After years of infighting and ideological insanity, Republican insiders are having what appears to be a revelation about their party. Earlier this week it was the conservative David Brooks, who confessed in his New York Times column that the “House Republican caucus is close to ungovernable these days” and that the “Republican Party’s capacity for effective self-governance degraded slowly, over the course of a long chain of rhetorical excesses, mental corruptions and philosophical betrayals… Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism.”
Brooks doesn’t quite follow his insight to its logical conclusion, though. If he did, he would have conceded that the GOP is essentially done as a viable and productive national political party. Brooks, one assumes, still has hope that Republicans can course-correct before it’s too late.
The Republican National Committee Chairman, Reince Priebus, seems even more somber than Brooks. In a forthcoming interview with the Washington Examiner, Priebus openly admits that the GOP is in serious trouble if it fails to win the presidency in 2016:
“Our job as a national party is to elect Republicans, and it generally means House, Senate, presidential. We’re viewed at in a presidential year as the presidential committee that is responsible for helping elect the president, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to help pay for the ground operation in every targeted U.S. Senate race and the targeted Congressional races as well, so it is our job to do all three. However, I think that we have become, unfortunately, a midterm party that doesn’t lose and a presidential party that’s had a really hard time winning. We’re seeing more and more that if you don’t hold the White House, it’s very difficult to govern in this country – especially in Washington D.C.”
Finally, after all that babbling, Priebus reaches the obvious conclusion: “We’re cooked as a party for quite a while if we don’t win in 2016… It’s going to be hard to dig out of something like that.” Sensing he was too honest in that assessment, Priebus immediately added that “I don’t anticipate that. I think… history is on our side.”
Despite his perfunctory attempt at optimism, it’s pretty clear that Priebus sees the writing on the wall. He’d never say it publicly, but he knows why Republicans are losing national elections. Yes, GOP candidates continue to win seats in both chambers of Congress, but a lot of that has to do with gerrymandered districts and entrenched political attitudes in various regions of the country. It’s extremely unlikely that the GOP could win a popular vote in a national election right now, and it’s becoming less likely by the day.
Priebus says half-heartedly that the “big picture” looks good for the GOP in 2016, but I have no idea what he’s talking about, and I doubt that he does either. He’s leading a party that’s prepared to choose Donald Trump or Ben Carson as its nominee. He has to know how alienating that is for most of the country. Trump and Carson are fatuous know-nothings without a scintilla of political experience. They spew ignorance and bile that appeals to the conservative base but disgusts almost everyone else. Trump and Carson may not represent the totality of views within the Republican Party, but make no mistake: they are now the faces of the GOP – and neither of them could come close to winning a national election.
The bottom line is that the Republican Party has taken steps in recent years that yielded short-term victories in midterm elections. But they’ve lost control of the party. The Tea Party wing and the extremists on whom Republicans have relied for grassroots support have steered the party off a cliff. They’ve sent a crop of nihilists to Congress who’ve done nothing but obstruct for the better part of a decade. Does Priebus think there will be no long-term consequences for this?
When you’ve reached the point where your presidential nominees are forced to deny science and compete to see who cares less about women’s rights, you’ve got a major problem. Someone like Priebus thinks Trump and Carson will never win, and that a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio will ultimately prevail. Perhaps that’s true, but the presence of fanatics like Trump and Carson and Cruz in the race means even the so-called moderates have to adopt extreme positions to remain competitive in the party. And no matter how centrist their eventual nominee is, the Republican brand will remain tainted.
This has been the case for the last two presidential elections, and 2016 will be no different.