Brooks Calls Republicans Cowards

David Brooks seems on the verge of divorcing the Republican Party.

The New York Times columnist has always been a moderate conservative and not a GOP loyalist, so this is hardly a spit-out-the-coffee moment. But in Tuesday’s column he calls out the party’s grownups for rolling over for extremist elements that Brooks believes could hand the election to Barack Obama.

Most journalists accept the basic assumption that it's OK—admirable, even—for a politician to bob and weave to accommodate an ideological movement for purposes of getting safely reelected. But why should we buy into such shape-shifting? Brooks points to Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar as two perfectly conservative party war horses who have lurched further right to save their seats.

Viewed from a 2012 perspective, some in the GOP—Joe Scarborough has been particularly vocal in recent days—have been lamenting how their party came to be debating birth control, the usefulness of college, and JFK's 1960 religion speech. The overriding issue that should make this a banner Republican year, the economy, has been all but eclipsed.

In arguing that "the wingers have all but trashed the party's reputation,” Brooks says: “But where have these party leaders been over the last five years, when all the forces that distort the GOP were metastasizing? Where were they during the rise of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck? Where were they when Arizona passed its beyond-the-fringe immigration law? Where were they in the summer of 2011 when House Republicans rejected even the possibility of budget compromise? They were lying low, hoping the unpleasantness would pass.”

The answer is that many of them were scared.

The counterargument is that the Tea Party has infused the party with grassroots energy and moved it away from the mushy moderation that is now blamed for fostering the heartland’s anger at dysfunctional Washington. But when even Jeb Bush is fretting that he used to be thought of a conservative, the party’s tectonic plates have clearly shifted.

A liberal delivering the same indictment would be easily dismissed, and perhaps Brooks will be ignored by conservatives as an elite columnist who has entree to the White House. But maybe he has struck a chord.