With the Iowa caucuses less than three weeks away and the New Hampshire primary hard on its heels, there is an essential truth in politics today that transcends all others: The Republican Party has finally screwed the pooch and is on a collision course with electoral Armageddon.
This has become such common knowledge -- The New York Times climbed on board recently with a thumbsucker reading like the plot outline of Titanic -- that the problem for pundits like myself in describing the party's self-immolation is to somehow sound new and different. And wonder all the while why the heck the party is unable to do anything beyond rearranging deck chairs as it steams full speed ahead toward that iceberg of a presidential election.
That question is actually fairly easy to answer: The loyalists cognizant of the GOP's parlous condition have been banished from its temple of political purity, and what has become paramount to the forces that now pretty much control the party is defending the five pillars of the temple -- rank nativism, economic recidivism, nonsensical beliefs, an aversion to governing and pathological fear of change. This is more important than even winning big elections.
After the drubbing the party took in the 2012 presidential election, a Republican National Committee commission called the Growth and Opportunity Project brought forth a brutally blunt 98-page report concluding that the GOP had become smug, uncaring and so ideologically rigid that it was turning off a majority of American voters with stale policies that had changed little in 30 years and an image that was alienating to women, minorities and the young.
This call to modernize the party -- to develop "a more welcoming brand of conservatism that invites and inspires new people to visit us," as the report concluded -- was ignored in its entirety.
At the heart of the of the Republican Party's malaise is a simple fact that has nothing to do with principles or identity: It has played a shell game with voters loyal to the GOP for years. Well, they're sick and tired of it, and is apparent, they're not going to take it anymore.
With mind-numbing regularity, the party establishment has assured its middle- and working-class loyalists that it has their best economic and social interests in mind, and then inevitably craps all over them by promoting tax cuts for the rich, deregulating Wall Street and corporations, and rolling over on culture war issues. This, more than anything, explains why rank-and-file conservatives are no longer willing to defer to party elites and have, in effect, staged a people's coup by elevating candidates like Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson who are not the playthings of of wealthy donors, banksters and elected officials. It matters not that they're idiots.
Add to that opposition to immigration and panic over America's dramatically changing face, or what Lindsay Graham calls the GOP's "demographic death spiral," and the chances of the party coalescing around one candidate as it has typically done -- and even did when the party was sharply divided between supporters of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford in 1976 -- are somewhere between zero and none.
We need look no further than the 2008 nomination of Sarah Palin for vice president to understand when the Republican Party left the rails.
Seven years on -- following two crushing defeats in presidential elections and the likelihood of a third in November -- the destruction that the former half-term governor of Alaska has wrought is immense. And continues to grow. In a much-quoted Washington Post op-ed piece, former Obama chief of staff Bill Daley wrote that Palin set "a new standard" for the Republican Party that has gifted us Carson and Trump, among other buffoons:
"Once John McCain put Sarah Palin on the ticket, Republican 'grown-ups,' who presumably knew better, had to bite their tongues. But after the election, when they were free to speak their minds, they either remained quiet or abetted the dumbing-down of the party. They stood by as Donald Trump and others noisily pushed claims that Obama was born in Kenya. And they gladly rode the Tea Party tiger to sweeping victories in 2010 and 2014. . . .
"It's hard to feel much sympathy. The Republican establishment's 2008 embrace of Palin set an irresponsibly low bar. Coincidence or not, a batch of nonsense-spewing, hard-right candidates quickly followed, often to disastrous effect."
Daley may seem to be belaboring the obvious, but the deeply toxic effect that this narcissistic, power abusing kook and liar (who now threatens to take on Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski out of sheer spite) has had on the GOP still is not fully appreciated, and only barely so by historians as well as Republicans who mourn the destruction of the GOP Big Tent and the party's descent into pooch screwing.
Nor is McCain's decision to invite Palin to join the ticket after spending less than two hours with her (his man in charge of vetting veep nominees never even met her face to face) properly understood to be the most irresponsible decision in the history of presidential campaigns.
While it's easy to blame Palin for the state of the party, at first glance that state is a mixed bag.
Republicans are rich in statehouses and state legislatures (and generally did well in the November off-off-year elections), firmly in control of the House and pretty much in control of the Senate. But the party is poor where it matters most. It is no closer to recapturing the White House than in 2012 and now arguably even further from that goal. As considerable as the party's legislative and congressional successes have been, they have had much to do with gerrymandering and it is the big dance that counts the most. In that respect, the party's record is awful because voters have elected Democrats in four of the last five presidential elections, not including the one thrown by the Supreme Court, prevailing by a 2-to-1 electoral vote margin (1,446 to 706).
Palin is not the only reason for the Republican Party's dysfunction, but her toxic lip lock is evident in the hapless 2016 presidential campaign.
Taking into account the unelectability of frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, as well as the rest of the still overcrowded field, no party has been in a weaker position 10 months from a presidential election in the modern era. (And please don't ask me what the modern era is; it just has a nice ring to it.)
Sure, the field will narrow and there will be considerable sorting out. But it is the fat cats willing to bet buckets of money on their horse thanks to the largesse of Citizens United who are keeping so many unqualified people in the race. Some 55 percent of the party's registered voters tell pollsters they support candidates who have zero experience in public service but still would entrust them with running the government, maintaining America's place in the world . . . oh, and carrying around the "nucular" football.
So a bit more than half of the Republican electorate insists that it doesn’t want a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, the only people who could conceivably challenge Hillary Clinton, and if Donald Trump and Ted Cruz continue to lead the pack, there will be an irreconcilable split between the party's donor class and the pitchfork brigade going into -- and after -- what party éminence grise Karl Rove concedes is likely to be the first brokered national nominating convention since 1948.
The consequences are these:
* A Trump or Cruz is denied the nomination. The establishment nominee faces an overwhelming Democratic edge and a spoilsport third party bid by a renegade candidate that spells a rout of Goldwater-like proportions.
* Trump or Cruz back into the nomination. The renegade nominee faces an overwhelming Democratic edge and a rout of Goldwater-like proportions as establishment Republicans stay home or cross over to the Democratic column.
Put yourself in the position of a long suffering establishment Republican factotum.
You've paid your dues and worked mighty hard to erase the nightmarish memory of Election Night 2012 when Rove melted down before millions of viewers on Fox News over his disbelief that Barack Obama had carried Ohio despite that call by his own network. And as the long night wore on, it became obvious that you and your pals had deluded themselves into believing that Mitt Romney was going to kick the president's Kenyan ass.
Here it is going on four years later and you have that same sinking feeling. All of that hard work, as well as heartburn from eating way too many pigs in a blanket at fundraising dinners, is going down the electoral toilet because of two deeply unelectable frontrunners that cannot be knocked from their perches.
There is a mysogonistic pretty boy endorsed by white supremacist groups who has descended deus ex machina from his Fifth Avenue penthouse to out-jive a field of once promising presidential prospects with an astonishing succession of inflammatory statements, as well as a foreign-born thug who shows not a scintilla of compassion, is loathed by his Senate colleagues, fond of using Nazi analogies in his solipsistic rants, and "is the most spectacular liar to ever run for president," in the words of one pundit.
It's a beautiful thing.