Failure doesn’t rally the base

FAILURE DOESN’T RALLY THE BASE….The conventional wisdom at this point insists that Bush and the congressional GOP are touting the anti-gay constitutional amendment to rally the base. Grassroots activists are frustrated about Republicans’ disregard for the religious right agenda, excessive spending, inaction on immigration, etc., and, while everyone knows the amendment isn’t going to pass, a vote is supposed to make the activist base feel better.

As The Note put it, “If banning same sex marriage and flag burning and repealing the estate tax doesn’t gin up the conservative base of the Republican Party, what will?” But that’s the part of all of this that just doesn’t work for me. Why, exactly, would the GOP base feel motivated for the midterm elections after an abject failure?

A year and a half ago, the GOP base thought their time had come. They had played a key role in electing Bush and big Republican majorities in both chambers, and they were finally ready to cross a few items off their wish list. Nearly 18 months later, they have very little to show for it.

So why is it, exactly, that these same far-right activists will be thrilled by votes that don’t go their way? The Note, in this sense, has everything backwards — the argument is the GOP will gin up the conservative base with votes that fail to ban same-sex marriage, fail to ban flag burning, and probably fail to repeal the estate tax.

If I’m a conservative who’s feeling discouraged, and considering staying home this November, why would I feel excited about a powerful Republican machine that can’t deliver on any of these agenda items? Grover Norquist told the LA Times, “Every time you have that conversation it reminds [voters] of what team they’re on.”

But is that enough? Do grassroots members of Focus on the Family really tell themselves, “I’m going to work extra hard this fall to help Republicans because they lost on all the key culture war votes this year”?

It seems just as likely that the opposite will occur. The conservative movement went all out to get to where they are right now, they still can’t deliver on a far-right social agenda, and there’s limited evidence that GOP leaders care.

The flip side of the argument, of course, is that these votes will motivate conservative activists in states with competitive races and remind them that Democrats are on a different page. Perhaps. But the GOP base is crazy, not stupid. Pandering can be an effective strategy, but pandering-while-failing, when your side controls every branch of government, strikes me as a recipe for more frustration, not enthusiasm.