Saturday, January 28, 2012

The future craziness of the GOP

A while ago I decided that nobody out there in schlubland really wanted to hear my peculiar brand of politics. Besides, this country has too much political punditry. (Seriously, when did people start talking about the state of the union or the GOP debates the way they used to talk about the Mets? "You see the debate last night? Boy, Newt really stepped in it. He's through. Definitely will be eliminated by Super Tuesday.")

But now that the GOP nominating process is drawing to a close (winner: Mitt Romney) and the national election stage is set (my money is still on President Obama to win) I suppose I'm entitled to sound off just a little on the silly season.

A liberal like me should be breathing a sigh of relief. While I can't stand the man it looks like the GOP is turning to (Mitt) and I think he's probably a loser in November, he's considered the "moderate" conservative in the race. And as the choice of the party establishment this is a hopeful sign that the GOP is turning down the temperature on all their tea party nutsiness. They're serious about governing again. Whoever is President in November, be it Romney or Obama, the country will not go off a cliff.

I beg to differ.

While I'm hardly in the predictions game, I will make one (because I haven't seen anyone make it): It's going to get a lot worse for the GOP before it gets better.

After all the ugliness of campaigning, nominations and a general election are over, there are two possible scenarios here that I envision for the GOP, neither of them are all that good.

(1) Mitt Romney wins the presidency.

The GOP will have learned a very bad lesson; namely, they don't have to contribute to the recovery, they don't have to think seriously about governing, they don't have to do anything other than obstruct, obstruct, obstruct and they'll get their way.

And rather than moderating their impulses, I think a win in November will embolden them. They will demand that President Romney, whom they don't trust in the slightest, take a series of loyalty tests. They will want healthcare dismantled -- period. They will want originalists on the federal bench -- period. They will want money to the EPA, the arts, public education and everything else slashed to the bone. They will want a Paul Ryan budget pushed through and if it means dismantling medicare, good!

Of course, much of this will depend on President Romney's behavior -- but I don't have a lot of optimism there. A man of such colossal ambition as Mitt Romney will want a second term. He certainly will not wish to have a primary challenge from his right. (The man doesn't do particularly well on the campaign trail in the first place.) But the right wing of the party will be watching him very closely. And if he doesn't do something meaningful to prove his bona fides, they are going to make his life hell.

Once again, the goal posts in American political life are moved further to the right.

(2) President Obama is reelected.

Obviously, this is the scenario I would favor. But I hardly think it will return the GOP to earth. If anything it will make them crazier for the following reasons:

(a) They have already been down this road before.

Last cycle, the GOP held their nose and voted for a man they loathe and despise: John McCain. The man every Democrat liked. (Until they really had to vote for him.) The man who opposed the Bush tax cuts. The man who wrote the dreaded McCain Feingold legislation. The one Republican the base of the party could not stand.

(b) If this happens to them a second time, they will feel that moderation is a mug's game. Maybe if they stuck to their guns they would have pulled off a victory.

It's sort of an insane argument. (So the electorate rejected a moderate Republican for not being conservative enough by going instead for a liberal Democrat?) But it's one that's taken seriously by the true believers.

(c) The "sticking to their guns" argument is crazy -- but not completely crazy. Yes, an excited base can swing an election. Particularly if it's close. And my bet is that 2012 is going to be close.

Of course, while a reasonable person would say that a Romney/Obama election will be a hell of a lot closer than a Gingrich/Obama election, the base won't believe that unless it actually happens. Should Romney lose, there will be a great many recriminations of his problems as a candidate (The Onion, as always, summed up this problem perfectly in their article Romneymania Sweeps America) but I thought Rick Santorum (of all people) summed up Romney's problems in the debate the other night -- Romney neutralizes the most salient criticism of President Obama: healthcare.

Healthcare reform is very unpopular (I think it should be popular, but that's a different discussion.) Nominating the guy who came up with the idea isn't going to make much headway with the average voter if you're trying to offer a contrast to the president.

You're already starting to see how the craziness will manifest itself. Grover Norquist is already (ALREADY?!) talking about impeaching President Obama in 2014 if he lets the Bush tax cuts expire. You will hear a lot of that in 2013 if Obama is reelected. (Jonathan Chait predicted a second term impeachment a long time ago.)

And even if President Obama is not impeached, in this scenario the right wing of the party will say to the moderates: We went moderate in '08, we got Obama. We went radical in '10, we got Congress. We went moderate in '12, we got Obama again. So we're nominating a radical in 2016.

A lot can happen between now and 2016, but I think the GOP is going to have to nominate a radical and lose hard before it snaps them to their senses. But it will not bode well for the country in general. Sigh.