At the Prospect today, Paul Waldman argues that the Republican Party has been locked in the grip of political incompetence since the 2004 elections. I tend to agree, but while Paul attributes the problem to self-delusion via the closed feedback loop of conservative media, I’d suggest there’s been a tendency to elevate short-term over long-term strategic considerations. Here are five recent examples:
The first example involves the many, many lies told by GOP pols and affiliated gabbers about the alleged horrific impact of the Affordable Care Act on old folks. These ranged from deliberate mischaracterization of the Medicare “cuts” in the ACA (raised to an infamous art form by Paul Ryan in 2012), and ranged on up to the amazingly effective if completely fabricated “death panel” meme. As a short-term strategy, this made sense, and certainly helped solidify the GOP’s sudden new dominance among older white voters, a key factor in 2010. In the long term, though, aside from the risk of hellfire, the tactic undermined the GOP’s simultaneous commitment to “entitlement reform,” the linchpin of its fiscal strategy.
A second choice of short-term versus long-term strategies has been the War on Voting, which has risked generational alienation of affected young and minority voters in exchange for dubiously effective electoral advantages. This is an ongoing choice, which only Rand Paul has (temporarily) seriously questioned.
A third, emphasized just today by Ross Douthat (though the critique has always been a staple of so-called Sam’s Club Republicanism), was the decision to make the 2012 economic message of the GOP revolve around the needs and perspectives of business owners, presumably to reverse the advantage Democrats had slowly gained since the Clinton years among several categories of upscale voters. This approach played right into Democrats’ new openness to populist messages, and while conservatives like Douthat are arguing for policies that appeal to the economic interests of middle-class voters, the shadow of Mitt Romney still looms large.
A fourth, which is also ongoing, was the sudden and almost universal embrace by the GOP of a “religious liberty” argument that identified the party with very extreme positions on birth control and same-sex marriages, undermining years of careful antichoicer focus on late-term abortion and reversing an implicit party decision to soft-pedal homophobia. Those who led this campaign in 2012 probably had visions of it serving as a wedge into the Catholic vote (which even some Democrats feared), which just didn’t happen.
And fifth and most definitely ongoing example is the decision to follow an immediate shift to the right in Republican and to some extent independent attitudes towards immigration reform in the wake of the refugee crisis on the border, even though Republicans know they’ll pay a long-term price in credibility with Latino voters.
In all these cases, Republicans haven’t being stupid so much as short-sighted. As yes, the elevation of short-term over long-term strategies was reinforced by all the factors Waldman cites. It’s really hard to eat that broccoli for your health when there’s so much ice cream in the freezer.