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The GOP’s Long, Rough Road

Posted on Nov 11, 2008

By Eugene Robinson

    I could make the argument that all is not lost for the Republican Party—that last Tuesday’s across-the-board defeat wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. But it would be a pretty dumb argument, and I doubt many readers would take it seriously. The truth is that the Grand Old Party is on a Bridge to Nowhere and may have great difficulty changing course.

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    The essential problem is that changing course will require turning around and marching, if not sprinting, in the opposite direction. At least initially, this doesn’t look like something enough Republicans are willing to do.

    What we’re hearing instead from Republican politicians, pollsters and pundits is reassurance that the United States is a “center-right nation” with an innate distrust of progressive policies. The problem, these soothing voices say, is that under George W. Bush the GOP strayed from its basic philosophy of limited government and adopted the big-spending habits of the Democrats. Republicans need to rediscover their bedrock principles, this theory goes, and after a few years of rule by Barack Obama and his Democratic enablers on Capitol Hill, voters will come running home to Papa.

    So much is wrong with this analysis that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the basic premise, that of a center-right American polity. To the extent that such a vague label has any real meaning, that may once have been the case. But if ours were a center-right electorate now, one imagines it might have been kinder to a center-right politician such as John McCain.

    After all, that’s what McCain basically is, or used to be. To win the Republican nomination, he had to swerve so far to the right that there was no way he could make his way back within shouting distance of the center. Not that he tried very hard: By the end of the campaign, he was suggesting that progressive taxation—a concept that most Americans accept, having been convinced of its wisdom by Republican icon Teddy Roosevelt—represents some sort of creeping socialism.


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    My guess, in any event, is that this country oscillates pretty freely in the range between center-right and center-left, and that at present it’s clearly taking a leftward swing. My guess is that in stimulating the economy, re-regulating the financial system, making “green” technology a reality and ending the war in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama will feel more public pressure to speed up than slow down.

    Big-spending, pork-loving Republicans in Congress who suddenly recall that they’re actually budget hawks—at a time when massive spending may be needed to keep a sharp recession from turning into an outright depression—will find themselves steamrollered by history, I’m afraid.

    And then there’s the question of trying to knit together the Republican Party’s warring factions. Many “movement” conservatives still believe they have found a champion in Sarah Palin. A lot of pragmatists believe Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal represents the future of the party. Jeb Bush may be the party’s most skillful and well-rounded politician, but there’s the problem of that unfortunate last name.

    One acute problem that Republicans could deal with quickly, but probably won’t, is that the party is so far out of touch with the country—especially with key sectors of the electorate—on so many of the issues. Exit polls showed, for example, that McCain failed to attract significant support from women who had supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and were bitterly disappointed by her failure to win the nomination.

    He chose Palin, in part, to make a play for these voters. But two things made this gambit a nonstarter. First, Palin was, well, Palin. And second, she and her party continue to espouse a position on abortion rights that most Americans consider dangerously wrong.

    And here’s the truly ominous trend for the Republicans: Hispanic voters nationwide chose Obama over McCain by 67 percent to 31 percent. This is a huge shift from 2004, when George Bush won an estimated 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, and the trend was instrumental in moving states such as Florida, Nevada and Colorado into the Democratic column last Tuesday. How did the Republicans manage this feat? By blocking sensible immigration reform and appealing to the red-meat conservative base with rhetoric that could only be taken as xenophobic.

    Hispanics constitute the nation’s biggest and fastest-growing minority. Apparently they have no place in the “center-right America” of Republican fantasy.

    Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)

    © 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

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oldog's avatar

By oldog, November 13, 2008 at 6:32 am Link to this comment

The world is changing at a frightening pace. The Republican Party has provided a base for sober Americans to express their desire to hold on to core values, family, fiscal conservatism, and moral responsibility, all admirable virtues. But they have become ineffective because the march of progress is too strong to be denied. Republicans have erred in trying to deny completely those changes they disagree with, and allow unchecked liberty to those they admire. Neither policy is working.

The reality is that humans are changing the social structures of society. People ARE going to live in same sex and multiple partner unions, make their own choices of what drugs to use and when, choose when to procreate and manipulate the traits of their offspring, interact financially on a global scale that will eliminate the traditional national boundary lines, and relieve God and Nature of the responsibility of deciding moral issues, regardless of whether it is illegal, immoral or fattening.

