And why would I care? Well, despite the fact that my posts have favored Democrat candidates and office holders for some years, it is not because I am a card-carrying ideologically pure Democrat. There have been, and continue to be, some very decent, competent and level-headed Republicans whose presence in a Presidential or other campaign for high office would likely result in a much more substantive dialog. Imagine, for example, if John Huntsman had been the Republican nominee this year. He was the lone voice of reason and practicality early in the primary season, and of course, he was quickly eliminated in the frantic race to the right by the field of Republican candidates.
At present, it is hard to imagine what such a campaign would have been like because, with his early departure, you may have very little sense of John Huntsman, and even more because the idea of a thoughtful Republican candidate seems so incongruous in today’s Republican Party. It was not always so. It used to be that there were “moderate” Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower and, ironically, George Romney, who didn’t run a campaign based on religious right hot buttons (gay rights, abortion, and, this year, even birth control) or on coded appeals to racial and ethnic prejudices.
A better campaign isn’t the reason, of course, rather it is that I believe that a healthy two-party system results in better government. The Republican party has, over the past few decades, drifted further and further away from the role of a principled competitor and player in the sphere of democratic representative government. Specifically, it has become increasingly focused on tactics to win elections and maintain political power rather than on governing well and remaining viable for that reason. It has been well documented how the divisive “southern strategy” was developed under Richard Nixon based on thinly-disguised appeals to white voters nervous about the growing number of African-American voters enfranchised under the advances of the 1960s.
The past four years have given us the nadir of this course, with major Republican leaders declaring from the moment of Obama’s election that their “most important” priority was that he not be reelected. In saying this, they effectively rejected the voice of the voters as expressed by a substantial margin, and subsequently gave the impression of opposing anything that would make Obama look good, even if it were also good for the country. This arrogance among Republican leaders in believing that they know better than the voters has happened before. In the unraveling of the Watergate scandal under Richard Nixon, John Mitchell, the Attorney General who was convicted of deep involvement in the coverup, said, “This election was too important. We couldn’t risk the possibility of the wrong outcome.” In other words, we can’t just leave it up to the people.
So is there hope for the Republican Party? Despite this long history, there were moments during election night and since that suggest some awareness has been raised. As often as not however, it came out as a lament or complaint: “This isn’t the traditional America anymore!” – presumably referring to the “Father Knows Best” picture of all-white suburbs and stay-at-home moms, where minorities, if they dared even vote or speak in public, would dutifully follow the example of the wiser white men who were entitled to lead society. Those of us in the “reality-based community” know that that America never actually existed. That so many Republicans seem to believe it did is an example of the fundamental thing that must change if there is to be any chance of a viable Republican Party.
That “thing” is the right-wing’s nearly complete rejection of “reality” as represented by scientific theories, logic as it has been understood since the time of the ancient Greeks, ‘facts’ as distinct from ‘beliefs’ and ‘opinions’, and even basic arithmetic. The examples of this over the past campaign year are countless and mind-boggling, and they are well-documented in numerous articles such as this one by Frank Rich.
Perhaps most quantifiable is the curious fact that all of the Republican polls that Romney was seeing (and that were endlessly repeated on Fox News and other right-wing media) predicted Romney winning the election, including every one of the swing states, all of which were finally won by Obama – NH, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado. One has to wonder how polls, supposedly run by professionals, could be so consistently skewed and all in the same direction. Perhaps the clearest reason is revealed in the widespread disparagement heaped on Nate Silver, the statistician writing for the NY Times who correctly predicted all 50 states. Of course, as his predictions indicated an Obama win, they accused him of being politically biased – a typical expression of their belief that not to accept the ‘facts’ according to right-wing orthodoxy is to prove that one is politically motivated. As Frank Rich says, this is also one of many obvious cases of ‘projection’ by Republicans – they believe everyone else is doing what they know, at least somewhere in their subconscious, that they themselves are doing.
