So after the election and the resulting apparent near collapse and all of the soul-searching that has gone on within the Republican party, one can find it easy to have forgotten about Karl Rove, the wunderkind who engineered the Bush(2) victories. After all, he was among those identified with the future of the party, and certainly, during those eight years, the future for the party looked quite good.
But then the Republicans ran John McCain–a likable enough guy on the surface, but with absolutely no passion or energy–against the highly dynamic and young Barack Obama. The only move that kind of makes sense on the surface is that the GOP match McCain with the lightning rod of Sarah Palin. The end result, though, was that the Democrats found their stride, at least as far as presidential races was concerned: they motivated the undecideds, the young voters, and the supposedly disenfranchised minorities of the nation.
But because Obama and the Democrats pushed too hard, the far right conservatives revolted–this probably had been brewing for years under the very moderate Bush–and a large number of the so-called Tea Party candidates won election to congress, intent on changing how things were done. Republicans thought they were strengthened and given the political upper hand.
I’d written about it before, but there was an inherent problem in the Tea Party movement: none of them understood that at the national level, you need the party’s backing, you need the political skills and relationships, and you need to work and cooperate with the other 500+ people you find yourself locked in the building with in order to achieve your political vision.
In short, it’s easy to be a populist. But it isn’t easy to be a popular or successful politician. You can attract votes by the boatload by playing up to the deep, unsettled anger among your constituents–the Tea Party candidates did it, just as Obama himself did it. And moderates, by the very nature of their need to appeal to a broad base, will never do that. They count on their 30-40% base, and then fight for the remaining percentage to be put over the top.
So once it became obvious to conservatives that the Tea Party cost them more than it helped, it’s time to throw them under the bus. Now, months after the election that left Republicans asking “what happened here,” Karl Rove has woken up from his self-induced slumber and has decided that what the party needs is more electable people, not far-right wingnuts who only want to serve one particular cause.
Yep. In our representative democracy, Rove has decided that the path to success for conservative ideals rests not in including more viewpoints in the party, but restricting them for the sake of filling the seats in congress with the butts of “the most electable” candidates. Rove wants to basically cut the Tea Party out of the Republican party purely for the sake of winning elections.
Now let’s backtrack a bit here to see how the Democrats brought themselves back from the horrors of their own “card-carrying liberal” dark days of the mid ’80s. They learned that the far left-wingers were not attractive to the national electorate, so instead of ostracizing people like Michael Dukakis or Paul Simon or Walter Mondale, they embraced them but asked them to support and follow the party platform, which they happily did because they weren’t necessarily marginalized. They were allowed to speak their beliefs, run for office, and contribute to the party, but they needed to understand that if the liberal agenda was to advance, they needed to cooperate and help the cause.
The Tea Party candidates refused to support its own party’s platform, insisting that it didn’t go far enough in many areas, and believing they had the groundswell on their side, while actually they simply had the conservative equivalent of the ’60s hippie protesters on their side–it was a vocal group, but not nearly as large as they thought. So many didn’t get elected in 2012 because they said or did really stupid things that demonstrated just how radical they were, and, this is the cardinal sin, they bucked the party.
Not to say I’m really sad about that, but…
The Republican ramrod approach should first look to the Democrats in Obama’s first term who blew all of their political capital on jamming through a flawed healthcare bill. So before the conservatives take this opportunity to look at political success merely as being able to overcome the votes of your opponents, you need to consider what happened: the governed of this country don’t like heavy-handed, radical leadership, even if they’re working on a potentially popular issue.
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably have to say it again: the path to political success in this country is understanding that the people are not as stupid as they appear to be and not underestimating their ability to make changes at a whim. Which is why, when a politician says something truly stupid, they will usually find themselves out of office after the next election.
See November 2012.
See you tomorrow.