Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rudderless party faces reconstruction from grassroots up.

I thought before the election that the Republican Party would be left fighting for it's very existence and, with the Democrats starting to make real breakthroughs in the South, the battle for the soul of the party has begun.

"It's going to be very ugly on the Republican side," said Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the right-leaning thinktank the Cato Institute. "The Republicans are split into clear factions who will blame each other for the second defeat in two years and try to seize dominance of the party."

Conservatives now face a possibly prolonged period of trauma, equivalent to the wilderness years of the Democrats between 1980 and 1992. In that case, the Democratic party embarked on a major overhaul of its structures and policies only after its third successive defeat.

Modern Republicans may not want to wait so long. Debate on the way forward will begin immediately, with senior conservatives gathering today at the weekend home in Virginia of one of their number to discuss how to rebuild a national grassroots movement akin to Obama's mobilisation of Democratic supporters.

I've always found it amazing that one political party can contain both Michelle Malkin and Colin Powell. That simply strikes me as odd. Those are very different wings of conservatism.

In this election John McCain should have been the ideal centrist to give the Republican party a chance of retaining the White House but, in order to please the base, he abandoned all the positions which had once defined him as a Maverick and started to say that he approved further tax cuts and other insane right wing ideology which he had always previously opposed.

Since Nixon proposed the Southern strategy, and with every subsequent Republican administration pandering the the Christian right, they have always been heading for this kind of Armageddon.

Many will point at Sarah Palin as one of the main reasons McCain's bid failed but I was more concerned with what Palin got right - as far as the base were concerned - than what she got wrong.

The scariest moment of the election for me was when Katie Couric asked Palin if she would force a fifteen year old girl, raped by her father, to have the child. Palin didn't even hesitate, she didn't think she was caught in a terrible dilemma, she simply stated that she would.

That is an extremist position by anyone's standards and yet Palin was the person McCain felt he needed to keep "the base" happy. But, as happy as she made the base, her positions on this and a host of other subjects made people decidedly uneasy. But again, the problem isn't Palin, the problem is the base.
Voices are likely to call for a swift move back towards the centre, to prevent further draining away from the party of independent and moderate voters.
That's exactly where they need to go but already I have heard conservative pundits arguing that the reason they lost is because John McCain was not right wing enough.

This is exactly what I said I thought would happen last week. We saw this with the British Labour Party when the cry was that the public didn't vote for us because we weren't radical enough. So now the Malkins and the Coulters will start to claim that the Republican party lost it's way because it lost it's nerve.

Fiscal conservatives always seem to do rather badly in these battles with the vicious Malkin brigade shouting the loudest and possessing the sharpest elbows. The future of the Republican party will rest on which of these groups succeeds.

Over the next few months a semblance of leadership will be provided by Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, the Republican chiefs in the Senate and House of Representatives respectively. But the party is in essence at sea without a skipper, and may remain so until the 2012 presidential election throws up an undisputed leader. Names to watch include Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee following their strong showings in the 2008 primaries; and younger generation Republicans such as Indiana congressman Mike Pence and governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.

But the name that is attracting most interest - favourable and unfavourable - within the party is that of Sarah Palin. She has proved herself to be a singularly divisive figure, both within the country and within the conservative movement, but she already has powerful backers among thinktanks and rightwing media outlets who are unlikely to let her slope back to Alaska in obscurity for long.

If they seriously think Sarah Palin represents the acceptable face of Republicanism then they deserve to wander in the wilderness for decades.

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5 comments:

Cecilieaux said...

Much as I have appreciated your election cheering, I fear that your political instincts are a little off when it comes to the USA.

I first noticed that when you described The Washington Post, my hometown paper, as "conservative." Yes, on the Guardian-Times spectrum, the Post is to the right of the Guardian. But those are not the options here. The Post's competition is a rabidly right-wing paper owned by the Moonies called The Washington Times, which reports a reality all its own seen through lenses very similar to those of Sarah Palin.

Your wonder about Malkin and Powell as Republicans should be accompanied by your wonder about Ted Kennedy and Joe Lieberman (who was a conservative snot long before he pulled this year's breathtaking leap).

In sum, America is far less ideological in its politics than Britain. Its parties are teams that lean one way or the other but encompass the bulk of views. Its major papers adhere to the gospel shibboleths of capitalism.

That's the reality. I personally wish America resembled Europe, or hey, Canada, in terms of its ideological clarity. But wishing won't make it so.

Kel said...

Cecilieaux,

I take your point but obviously I am reading The Washington Post from a European perspective and it has always struck me as a "conservative" newspaper. By which I mean nothing more than it leans to the right.

And I hear you regarding Joe Liebermann who I would kick out of the Democratic Party, especially after the shit he pulled this year.

And I agree that some Democrats are well short of what I would consider a Democrat, I think Glen Greenwald has done a very good job of taking some of these supposed Democrats on. I think Glen and some others would prefer if there were more ideological clarity between the Dems and the Republicans.

Part of the problem as far as I can see is this notion of someone being an "Independent". In the US this notion appears to be rather revered whereas in Europe an adult who did not know which party best represented their interests would be known as a "floating voter", which doesn't have quite such a noble ring as an "Independent". Indeed, in my culture that would border on admitting to political ignorance.

In fact, often I have had people who are clearly right wing nutcases come on here and argue that they are "Independent" by which they simply mean they are not registered to either party. Their leanings, as far as I am concerned, are blatantly Republican.

But I do accept that the US is not as clearly defined politically as I, and you, would often want it to be.

Will Conley said...

Cecileaux, my response to your comment might offend you at first glance, but just know that it comes from the standpoint of "I dig what you said but not how you said it." To wit: I don't think it's fair to characterize Kel's "instincts" as off-base. His knowledge of USA politics rivals my own by far, which ain't saying a whole lot, but it seems he knows his American politics better than most Americans do. I would simply suggest that you have taken one observation of Kel's ("The Washington Post is conservative") and used it to draw a conclusion about his entire way of thinking. I find that to be specious. Is it really all that difficult to address what is being said? Don't you find it more worthwhile to avoid making value judgments about a person's mind? Is it possible you have some kind of psychological need to pigeonhole people into categories of rightness and wrongness? Woops, now I'm the one making personal judgments. We're all susceptible.

Will Conley said...

I am just now realizing that to characterize a newspaper as conservative or liberal is an example in itself of painting with too wide a brush. So I could accuse Kel of the same thing I just wrote it my previous comment. Or, I could do a flip-flop and say that maybe there is something useful to be found in characterizing people and entities. It's how we navigate the world.

Looks like I'm just musing here. Everybody carry on.

Kel said...

Will, I think we all decipher information and try to fit it into whatever narrative makes sense to us individually.

That's why some Palin/McCain supporters genuinely believe that Obama is a Muslim. It's not that they are stupid, it's that this is the information they have at their disposal. And it's the information that is reinforced by their social circle.

You understand my overall view of American politics and that the observations I make are from a distinctly British perspective.

From a British perspective the Washington Post is the equivalent of The London Times, it's a right wing newspaper without being rabidly so. But it's a right wing newspaper and we call that "conservative".

The fact that there are other Washington newspapers which are even more right wing than the Washington Post doesn't change the fact that the Washington Post is a "conservative" newspaper.