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October 20, 2008
Where Will GOP Go Now?
To the Center? Or Right . . . to Oblivion?
As we watch the election prospects for the Republican
Party grow increasingly grim just two weeks out from the election, the
real question is what will become of it if things turn out as bad as it
appears they might.
Right now, the GOP has
two choices. It can either veer substantially away from the rightward
turn the party took during the 1980s, or it can continue on the same
path. One is likely to make the GOP relevant again; one has the
potential to banish the thing to the dustbin of history.
In figuring out where the
Republican Party is going, it’s important to look at how the party got
to the point it is today.
As it is configured
today, the Republican Party was born in 1980, the child of the Reagan
Revolution. Reagan restored America’s confidence in itself by
popularizing a deep mistrust in government in general and specially in
Freedom became synonymous
with the idea that government was the problem, not the answer.
It affected basically
every plank of the GOP platform, from tax and regulation to the
environment. In fact, pursuit of this with regard to the environment
helped establish what came to be known as the Republican war on science,
where evidence that inconveniently conflicts with ideology must be
disregarded or ridiculed.
This continued through
the ’80s, with only the mild hiccup of the four years of George Herbert
Walker Bush’s presidency. It’s probably of no small coincidence that
conservatives came to dislike the first Bush, who lost the election
after many conservatives fled to independent Ross Perot. The Republican
platform was cemented, and ultimately poisoned, in the 1990s when
conservative politics became synonymous with a hatred of Democrats.
Reagan’s election to the
White House sparked a number of things, not the least of which was the
slow and sometimes painful purging of moderates. It continues today
through the ultra-conservative Club for Growth, which continues to fund
primary challengers to Republicans it deems to be too easily in bed with
This came even as
conservative thinking offered new and innovative approaches to problems.
One of the most obvious is an early-’90s cap-and-trade program designed
to lower sulfur dioxide emissions. In fact, it is this market-based
approach, which helped ameliorate the worst of acid rain, that today
gives us the phrase “clean coal.” Clean coal, today supported by both
major candidates but actually defined by neither, actually refers to
technology meant to scrub the emissions from coal-fired plants in the
Today, the conservative
wing dismisses cap-and-trade programs as socialistic mischief. Their
approach to global warming, for which cap-and-trades are most often
referenced as a mitigating program, is to pretend the problem doesn’t
exist and construct elaborate conspiracies for why the evidence is phony
or just plain made up.
While you’d think that
the party would acknowledge that a massive rejection at election polls
would be a repudiation of their entire single-minded approach to
governing, the Republican Party has not shown much inclination to
admitting error. It has, this year, concluded that first Bill Clinton
and then Barack Obama are almost entirely responsible for the subprime
mortgage mess, for instance. There is even loose talk in state circles
that the Republicans would be best served by biding their time, holding
up Democratic initiatives in hopes that voters would return the GOP to
Whether that amounts to
an actual indication of how GOP insiders really feel, or just out-loud
daydreaming, what it suggests is that one of the most important outcomes
of this election might not be who gets picked as our next president, but
how the Republican Party reacts to the results.
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