Is it time to remake the old movie Death Wish — this time starring conservative Republicans who seem to think polls are wrong and that America really loves them and hates Barack Obama?
This is not a joke. Whether conservatives even want to win is a serious question in light of the reaction to the Republican National Committee's brutally honest "autopsy" on why the party lost the 2012 presidential election. The RNC concluded that the party should change such things as the number of primaries, its image among minority voters, its positions on immigration reform, its ground game — and become less "scary" to voters. It all amounts to this: At least look more moderate. But "moderate" remains one of the filthiest words in the Republican Party, and the feeling is kinda mutual: Moderates voted for Obama in droves.
Indeed, many conservatives are rejecting the RNC's tough-love report faster than Michele Bachmann running away from a reporter. And it makes you wonder: What are they thinking?
The GOP is divided into two factions symbolized by what New York's Dan Amira calls "the world's worst investor, Karl Rove, and the world's worst vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin." Rove, an establishment figure and Bush family stalwart, wants to win. Palin, darling of the Tea Party, the grassroots, and talk-show fans, wants purity — which she believes will bring victory.
It's déjà vu all over again: The Goldwater Republicans in 1964 and the McGovern Democrats in 1972. Both groups later tempered their rough edges and became more influential in their parties. But first they clung to extreme platforms far outside the mainstream of American politics. And they lost badly.
National Journal's Charlie Cook says Republicans face two choices: Change or go over the cliff. But major change seems unlikely. Rush Limbaugh immediately rejected the idea that conservatives are out of touch. "I'm sorry, but we're not disrespectful to anybody," he told his listeners. "Look at what these focus groups have got these poor guys believing... Republicans are not narrow minded."
So "denial" is a river in what country?
With the far-right rejecting reasonable changes that are necessary to bring the GOP back into the mainstream, the war between conservatives and the Republican establishment will likely get even bloodier. The New York Times' Thomas Edsall:
In January, I pointed out that "If the conservative movement continues on its downward trajectory, the American business community, which has the most to lose from Republican failure, will be the key force arguing for moderation." That moment has come. The Priebus report and Rove's Conservative Victory Project together mark a significant escalation in the battle between the center and the right over the soul of the Republican Party. What has yet to be determined is whether they are fighting over a patient who can be quickly resuscitated or a patient with a chronic but not fatal illness — or a corpse. [New York Times]
Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg writes that the GOP "continues to fracture more seriously than I expected following last year's re-election of President Barack Obama." When Rothenberg asked a Republican pollster what the GOP can do to turn things around soon, the GOPer replied that the "Republican brand will improve... only when the president screws up." That is not a winning strategy.
And let's face it: Perfunctory appeals to groups Republicans feel they need to win over will backfire if not backed by real changes in policy — and in political style. That mean moderating. And yet, there are already reports that conservative members of Congress want to force yet another debt ceiling showdown with Obama this summer — and hold out until they can repeal ObamaCare and get entitlement cuts.
One hopeful sign of moderation: In the interest of political self-preservation, the GOP is finally embracing immigration reform. But don't expect major shifts on other key issues.
As attorney-blogger Pat Edaburn notes, "A pure minority is still a minority." No matter the amount of Koch money backing the GOP, the bottom line is that polarizing conservative talk show hosts, CPAC members laughing as Ann Coulter calls Bill Clinton a "forcible rapist," House members using the nation's credit-worthiness for blackmail, and attacks on Obama's Latino cabinet nominee will not appeal to America's growing minorities or its moderate middle — and does not a future winning national Republican coalition make.