The Republican Party seems to be disappearing before the very eyes of the American people. Yes all political parties change and morph through time. The Republican party of Lincoln wasn’t the same as the one under Teddy Roosevelt. The party under Hoover was different than under T.R. And the GOP under Eisenhower was different than in Hoover’s time. But during each of the Republican administrations for their first one hundred years, there was a consistency of policy and style that marked each period. During their first fifty years the Republicans were a party marked by progressive and populist thinking and policy. The next fifty years saw them turn into the party of Big Business; fiscally conservative, but with a pragmatic approach to socio-political ideas. And the party still maintained a consistency and disciplined dedication to the same basic principals from the more liberal end of the party to the more conservative one. Richard Nixon on the “right”, Gerald Ford in the “middle” and Nelson Rockefeller on the “left”, were all still clearly in the same party.
Then in 1980 the disintegration of the party began. The election of popular, comfortable, cheerful Ronald Reagan obscured the growing dissention and combat for the heart and soul of the Republican Party that was going on out of sight, behind closed doors and pulled curtains. The first and clearest indication of the fragmenting of the party was the emergence and then steady growth of the Christian Conservative movement and their ever closer association with the day to day workings of the Republican Party. The big business-big money power center of the party actually encouraged the admission and acceptance of the Christian Conservative movement and re-named them the Religious Right. For many years the ersatz partnership worked out. The main thrust of the Republican Party’s political efforts remained fiscal, serving their big money, campaign funding, power base by consistently pushing for lower taxes and more special breaks, allowances and tax credits for the industries that paid their re-election bills. The Republicans did however, every time they ran for office make promises to their Religious Right constituency to do something about the issues which that voting block was focused on; the social issues. The Reps promised to overturn Roe v. Wade; they promised constitutional amendments on protecting the flag; they promised to make sure there would always be prayer in schools and at football games. And although they failed to make good on virtually any of their promises; they still managed to make the mostly working class, religious, Republican voter continue to vote for them in hope of someday having some of their wants made into law.
But any political party can make empty promises just so long and eventually their here to for loyal constituents will start to catch on that the promises made are empty ones. And so it happened with the religiously loyal Christian Conservatives; they saw the Republican Party was letting them down, time and again. The last straw for them was George W. Bush, who they thought was one of them in that he claimed to be born again; but his administration was all and only about using the full power and resources of the United States to serve and protect the interests of the petrochemical conglomerates which had funded his election and provided him with a Vice President in charge of Presidential policy, in the person of Dick Cheney. The Bush administration committed virtually unlimited and completely unpaid for resources to protecting multinational oil interests in the Middle East and reducing the taxes of the beneficiaries of this policy. They also facilitated the plundering of middle class jobs by American manufacturers who shipped millions of them to China. They looked the other way at the loss of millions more via American companies who hired illegal aliens. They failed to prevent the highway robbery of the middle class, which also make up the majority of the Christian Conservatives, by the Wall Street Gang stealing trillions of dollars from tens of millions of American workers pensions and retirement funds.
Needless to say this caused great unrest and confusion among both the middle class religious and fiscal conservatives among loyal Republican voters. Soon it might lead to rejection or even revolt among those who had been so loyal for so long; despite being unrewarded for their loyalty. This was the necessity that mothered the invention of the TEA Party Movement. In a brilliant masterstroke of misdirection worthy of Houdini or Copperfield, some of the cleverest and most shameless Republican politicians and their operatives created a movement which could harness the faithful’s unrest and direct it towards targets other than those responsible for the voter’s distress. They could aim the blame at the Democrats and their loyal followers. All of a sudden, after having completely ignored it for the eight years of the Bush administration’s living large with needless and unwinnable wars, the huge budget deficit they created was suddenly discovered; and promptly blamed on the Democrat’s constituents and their large entitlements. Despite the truth that about half the current deficit is squarely on the shoulders of Bush-Cheney for the wars they ran and programmed into the first term of President Obama and the other half can largely be seen as caused by the extended tax breaks from the early Bush-Cheney years; the GOP managed to convince the core of middle class Republicans that it was all the fault of the Democrats and the excessively liberal social welfare programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
The TEA Party, which initially focused on the issue of Taxed Enough Already, from whence comes the name, was convinced to look at poor people, old people, out of work people and public employees as the cause of their taxes, which they perceived to be too high; but in fact were at forty to sixty year lows. The behind the scenes leadership of Republican professionals managed to get the T-Folks rank and file to ignore the fact that corporate payment into the total of American income tax revenue had fallen from 25% to a meager 6% across the same past decades. They also avoided examining the fact that many corporations making profits in the billions paid no taxes at all due to thousands of pages of IRS tax code which created corporate welfare for them. In addition they neglected to look at Wall Street billionaires paying taxes at a lower rate than their chauffeurs; due to various capital gains and “cooking of the books” scams.
