‘Dark days ahead’ for GOP

‘DARK DAYS AHEAD’ FOR GOP…. By now, the list of problems — structural, practical, ideological, historical — facing the Republican Party is pretty familiar. Time‘s Michael Scherer makes the compelling case today that the economic crisis, in addition to contributing to the GOP’s electoral defeats, presents the party with a perilous future and threatens the Republicans’ fundamental identity.

Liquidity traps are fought with government interventions. They are fought successfully with big ones. Republicans now face the real possibility of a generation of American voters who will see government not as the problem, but as the solution.

The last time America faced such a major economic retrenchment, Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded with a massive expansion of government spending and regulation, new programs like Social Security and new protections for unions and workers, which were controversial at the time, but which proved to be popular over the long haul. It took leaders like Goldwater more than two decades to gain some significant popular traction in opposition to Roosevelt’s vision. Conservative economic ideas did not really impose themselves on the White House until 1981, more than 40 years after the bulk of the New Deal era had been established.

In the face of this peril, conservatives find themselves without leadership, direction, or even a cogent ideological response to the crisis. Conservative lodestars, like Dick Cheney, are warning of Herbert Hoover times if Republicans don’t open up the federal pocketbooks. Even President Bush has admitted that he “abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.” And he did not succeed, clearing the way for much more abandoning to come.

Following widely accepted Keynsian theories, Barack Obama has proposed an economic stimulus next year of perhaps $1 trillion over two years, money that will take time to filter into an ever-worsening economy. Whether or not it succeeds, all the voters who get jobs because of this new spending will know its source: For a time, Obamadollars will pay their mortgage or rent. Obamadollars will feed their children. As such, the Democratic president has the ability to build a vast new political coalition of support, much like the one that FDR built during the 1930s. Ask Republican political strategists to honestly tell you why they hate government spending and they all offer the same answer: It creates Democratic voters.

It’s probably fair to say Republican leaders are aware of this, but unsure what to do about it. At this point, they’re left sputtering about Neo-Hooverite ideas, which are just slightly too misguided to be taken seriously. House Minority Leader John Boehner has even created an online form, hoping to find credible economists who’ll tell him it’s OK to oppose an economic rescue package.

So, what’s going to happen? Scherer predicts Republicans will “retrench to a guerrilla war,” and use EFCA to characterize Democrats as the “party of big labor.” (Look out, Democrats are on the side of working Americans! Eek!) It hardly sounds like a recipe for success.

Given the conditions, it’s an awfully difficult time to stand athwart history, yelling, “Stop.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.