A few cracks appeared in the stone wall on election night when the Fox news pundits finally had to confront a series of facts that they could not ignore or negate – the election results rolling in from state after state that culminated in the inescapable fact of an overwhelming Obama electoral college victory, one that even Fox News joined in calling before midnight. That call produced an iconic moment in the much reported meltdown of Karl Rove, disputing Fox’s own statisticians call of Ohio for Obama and leading Fox News anchor Megan Kelly to challenged him, saying “is this Republican arithmetic that you do to make yourself feel better, or is this real?”
Hence, the most obvious explanation of the consistently wrong prediction by Republican pollsters boils down to: (1) results showing Obama winning would brand you as a liberal defector, and (2) “Republican arithmetic” can be used to produce the expected result.
Equally obvious, “Republican arithmetic” is one of the things that Republicans will need to give up if there is to be hope of regaining the role of a credible party. Republicans have been using that kind of arithmetic in connection with issues such as global warming, evolution, and budget proposals. As we said above, this is one piece of a widespread rejection of science and logic, as if the very country that they hope to lead wasn’t in fact made great by the logic and wisdom of its founders and the regular application of science from Ben Franklin to the present day.
To again be a party with a decent respect for science and fact-based reality, the Republican party will need to do another thing: divorce its unholy alliance with Rush Limbaugh and all the rest of the flaming right-wing talk show entertainers. As I said in that previous piece, these people will go on making up their own facts, spinning conspiracies of foreign-born Presidents, and lamenting the destruction of “traditional America” as long as they have an audience. That is their job, but it is not the job of elected office holders. The Republicans must realize and accept that the “ditto-heads” and such are a small and shrinking audience, that you can’t win elections with just that audience, and that the rants of these people are a serious turn-off for an increasingly large majority of the voting population. Regardless of the source, Republicans should take President Obama’s wise observation, “It is always a good idea to ignore Donald Trump” and apply it to a few others as well.
We can hope that, in the long run, the Republicans will adopt a number of basic positions because they are the right thing and consistent with American ideals of personal and religious freedom: (1) accepting and welcoming people of all colors and ethnicities as full and deserving members of society; (2) accepting that freedom of religion means any religion or none, not just Christian, and includes not presuming to impose by law the tenants of one religion on all others with regard to matters like same-sex marriage; (3) taking seriously, with a healthy degree of study and questioning when needed, the general body of modern scientific knowledge, not rejecting it or equating it with religious beliefs.
In the short run, Republicans will need to move toward these positions in order to retain any chance of winning elections, and a few may be confronting that reality now. Whether it will take hold remains to be seen. The talk show rants won’t let up, and they’ll probably double down on their doom and gloom scenarios and conspiracy theories, such as massive election fraud as why Obama actually won. Many Republican politicians will find it too scary to put some distance between themselves and the narrow social agenda of the religious right, as well as the divisive rants of the talk shows. The wiser ones will recognize that most ordinary Republican voters are not ideologically tied to Rush Limbaugh or the religious right, and even those who are won’t be voting for Democrats in any event.
The wiser ones will also realize that there are valid and important questions and issues that remain and are appropriate to be dealt with in the job of governing: the size of government, how to make social program work more effectively; how to balance the competing needs for government action, deficit reduction, tax reform, and economic growth; immigration; energy and environment; how to change voting practices, not to discourage minority and elderly voters, but rather to make fully enfranchised and accurate voting the norm; and so on. These issues must be approached with the understanding that they are complex and require the use of real arithmetic, not Republican or Democrat arithmetic, real facts and statistics, real economic expertise, etc. In other words, there will remain plenty of areas and issues where principled positions can differ, and Republicans must choose to spend their energy on those kind of issues, not on social/religious issues, and not on trying to tilt or rig the country so that an appeal to any narrow demographic again becomes a way to win elections.
Republicans also need to accept a bit more diversity within their own party and not consider any deviation from orthodoxy as akin to treason. They need to accept that it is OK to be seen working with Democrats in office and coming up with solutions that may differ from the demands of the extremes of either party. Governor Chris Christy demonstrated this in connection with the President’s visit to areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Some Republicans have criticized him for this. They, at least, have not yet learned that it is more important to do the right thing than to test every action and statement only for perceived partisan advantage.