The Republican Waterloo

A big topic for discussion these days is what happens to the Republican Party post-Trump. Catherine Rampell has a diagnosis of what when wrong and a prescription for how to fix it.

The sickness in today’s Republican Party is not confined to its current standard-bearer. It is therefore not curable by merely disavowing, however belatedly, the soon-to-be-defeated nominee. The sickness has taken over the Republican base, and there’s only one antidote.

If Republicans truly want to save the Republican Party, they need to go to war with right-wing media. That is, they need to dismantle the media machine persuading their base to believe completely bonkers, bigoted garbage.

She makes a good point. But it’s much easier said than done. The truth is – the so-called “right-wing media” has ejected the GOP leadership from their epistemic bubble. It has become Sean Hannity, Breitbart News and Matt Drudge against the Republican establishment. As Oliver Darcy wrote, that leaves the GOP with nowhere to go to get their message out.

These Republicans have effectively been exiled from the conservative news media, leaving them with a problem.

“They don’t have any place to go. How else do you get your message out? You can’t do it in the mainstream. This is the way you reach conservatives,” Ziegler said. “We have taught conservatives for many years to trust nothing other than what they hear in conservative media. Yet the conservative media has now proven to be untrustworthy.”

I am reminded of that time back in 2009 when Jim DeMint suggested that stopping the passage of health care reform would become Obama’s Waterloo. When they failed and Obamacare passed, David Frum wrote the piece that got him ejected from the Republican Party. He simply titled it “Waterloo.”

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994…

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none…

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination…If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

While I rarely agree with David Frum on policy, that has always struck me as one of the most prescient things ever written about the current state of the Republican Party. He ties together the escalating feedback loop that resulted from a strategy of total obstruction and hysterical accusations in right wing media…and he did it six years ago.

Republicans made a fateful choice back then to tie their prospects to a medium addicted to rage and the conspiracy theories that fuel it. That came back to haunt them with the candidacy of Donald Trump. Now they find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Either they continue on the current path of promoting the rage-making machine, or they take Rampell’s advice and decide to go to war with right-wing media – which might actually become their final Waterloo.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.