Once the focus of the grass roots of American Republicans was fixed on the poor, the old and the out of work; the whole thing started to snowball. Each and every social safety net program was suspect and stigmatized. This almost inevitably lead to a class based form of racism entering the T-Party equation. Based on the long standing false assumption that non-whites make up the majority of poor and public welfare, such as food stamps, recipients; the high cost of these programs was attributed to the Democrats, who now had a half black man as their leader, and was giving all the money to their own constituency. The truth is that only 15% of Americans living in poverty are African-Americans, about their proportionate percentage of the total population; the other 85% are not. Only about 25% of Americans who receive food stamps are African-Americans; the other 75% are not. The majority of poor and hungry in America are white working poor, many of whom are Republicans.
So the rhetoric of those who would lead the Republican Party rants about “taking back” America; presumably from President Obama and his black and white, liberal and progressive, young, middle aged and old, east coast-west coast, limousine and bus riding communist-socialist supporters. This implies that the broad mainstream, main street, almost exclusively white, members of the Republican Party will be better off with Republicans in control of everything. But just four years ago the majority of Americans knew the Republicans had all but ruined the economy and wasted trillions fighting for a few wealthy economic entities. A majority of Americans in 2008 seemed to see that the GOP was the reason the rich were getting richer and 99% of Americans were getting poorer. But when Obama and the Dems didn’t fix the economy in two years, which the Reps had taken eight years to all but destroy; it relatively easy to turn working class Reps, who were T-Party inclined already, back into GOP faithful again.
In the backwash of the recent Republican failure, combined with the accepted false notion that now the Democrats were to blame for America’s problems; the members of the Republican Party have become fractionalized; depending on the degree of blame they assign to some part of the Democrat constituency. Some blame minorities and focus on cutting welfare. Some blame unions and look at cutting public jobs and benefits for everyone from postal workers to teachers to police officers. Some see the banks and the bailouts first Bush and the Republicans, then Obama and the Democrats gave them as the problem. But they soon forget Bush et al and only blame Obama. Some think that not being able to put religious symbols in public places is the cause of all of America’s woes. This fracturing has sent a half a dozen or more potential Presidential scrambling to grab some part of the Republican base that is now running around like a headless chicken.
The subgroups of headless chickens are looking for a head. Actually they are looking for a leader; a leader who is not Willard Mitt Romney. Why they don’t want, or like (some even hate) Romney varies from subgroup to subgroup. Some think he is too moderate (when did moderate become a dirty word in Republican speak?). Some think he is not a true Christian; because he is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints – a Mormon. Romney and most other Mormons say they are too Christians and say that Evangelicals have no right to call them a cult. Some just don’t trust Romney to stay as committed to toeing the conservative line as he claims he will be; based on his past record of “modifying” (not “changing” mind you) his thinking and position on everything from women’s reproductive health issues, to a formal mating law for same sex couples. Some just think he looks like he was made in a secret laboratory, based on focus group studies of what a Republican candidate should look like.
