Why Does the GOP Keep Generating Extremists?

News & Politics

I said yesterday that I didn't know who'd win, and it wasn't because I doubted the oracle of West 43rd Street. It was because, in a weird way perhaps related to my long attention to wingnuts and the strange empathy with them that has engendered, I took one of their points: That a party with a raidable coalition whose champion presided over a weak economy had to be vulnerable. 

That was why conservatives were so gloomy and doomy in 2008: They knew Bush had wrecked the party, and all the hobgoblins that emerged from the wreckage -- from Mark Foley to Sarah Palin -- made the opening for Democrats so big that they could even beat them with a black guy.

That was weird, because for years boogiemen were something GOP apparatchiks tied to the otherparty. I assumed that in 2012, as Obama hadn't improved things much in the here and now -- yeah, I know about all the new jobs, and they're not enough; the fundamental economic weaknesses and inequalities I've been griping about since the Bush years are still there -- the GOP would have room to Willie Horton and Al Sharpton their way into the amygdalae of enough gomers to win.

But a weird thing happened: During the campaign, instead of tying Democrats to weirdos, the Republicans generated a flood of their own. Again! And here conservatives turned out to be a big, fat liability for their cause. As Republican after Republican made crackpot comments about rape, contraception, and abortion, the GOP's rightwing brain trust unfailingly followed up and said, yeah, that's what we believe, that's what we've always believed. 

And because the conventional wisdom had always been that autonomous, sexually active women and the men who love them are just a fringe constituency, instead of questioning the wisdom of attacking them, the big brains questioned the wisdom of having Sandra Fluke speak at the Democratic Convention.

I always knew this issue was a winner for the Democrats, but now I'm beginning to think that it affected everything else as well. That is, Romney's crackpot economic and environmental policies might have had more traction with voters if so many of them were not convinced that he represented and was listening to a bunch of lunatics who were totally out of touch with how human beings live. In tough times, you might go for a small-government reformer who says he has a plan to turn things around if you trust him. Americans have bought bigger grifters than Romney; a lot of them haven't even figured that the nice old man who unleashed the markets in the 1980s set them up for the hard times we have now.

Who knows what a Romney campaign might have achieved if he'd decisively cut loose the Erick Erickson contingent and run like a man trying to be governor of Massachusetts? The question was moot before the first GOP caucus vote. That was their problem

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