After a while we can forget how much the country sighed in relief at this moment when the Obamas and Bidens waved goodbye to George W. Bush. Things were a mess at the time, with the country careening towards another Great Depression and wars raging in the Middle East. We had all learned the hard way what Republican policies could do to our country – both at home and abroad.
While a lot of our attention has been focused over the last six and a half years on what President Obama did about all that, it’s important to also take stock of what the Republican Party did. This was a make-or-break moment for them. How would they move forward after a failure – not just of a presidential campaign – but their whole agenda?
By now we all know that the very night that picture above was taken, a small group of party leaders met to plan their strategy. They didn’t come up with a set of policies to put forward. Their entire approach would be one of obstructing anything the new President and his party attempted to do.
In order to pull that off, they used every trick in the book to convince their voters – who were already in a panic over the Great Recession – that every move President Obama made was a threat to them. Thus was the Tea Party born.
But as David Frum pointed out so effectively, the real engine of all that was not the Republican Party itself or any of their leaders. It was right wing media.
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.
That strategy worked reasonably well for the midterm elections in 2010 and 2014 with lower voter turnout. But following a disastrous primary in 2012, it didn’t work so well in a presidential election.
The Republican Party responded to that loss by doing an “autopsy” on what went wrong – along with proposals about how to improve. Benjy Sarlin summarized the six big take-aways:
1. Pass immigration reform
2. Listen to minorities
3. Gays aren’t going away
4. Epistemic closure is real
5. Look to the states
6. Stop being the rich guys
From that list, the only ones the “real” Republican leaders didn’t completely toss out were #’s 5 and 6. Republican governors and state legislatures continue to implement the very same domestic policies that were such a disaster nationally under the Bush/Cheney administration (with pretty much the same results). And Scott Walker – the anti-rich guy – is doing pretty well in the race for the 2016 nomination. But for the most part, the whole autopsy report was trashed.
Now we’re beginning to see mounting evidence of just how neutered the official Republican Party has become. As Martin Longman suggested, they haven’t been able to clear the field for Jeb Bush or any other acceptable candidate. It appears that Fox News and the Union Leader are making a mess of the Party’s attempts to control the primary debates. And finally, the RNC has gone on record saying that the Koch brothers want to form a “shadow party.”
“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,” said Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff…
The RNC is now confronting the Kochs more openly than before, by having Walsh speak on the record for this article and by making other key players available for interviews. Their decision to take their dispute with i360 public shows the level of alarm inside the RNC at the growing clout of the Koch political empire. They have concluded that the Koch political machine wants to replace them and to essentially become a shadow party.
“It’s pretty clear that they don’t want to work with the party but want to supplant it,” the source close to the RNC said.
The old saying about how power abhors a vacuum comes to mind. When the elected leaders failed to step up to the plate in January 2009 and actually articulate a Republican vision, they ceded control of the party to the folks with the most money and largest microphones. There is no sign that they’ve caught on to that error yet. But I suspect that Reince Priebus has noticed. He’s the one that has been left holding the bag for a dying institution.