For whatever reason, a majority of the primary voting Reps have chosen someone other than Romney. And the party is so fractured into subgroups and subsets of subgroups that they still have at least five other active candidates vying to be the stop Romney candidate. But so far no one has had enough support from the party’s fractious grass roots to accomplish the trick. Ron Paul has a firm core of around 20% of Reps supporting him. They think that his libertarian ideas are compatible with the other Republican dogma. It isn’t. The less government and thus and also less taxes of Paul’s stump speeches appeals to many Rep conservatives. But a deeper look into the core principals of libertarianism would surprise and alarm many traditional conservatives of all stripe; particularly the Evangelical subset. If they knew how much liberal was in libertarian (other than the first five letters), on issues such as women’s reproductive choice, same sex marriage and smoking marijuana; many old time, down south, former Dixiecrat, Republican conservatives would be shocked; and not in a good way. Paul stands much closer to the Occupy Movement on personal freedoms of choice issues than he does to the Christian Right fraction of the GOP.
Rick Santorum was the one week long hero of those Christian Right, who make up a big faction of the Reps in Iowa. But they are a much smaller part of the overall crowd that calls themselves conservative Republicans. The majority of the GOP, no matter what their particular subset is, doesn’t feel the same way about banning abortion rights in America, as does the small but vocal group who consider not featuring it as a prime goal, (the way Santorum does), a deal breaker. Most Republicans think fixing the crippled economy is at the top of the “to do list”, and banning abortion considerably lower down.
Newt Gingrich has been trying to cobble together bit and snatches of the old Republican tribe who still worship Ronald Reagan, by reminding them that he was a kid in Congress when Reagan was in the White House. Unfortunately too many Reps remember that Reagan actually raised taxes and still ran up a huge deficit. Gingrich mixes up references to the wishful optimism of the Reagan years with attacks on Romney for being one of those “Big Business Republicans”, who puts profit ahead of people. Gingrich too sounds like his is channeling the Occupy Movement as he accuses Romney being what most Republicans take pride in being; a CEO of a profit making corporation with personhood. Needless to say the mainstream GOP stalwarts view Gingrich and his big money PAC’s attacks on Romney with much the same degree of horror as they view Paul’s “keep the government out of the bedroom” philosophy. Gingrich’s cohort of loyalists seems to be a mix of ancient Reaganites and Obama haters who figure Gingrich is the meanest Republican standing now that Bachmann is out of the race.
The one candidate that seems to have no real amount of people in his splinter constituency is poor Rick Perry. The Lone Star Governor can’t seem to get enough people on his team to make a real team. His cadre appears to be made up of people who think that Santorum can’t really be born again because he is a Catholic; that Paul sound too crazy when he talks about eliminating all military endeavors outside the territorial U.S.; that Romney is too soft on China; and that Gingrich takes everything too personally. But there aren’t enough former Bachmann supporters to make Perry much of a contender.
That leaves Jon Huntsman searching the wilderness for the last few remaining rational, quasi-moderate, independent former Republicans; a rapidly vanishing GOP member. Once these people were as numerous as grains of sand on seashores from Cape May to Booth Bay. But the extravagance and duplicity of the Bush years and the embarrassment of the McCain/Palin campaign drove them either to more extreme positions or right out of the GOP into true independence. Now there doesn’t seem to be room in the Republican Big Tent for them; mostly because the tent has been ripped and re-sewn into several small mutually exclusive tents. The soon to be extinct Moderate Republicans can be identified by their strong commitment to an actual abhorrence of wasteful pork barrel spending and corporate welfare, coupled with an innate tolerance for enlightened social change and justice. They have a real dislike for hypocrisy, over the top greed and racism. They refuse to pander to the religious extremists who insist on a series of Litmus Tests on specific social issues. And most significantly they can share common working ground with the equally endangered Moderate Democrat, whose numbers have been on the decline since Bill Clinton left Washington.
There has been some talk of setting aside the U.S. Congress as a preserve for both Moderate Republicans and Democrats. A place where they can thrive and live in peace while they do the business of the people of America. But the Elephant Party wants to choke the Congress with Filibusters and pave over the mall and put in a Hydrocarbon Theme Park dedicated to the wonders of coal, oil and gas and making the reflecting pool into the world’s largest hot tub. The Donkey Party is content to complain non-stop, while they observe the Elephant Party break into a million little sub-parties until each has only two members and they are fighting each other for hearts and minds.
I don’t know where the Party, formerly known as Republican, is going; any more than its members do!