The Republican Party has become many bad things—intolerant, inert, fly-blown, incoherent, and delusional—but the worst is that the GOP is no longer young. The GOP, according to a Gallup poll, has lost, forgotten, ignored, just generally scared off the younger voters, non-white voters, and female voters in all demographics.
What is a political party that is vastly white, middle-aged, male, Southern, pious, conservative, aggrieved, impotent, nostalgic, rude—and regarded negatively by more than half the respondents? Time magazine’s Republican political consultant Mike Murphy looks at the demographics and warns of a coming “ice age” for the party. That is grossly optimistic. No longer in second place, the voter self-identification polls place the Republicans well behind the leading independents and the second-place Democrats. The GOP is the equivalent of a shrinking third party on its way to becoming a museum piece beside the Whigs, the Greenbacks, and the Prohibitionists. The GOP is like a zombie cartoon reading the daily headlines of the last four years and asking, “Am I dead?”
The GOP is like a zombie cartoon reading the daily headlines of the last four years and asking, “Am I dead?”
The attack of the living dead Republicans does have the camp fascination of a George Romero movie as pieces of brains fall out. Last week, Deputy Minority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, in some quarters regarded as cunning, boasted soberly not only that, without any polling evidence, “I think we’re got a shot at taking back the House,” but also that the Obama administration was comparable to Putin’s rule in Moscow. Cantor did not explain if he meant that the Obama administration is Soviet socialist, which is balmy, since Moscow is a robber baron paradise these days, or if he meant the Obama administration stands for tyrannical one-party rule, which is dopey, since Cantor appears to think of himself as virile leader of the opposition.
Last week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a generalissimo of zombies, fresh from smearing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for “new racism,” presented more startling delusions at a congressional fundraiser in Washington when he claimed that the Republicans were the “majority party.” He offered no facts to counter the Gallup poll’s certainty that the Republicans are a minor minority party. Nor did Gingrich, who increasingly pontificates with the bravado of the vacuous TV anchor from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, Ted Baxter, note that the cash raised in the ballroom of swells was down by a third from last year; nor did he explain his demagogic remark that the Obama administration “has already failed,” with bailouts that are chiefly a continuation of a Republican administration’s panicky policies.
The GOP is the equivalent of a shrinking third party on its way to becoming a museum piece beside the Whigs, the Greenbacks, and the Prohibitionists.
Gingrich did take aim at his demagogic pal Rush “Obama to fail” Limbaugh when he said, “I am happy that Dick Cheney is a Republican. I am happy that Colin Powell is a Republican.” This coy rhetoric was meant to point to the dull disputes between Limbaugh and those Republican politicians who he claims are unwelcome in the party because they don’t agree with him. Limbaugh routinely runs his mouth about disloyal or “squishy” Republicans, as if he was outing the skin-job Cylons on Battlestar Galactica. It is trite, but it can quickly turn vulgar. On TV, Limbaugh recently baited Colin Powell and the Republican moderate stragglers again when he boomed “What has Colin Powell ever done that makes him so valuable to the Republican Party?”
That Limbaugh doesn’t know the answer to his self-evidently stupid question is both astonishing and evidence of self-loathing, if there is a real self. In 2009, it is awful to see that a man of such village courthouse venom for the valorous Powell can dance around in public as a faux Socrates. Also, there is a cult of goonish intolerance that hangs around with Limbaugh and his flim-flam cronies—a cult that is daily fed the same gossip by the same handful of surprisingly Drudge-dependent sources, a cult that claims to be Republican but could just as easily be Wahhabist for all its make-believe masculine grievances, a cult that is either harmless or helpful to Democrats, and yet, with its halitosis of self-righteousness, drives away the curious, young voter from the GOP.
A once-idealistic, decent political party of all the states and all demographics for 150 years has now become a cruel cadre that defines itself like a jihad—by what it is against.
It is not possible to dismiss Cantor, Gingrich, Cheney, and Limbaugh as only just cult cranks, because the Gallup poll shows that the nation regards them as speaking for the party, and so do the Republicans themselves—Limbaugh at 13 percent, Gingrich at 10 percent, Dick Cheney at 9 percent, far ahead of anyone actually holding or running for office.
Pundits like the nonpartisan analyst Charlie Cook assert that the party is in its “wilderness period” and will emerge after a “time-out” like a recalcitrant child of privilege. Partisans like the defensive former Bush speechwriter David Frum are smeared publicly by Limbaugh and his cult for trying to push back at the demagogues as “bombastic” and “a stereotype of self-indulgence;” yet when Frum gets a chance to fight back in Newsweek, he invites the muggers for an open debate. About what? Polite commentators like Peggy Noonan, while nodding cautiously to the demagogues as though they are pet gargoyles, beseeches the party in her Wall Street Journal column to cure its “base-itis,” to open its arms to something that isn’t an opera of bigotry, to cease the self-branding as “mean, thick, and angry.”
None of these mewling half-measures speak to the fact that a once idealistic, decent political party of all the states and all demographics for 150 years has now become a cruel cadre that defines itself like a jihad by what it is against. Now and again, I want to shout at them that the city on a hill that is America was not built by four centuries of honest strife to be a gated-community of vain whiners. But then I relax and let them do the talking. “Fail” is a word that ties together Limbaugh, Gingrich, Cheney ,and Cantor, and they use the word like a curse routinely. “Fail, Obama.” “Fail, Powell.” “Fail, Pelosi.” “Fail, liberals.” “Fail, Moslems.” “Fail, health care.” “Fail, moderates.” “Fail, city on a hill.” The zombies hurl the word at whoever does not look like them or listen to them or need them. They are speaking into the looking glass. “Who’s the fairest of them all?”
John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.