that’s attainable. (Wyoming’s not about to abandon the GOP en masse.)

The GOP is at the beginning of a fierce, messy struggle over its raison d’être.

Either the calcified right (Rush Limbaugh, Charles Krauthammer, Jim DeMint, and co.) will stonewall and eke it out, with increasingly outdated and untenable positions, or the more grounded, measured types (David Frum, Bobby Jindal, Rick Snyder, and such) will prevail by adjusting party stances, especially on social issues.

In the case of the former, they simply won’t persuade enough voters, and will erode their numbers further. In the latter case, the goalposts will move to the left (relatively speaking), and the party will be more moderate.

For the Democrats, it seems like a win-win: debate a weakened, cray cray opposition, or one that has, for reasons of survival, decided upfront to concede ground to you.

Since “Every four years, a new 18-22 year old cohort arrives that is more liberal than the one that has died off in the interim,” something’s gotta give. Demographic trends make it more challenging for the GOP to pull off a majority.

Republican governors are starting to speak their minds and stake their claims. And the odds are that the GOP will make some sort of comeback. Pundits and analysts have mainly spoken not about if the GOP will rebound, but how, and where it will land.

Still, I’ve found myself thinking, isn’t it conceivable that the Republicans could recede and be replaced? Or for that matter, at some point, could the Democrats?

The only place I heard anything close to this so far, was buried at the end of this New York Times piece, where the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, R. Clarke Cooper, “said the party risks going the way of the Whigs or becoming a regional party” if it “does not make inroads among gay voters along with other minority groups.”

Arguably, the US has had at least five different eras of shifting party systems, when one came up (Republicans, Democrats) and another came down (Federalists, Whigs), or when the balance of power veered starkly. So, this is not without precedent.

What it boils down to is this: what’s the point of a party?

Is it to be or stay in power, even if you trade in your ideas? Or is it to hold a set of beliefs, values, and ideas, and apply them to government?

It seems that a party should only be as valuable as its people and its ideas. But if it’s not, will something else take its place if it lags?

As George Carlin put it with euphemisms: “These poor people have been bullshitted by the system into believing that if you change the name of the condition somehow you’ll change the condition. Well, hey cousin … doesn’t happen!”

If the Republicans modulate their positions on immigration, same-sex marriage, and other issues to survive, won’t it just be the opposite? The condition will change but the name will remain the same. I’m not arguing for their current prescriptions, but what is the point of that?

This is more cynical, or perhaps realistic, but on their faces, parties don’t matter. What matters is the apparatus our two dominant ones have erected: the name recognition, talented national strategists, established local chairmen, robust fundraising operation, and general history and familiarity. I suppose that’s why there’s no serious talk of winding down one party and winding up another.

The reason the Republicans can survive, and that an alternative will have a tough time taking their place, is that they’ve already built the factory. They just need to come up with a different, compelling product to put on the assembly line.

Maybe this is the tacit thing that all those pundits and analysts just know. That, due to the status quo, it would take such a monumental occurrence to knock one of the two parties down long enough for another to rise, that it won’t happen. Perhaps they underestimate the disrupting nature of the web in helping to level the playing field from a funding and communications perspective. Still, it would likely take a cadre of influential figures breaking off the GOP to do their own thing for it to have a ghost of a chance. (In all likelihood, this line of thinking is a total fantasy to perpetuate my theory of a moderate, Blue Dog-style party emerging, but if there were a robust three-party system, a plurality would do the trick.) The Bull Moose party gave it a shot 100 years ago, but didn’t win the Oval Office, even though it had the credibility of former occupant Teddy Roosevelt.

Perhaps instead of fixating on a party, we should heed the slogan of Obama’s rival in 2008: “Country First.”

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