How Did This Happen to the GOP?

There is something quite satisfying but still vaguely disconcerting about how the Republican National Committee has devolved into a largely impotent organization. Things have been out of whack for a while but I think they’re coming to a head.

Consider a simple fact. On paper, at least, Michael Steele was the most successful RNC chairman in living memory. He presided over the stunning 2010 midterm elections and was promptly fired for what everyone seemed to agree was gross incompetence. The strange part is that he was grossly incompetent and he totally deserved to get fired. All you need to know is that he landed at MSNBC within a few months of losing his job.

The whole incident was an early indication that some of the old rules were breaking down. That became much clearer during the 2012 primaries when Mitt Romney couldn’t shake off lightweights like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich because they had billionaire sugar daddies funding their shell-campaigns.

The RNC struggled to control the process from start to finish. When it was over, they were traumatized enough to make a determination that things would be different this time. They’d get the states to follow a better primary schedule. They’d figure out how to actually count the votes in Iowa, Maine, and other contests. They’d have fewer clown candidates competing in fewer clown debates.

I’m not sure that it’s working out the way that they hoped it would.

To be fair, there really isn’t any fair and sensible way to accommodate a couple dozen contenders for the Republican nomination. But there are reasons that there are a couple dozen contenders for the Republican nomination. We could make a very long list of reasons.

The most obvious is that the Bush/Cheney years were such an unmitigated fiasco that they left a black hole in their wake from which no leadership could emerge. Anyone with any experience was discredited. The more of an expert you wanted to be on the economy or foreign policy, the more of a dunce you looked like to all sentient human beings.

In any case, there was no heir apparent and McCain and Romney fell flat on their faces. What we got instead of leadership was a collective primal cry of pain and blame shifting that manifested itself in the modern Know-Nothing Tea Party Movement and Mitch McConnell’s strategy of maximal nihilistic opposition.

But this only explains the reason that no one could emerge with any credibility. That the Republican Establishment is back with another Bush tells you just how empty the legitimate well of talent had become.

That Jeb Bush is running around the country raising money while pretending not to be a candidate for the office just shows how out of touch he is. You don’t need to raise money that way anymore. First of all, half the point of raising the money is to scare off most of the competition. That obviously no longer works.

Secondly, why raise money the old-fashioned way from dozens of Pioneers or Rangers or Super Rangers or Mavericks or whatever you want to call those middling rich people? Why not just have some casino magnate fund all your plane travel and motel expenses? Let some third-party PAC’s handle your ad campaign.

You can tell that Jeb Bush hasn’t won an election since 2002. And he’s quickly finding out that having more money than anyone else doesn’t really mean much anymore, which means that being moderately rich can’t buy you a nominee anymore.

Not that political surveys mean much at this point, but Jeb really ought to be doing better than 11.3% in the aggregate of polls. When nearly 90% of Republican poll responders prefer someone else, you’re not dominating the field.

And, so, how can you tell the RNC what to do? And how can the RNC rationalize smoothing your path over Ben Carson (9.0%) or Ted Cruz (7.7%)?

You’re going to have to debate these bozos, and possibly more than a dozen other jokers who have no pedigree whatsoever and haven’t seen Kennebunkport even with rented binoculars.

The RNC can’t do a thing about any of this, which is why Fox News wanted to step into the breach and winnow the field. Yet, their first efforts failed miserably and they’ve beaten an immediate retreat.

Theoretically, the Democrats could find themselves bedeviled by the same shifting winds, but for all their faults they appear to be setting themselves up for an orderly campaign that won’t meaningfully differ all that much from prior campaigns. There’s a strong frontrunner and a few token challengers to keep her honest. No one is arguing about the primary schedule and the complaints about debates are the same complaints we always here from folks who are behind in the polls: “give us more of them!”

I think Charles Pierce’s advice isn’t bad:

So, I have a modest proposal before everything gets completely out of hand and we find Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson pitching blenders against each other on QVC. Why is it necessary at this point to have a formal Republican party structure at all? The RNC can’t control the size of the field, because any breathing primate who knows a friendly gozillionnaire can stay alive through the entire process. The RNC can’t control the debates, because the interests of [Fox News] and/or the Union-Leader are treated within the conservative movement especially as being equal or superior to the party’s interest in an orderly process. Times have changed…

…Change the formal Republican party to a purely advisory institution, a benign logistical clearing house, helpful but not vital. If candidates and media institutions are going to go their own ways anyway, let them do it. Make sure the RNC is there when they need it — to offer advice and book the halls and, at least at the start, organize the convention — but make sure everybody understands that it has no real authority.

The thing is, it’s not just the RNC that has no authority. For years now, we’ve seen that even Speaker of the House John Boehner has no juice. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can’t do a thing with that august body. No one cares what Reince Priebus has to say. Jeb can’t scare away Mike Huckabee, let alone Lindsey Graham.

It’s just a vortex of stupid that is devouring everything in its path. The architects of this vortex are as varied as Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales and Regent University jurisprudence, neoconservative foreign policy, the mighty right-wing media wurlitzer, the campaign finance laws, the lack of any accountability for anything ever, the things defending torture does to the human spirit and the brain, the folks who will pay any price to keep science from interfering with their bottom line, what happens when you have to lower your standards to make Ed Meese and Sarah Palin acceptable…

There are so many architects. Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed and Bill Kristol and Lee Atwater and freaking Donald Segretti if you want to get down to it.

This is what happens when virtually every malevolent force in the country is allowed to pursue their path in an uncoordinated way, chipping, chipping, chipping away at the institutions of the country and the decency of everyday folks.

It doesn’t end in the glorious victory of the Conservative Revolution. It ends in chaos and confusion.

One of our two allowed political parties is defunct and yet somehow controls Congress and most of the states.

Almost unbelievably and despite their remarkable electoral successes, they need to be fired just like Michael Steele…before they really win something.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.