Young: Is the GOP self-destructing or self-preserving?
July 24, 2013
It's not often that one is eulogized while still emitting a pulse. That's what happened, though, the other day in an amazing compilation in The New York Times. The subject: the self-inflicted death of the Republican Party.
The amazing thing was that all of the eulogizing was being done by Republicans. Jeb Bush. Bob Dole. Bill Kristol. Norman Ornstein.
Say what? Well, let Mike Lofgren, longtime Republican aide on Capitol Hill, say it. With a bent that is hard right and hardening, the GOP is "becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult … "
Or as the Times' Thomas Edsall put it, the GOP appears intent on "ideological suicide."
Too harsh? You decide. It was Jeb Bush who said that his father and Ronald Reagan would have a "hard time" getting nominated today, something seconded by former GOP front-runner Dole.
What these leading Republicans say is true. And, yet, what explains recent analyses causing Democrats' hair to stand on end — the prospect of a 2014 Republican Senate takeover?
The Democrats clearly came out of 2012 as the party with a future — more acceptable to a nation of difference, of Latinos, of blacks, of gays and lesbians, of working stiffs.
So how could the Senate possibly flip? Easy: The states where Democratic incumbents are most vulnerable — Arkansas (Mark Pryor), Louisiana (Mary Landrieu), Alaska (Mark Begich) — and those in which Democrats are retiring without viable replacements from their party — Montana (Max Baucus), South Dakota (Tim Johnson) — have all been predictably red states.
The GOP needs six seats, meaning the Democrats may have to win in places where victory isn't assured, like North Carolina and West Virginia.
The 2012 results project good times for Democrats long-term on a national stage. But on a regional basis, the GOP remains better than OK. Why?
The reason is that we have two types of red states:
In the South, generations of grievance against the party of Lyndon Johnson continue to prevail (as Johnson himself predicted) 50-plus years after passage of the Civil Rights Act.
At the same time, in the sparsely populated West and sections of the Great Plains, we have many voters devoutly insulated from the concerns that brought, say, a Barack Obama to the stage.
These voters may be connected to their neighbors, but as to the world, particularly a world of difference, too many are connected by cable, or satellite, or Rush Limbaugh. Information? Trust Fox News, and local newspapers that regurgitate provincial biases and worldviews.
When the tea party-controlled U.S. House voted to strip food stamps from the farm bill, those who did so knew they would face no flak back home. Largely because of redistricting, their districts are safely Republican, ruled by white-flight suburbs; or in rural districts, they are ruled by land barons and Bill O'Reilly.
Food stamps don't fit into those worlds; poverty doesn't, either. People of color? If they haven't been gated out, they've been gerrymandered out.
So we can understand why Ed Rogers, who served both Reagan and George H.W. Bush, writes that the House is governed by "ideological purists who think every issue and vote is black or white."
His party, he says, has "lost the art of governing in Washington." Instead too many in the House have mastered the art of self-preservation in deference to starkly homogenous constituencies.
And, so: Yes, the demographics of the nation are trending Democratic in a big way. The demographics of Congress (including the Senate), meanwhile, are trending toward something more insular and intractable.
And you thought that was impossible.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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