Since the election, I’ve been thinking a lot about what has really happened to the Republican Party. I’ve heard many in the media say that the party lives in a very insulated world; the very world they accuse liberals of living in. I’ve also been hearing (for years, really) that the party has swung entirely too far right as a whole, and no longer appeals to the centrist majority of the country.
These are both true; however they are a symptom of a deeper problem. Simply put, the Republican Party is represented by its lunatic fringe.
To be clear, every side of politics has its lunatic fringe. I’ve seen and heard a lot of lunatics on the left as well, and there are even a few moderate lunatics I’ve encountered. However, the Republicans have allowed theirs, whether these are fellow politicians, pundits, radio hosts, or in some other field, to be their most vocal segment and, in doing so, painted the entire conservative movement with a certain condescending, we-are-higher-and-mightier-than-you absurdity that represents pretty much nobody.
During the last decade, the Republicans have slid further and further to the right on the political spectrum, and the more moderate of them seem to have kept to themselves, as though they think speaking out about the direction the party was akin to torpedoing their own careers in politics. This allowed pundits like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity—indeed, the entire network of Fox News—along with talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, and pseudo-politicians like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, speak for the party.
It let Grover Norquist tighten his stranglehold on the party, so that members of the GOP were tied into his anti-tax pledge, even if they came to feel that it wasn’t the best ideal to adhere to. Follow the pledge or I will ensure that you lose your seat, is essentially what Norquist tells them.
One of the biggest problems with being extreme on anything is that you can’t make yourself compromise with anybody. The extreme right doesn’t see reaching across the aisle and working with Democrats as…reaching across the aisle and working with Democrats. Instead, they see it as pandering, as compromising their values, which they equate with “traditional American values” and call on Republican members of Congress to not do it.
The resulting gridlock backfired in their faces, as people of America realized that this increasing tendency toward extremism wasn’t going to be good for anybody except perhaps the rich, despite all the rhetoric they used to attempt to say otherwise. Anger over the lack of political action in Congress coupled with outrage over the 2010 Citizens United decision and Romney’s many gaffes that further painted conservatives in a negative light, made people decide to prove with their votes that they will not allow their elections to be bought, nor will they allow a party in the White House that alienates everybody except the rich and white men.
When I ask people around me, who used to be Republican but are now either independent, Libertarian or even Democrat, why they are no longer Republican, the answer is inevitably to the tune of, “They don’t care about what’s best for the country anymore.”
The results of the election, with Obama winning the popular vote by more than 3 million, seem to confirm that people feel a Democratic president is less likely to want to hurt a majority of the country for the purpose of helping the few and furthering themselves along the way.
Republicans are taking that defeat as the wake-up call it was and are beginning to make plans to try and connect with more segments of the electorate, perhaps finally understanding that you can’t insult over half of us and expect to win the presidency.
Those overtures, smart as they are, will not likely be enough on their own. To truly turn themselves around and regain the trust of the people, they need first to distance themselves from the vocal extremists. They need to make it clear that people like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, with their racist, sexist attitudes, don’t speak for the party.
They need to continue to distance themselves, as a party, from Norquist, thereby taking away his power over them and their policy decisions, in an effort to put together fiscal packages that actually work for the country (in fact, Ann Coulter herself has said that they need to give in to Obama on taxes now).
In short, they, as a party, need to be louder than their lunatic fringe, through words and actions. Until they do that, they will be wholly unable to erase their image as the out-of-touch-with-reality party that only cares about wealth and power.