If you’d asked me six months ago whether the Republican Party would manage to find a few ways to sidle back toward the center between now and 2016, I’d have said yes. But today, on the basis of evidence offered so far this year, I’d have to say a big fat no. With every passing month, the party contrives new ways to go crazier. There’s a lot of time between now and 2016, but it’s hard to watch recent events without concluding that the extreme part of the base is gaining more and more internal control.
Let’s start with this recent party meeting in Boston. As with the previous winter meeting, the Republican National Committee was trying to spin inclusiveness as the theme and goal. But what real news came out of the meeting? Go to the RNC website. Before you even make it to the home page, you’ll be presented with a petition imploring you to “Hold the Liberal Media Accountable!” and “Tell CNN and NBC to drop their planned programming promoting Hillary Clinton or no 2016 debates!” The photo is of She Who Is in Question, smiling all the way to the White House.
You know, I trust, that the petition augments a position adopted at the meeting in protest of the biopics of Clinton planned by those two networks. As an “issue,” this is totally absurd. How many voters are going to walk into the booth on Election Day 2016, if Clinton is the Democratic nominee, thinking, “Gee whiz, I never cared that much for Hillary until I saw that wonderful biopic about a year ago, which is what sealed it for me!” Ridiculous. Besides, has anyone stopped to wonder whether Clinton herself wants these movies aired? (Actually, Al Hunt has). A decent argument can be made that her interest in seeing Gennifer and Monica and Tammy Wynette and all those unflattering hairstyles dredged up again is slim indeed.
This is just more symbolic (and shambolic) politics of rage. The driver here is not anger about these Hillary shows. They’re the handy excuse. The driver is hatred of all news organizations that aren’t Fox News, which in turn reflects hatred of reality itself, hatred of the unhappy truth that there are facts in this world that can’t be neatly arranged behind a worldview of rage and racial resentment. Soon enough, the GOPers are going to get themselves to the point where the only debates are on Fox, moderated, as Reince Priebus suggested last week, by the likes of Sean Hannity. The Pravda-ization of the party, a process that’s been under way since Fox first took to the air back in 1996, will be complete. The kinds of questions candidates will likely be asked on Fox, and the kinds of answers they’ll know will be expected of them, will drive the party even further rightward.
So that’s where the heads of the party’s national committee members are. Now let’s turn to Congress. Six months ago, I might have thought the party could roll with immigration reform. In truth, I was a skeptic from day one, let the record show. But there were plenty of days when I doubted myself. Not much doubt today. And now we have the stampede to defund Obamacare (which is impossible) and the looming government shutdown and/or destruction of the country’s creditworthiness (both of which are all too possible). There is dissension inside the GOP on these questions now, but they will, in time—not much time, really, a few weeks—become the new Tea Party litmus tests. The GOP will do the bidding, to whatever it extent it can, of the extremists.
And now, we’re hearing new calls for impeachment. On what grounds, it doesn’t matter. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), asked about the chances of removing Obama from office by a constituent, agreed that “it’s a good question” and answered that the only reason not to was that “you need the votes in the U.S. Senate,” and the GOP doesn’t have them. Not that there are no grounds, which there aren’t. Just that they couldn’t succeed.
And then there’s the random crazy that still pops up around the country on pretty much a daily basis. One might have thought, six months ago, that the party would begin to carve out a little wiggle room for a few people who support same-sex marriage. The issue was a winner for Obama last year, and remember all that postelection yammering about needing young people? Surely the party can tolerate a few midlevel leaders, especially younger ones, meekly supporting the policy.
Well, Stephanie Petelos is one of those young people. She’s the president of the College Republicans at the University of Alabama. Certainly a loyalist, I would aver. Then she told a local news station: “The majority of students don’t derive the premise of their argument for or against gay marriage from religion, because we’re governed by the Constitution and not the Bible.” And now the state Republican Party is advancing a resolution that would boot her from the steering committee.
That’s what’s known in political history as a purge. I see more purges coming. Conservative Myra Adams wrote on the Beast over the weekend that she didn’t see how a Republican could get to 270 electoral votes in 2016. She’s correct about that, but she may be wrong in assuming that most of these people even care anymore if they win. I think many would prefer to win, sure, all things being equal, but only on their narrow terms. And if they don’t, there is great glory in losing because of principle, and then once again purifying the party of its sellouts and squishes like Petelos. How much worse can they get? A lot.