The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Some of you may recall that the day after last November’s elections, I published a fairly extensive piece at TNR answering the question of whether a chastened Republican Party would now proceed to undertake an internal criticism-and-self-criticism process similar to that which among Democrats led to the rise of Bill Clinton and his two consecutive presidential victories:

The short answer is “no.” (And I’m tempted to say the long answer is “Hell, no!”)

I then went through the various factors that led to the “New Democrat” movement in the Donkey Party–particularly the leadership of elected officials and a mass base for something different–and how they were all largely missing in the contemporary GOP.

Today at the Daily Beast a guy with a much better pedigree than mine for making these comparisons has weighed in on the subject: Progressive Policy Institute president and Democratic Leadership Council co-founder Will Marshall. And though he goes into far greater detail than I did of the conditions that created the DLC and the Clinton presidency, he reaches the same conclusion:

[E]lected Republicans seem AWOL in the fight to take back their party. On the contrary, House Republicans seem as intransigent as ever, even as polls show that Americans increasingly blame them for the fiscal impasse in Washington.

This underscores the key difference between Democrats in 1989 and Republicans in 2013. The DLC spoke to, and for, a Democratic rank and file that was considerably more moderate than [the] party establishment. For Republicans, however, the “base” is the problem, not the solution. Radicalism rises from the grass roots. The Tea Party-Club for Growth axis is still eager to punish ideological deviation, threatening to “primary” GOP officeholders who show the slightest inclination toward compromise. And it’s not just intimidation: thanks to a combination of geographic sorting and gerrymandering, many House Republicans can truthfully claim to be faithfully representing their constituents who sent them to Washington to pull down the Temple, not to do deals with Democrats. That’s why the House stands for now at least as the Proud Tower of unbending right-wing orthodoxy.

With the “base” and elected officials (not to mention the vast noise machine of activists and gabbers) alike embracing every available excuse for maintaining the GOP’s ideological totems, the handful of wonks and scribblers calling for a fundamental reexamination of those totems are laughably outgunned. Marshall doesn’t specifically note the complicity of the MSM in mis-describing the various “rebranding” and “better messaging” projects of the GOP as something far more consequential than they actually are. But that, too, encourages the deception and self-deception that keeps Republicans from facing the music, and helps, as Marshall does observe, prevent a divided federal government from functioning on a whole host of issues. Thus:

[I]t will probably take more GOP losses to convince conservatives that they need to build majorities within an actually existing America, not the America of their dreams.

Listen to the speakers at CPAC the next three days, and ask yourself if you hear any serious talk of conservatism itself being a political problem. I’d be shocked if you do. These people just need the honesty that comes with chronic defeat. That won’t be easy for those who still think of Barry Goldwater’s calamitous loss in 1964 as a moral victory.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.