These are not aberrations in human evolution, these are human evolution. Denial often causes more problems than the changes themselves.

The Republican Party could be a positive directing influence on the future. But if they continue to deny the reality of a changing society, they will be left behind with the rest of the extinct animals that can’t keep up.

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By Dennis, November 12, 2008 at 9:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think Mr Robinson is right on both counts.
It all depends on what president elect Obama does.

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By Cameiros, November 12, 2008 at 5:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The problem is, we on the left like to ease up and coast.
The right thrives on friction and subversion.
We are, at least we used to be, the party of dissent.
The Republicans are the party of consent.
When was the last time Republicans marched or protested for peace or justice?
The only thing that gets them juiced are money matters and power.
They’ll have their knives out for Obama - the country be damned.
They will sacrifice all for power.
We have to stay strong.

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By ethanboger, November 12, 2008 at 4:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Democrats of all stripes are pinching themselves in disbelief at the amazing site of a Republican party in apparent utter disarray. The phalanxes headed by DeLay in the House and Frist in the Senate that were going to carry the Republican party to permanent domination are but a distant memory, the soldiers scurrying for the exits, the leadership in disgrace.

The grand strategy concocted by Karl Rove was a simple thing of genius: noting that the country was split roughly 40/20/40, he solidified Republican hold on the base using the wedge issues (abortion, gays) and gained a majority of the undecided by boosting the economy with low interest and massive government spending.

What happened? aside from corruption and the Neocons, the downfall of Rove’s plan was the unsustainability of the financial party. When the pigeons came home to roost, they pooped all over Rove.

Hopefully (but not probably) the American electorate will have learned an important lesson here.

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By, November 12, 2008 at 2:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The problem is not unique to the Republicans.  The Democrats at the National level have an earned 1 digit ratings as well.  The problem is not only the criminal invasions into the Middle East, but also the fact that there was never any meaningful attempt to investigate what really happened on September 11, 2001.  Most everyone knows that the WTC was brought down by well planned and professionally placed demolition, yet nothing to this date has been done to investigate to find out who was responsible.  That fact convinces most to believe that the mass murder and high treason and cover-up of that terrible day was at least in part directed by our very own government.  In the absense of proper investigation of what happened and the very much other circumstantial evidence as well as many inconsistancies, ommissions, and out-right lies in the official story, leaves us to believe much of the Congress may also be complicit at a minimum “after the fact”.  I have personally made very many inquires to my representatives in both the House and Senate and have yet to receive an adaquate answer for any of the 9-11 and scam invasions into the Middle East.  Our “representatives” aid and abet the US terrorist that still hold our Whitehouse.

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By yours truly, November 11, 2008 at 4:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

No Matter No More What The GOP Says Or Does

“What matters?”

“Our making sure that the Obama administration ends the Iraq and Afghanistan wars plus turning things around here at home.”

“Based on?”

“Yes we can.”

“And then what sort of world?”

“It’ll be up to us.”

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, November 11, 2008 at 4:23 pm Link to this comment

In ‘64, though, the Republicans had a coherent political philosophy—a sort of pseudo-libertarianism.  The present pieces of the party don’t seem to have much in common at all.  That would be all right if, like the Democrats, they were a truly conservative party, because the overall theme would be keeping things in place.  But to advance a radical agenda, as the Republicans have in the last several years, you have to have people more or less on the same page.  The theocrats, the plutocrats, the neo-cons, the libbits—there’s no there there.

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By troublesum, November 11, 2008 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

Back in ‘64 it was said that the republicans were finished.  In 2004 it was the democrats who were finished and Rove was talking about a permanent republican majority.  Every election is a disaster for somebody.

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By Anarcissie, November 11, 2008 at 2:00 pm Link to this comment

We already have one conservative, center-right party in the U.S.  It’s called the Democratic Party.  The problem of the Republicans is their relationships with the Religious Right and the neo-cons.  Many of the latter are now going to drift over to the Democratic Party, because they go where the power is.  They will be welcome there in certain quarters.  Like the police and AIPAC, they are a sort of transparty party.  If the Republicans were to win, they would drift back.  The Religious Right presents a more difficult case because they seem to have infiltrated every part of the Republican Party structure, and they are not about to moderate their demands now that they have tasted a little power.  I suppose the business-interest and libertarian Republicans could try to split off from them while wooing back those Democrats most similar to them, but I admit it’s a difficult prospect.

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