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October 13, 2008

Republican Rivets are Popping Everywhere


What you heard over the weekend weren’t boos at a John McCain rally, but the sound of metal plates bulging and rivets starting to pop.


Let’s back up a bit, to the bit about boos at a McCain rally. The problem was that McCain decided to treat the crowd to a little bit of old-fashioned straight talk. It wasn’t about policy, however, it was in response to the increasingly ugly tone taken by his supporters at rallies of late.


That started with Sarah Palin, who last week started raising questions about Barack Obama’s associations. Well, that’s not quite hitting the nail on the head, either. She wondered aloud to a Florida crowd why someone who’d was “palling around” with terrorists was a good choice for the presidency. Later in the week, she hinted that maybe Obama doesn’t like the United States.


McCain’s straight talk was meant to tone down the way the audiences at the rallies have increasingly engaged that kind of heated rhetoric. Perhaps he noted that such negativity might help enflame the base, but turns everyone else off, including the very people McCain needs if he wants any hope of pulling off what would now be an electoral upset. He told the audience that Obama was a decent, patriotic man with whom he only shared fundamental differences on policy.


For his effort, he was greeted with boos.


The idea that McCain hopes to convince the American people that he can control delicate international crises when he can’t even keep his own supporters in line is less interesting than what that fact tells us about the possible future of the Republican Party.


Both parties can win any election only thanks to a messy marriage between activists and the party hub-bubs. On the Democratic side, the brief rupturing of that marriage led to hopes in the Green Party that it might accrue enough support in 2000 to qualify for federal funding.


On the Republican side, however, things are even messier. The ability of the Republican Party has long relied on a coalition of social conservatives and corporatists who realize that their best interests are met by keeping the social conservatives in a constant state of rage over liberals or anyone else. Once the anger over wedge issues like same-sex marriage and abortion subsides, the social conservatives might figure out they’ve been duped and revolt.


That has already nearly happened twice this year, the first taking place after McCain won the nomination. There’s no secret that conservatives hate John McCain. McCain has a reputation for working across the aisle, which to the right-wing base is tantamount to treason. He’s also endorsed in cases government solutions to problems that are routinely dismissed on the right as “socialism” (even when they aren’t), and said that we need to address global warming. It was good material to help build street cred as a party-bucking maverick, but not to keep the party base happy.


In response, he tossed them Sarah Palin, a governor no one knew anything about. She did possess, however, conservative credentials, and the presidential ticket became an attempt to cover up the growing cracks in the coalition like cheap wallpaper.


The second time was just two weeks ago, when Congress voted to bail out Wall Street. Conservatives hated the bailout, which they regarded as – ta-da – socialism, and helped kill it the first time through the House of Representatives. It was an embarrassing defeat for the GOP leadership, who nonetheless blamed Democrats for it.


That defeat is nothing like what could be shaping up for Election Night, where the Democratic Party is expected to make gains in both the House and Senate, and now has to be seen as the favorite to win the presidency. If Republicans lose big, it could pop off that last rivet and prompt a serious round of infighting within the coalition that has given the GOP such success over the last 20 years.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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