During the Obama presidency, Republicans demonstrated just how much mileage a political party could get out of frenzied opposition. Whipping your voters into a froth about how every election is freedom's last stand is a great way to stoke turnout. Even if it's not remotely true, even if your opponent is just a cautious moderate who craves bipartisanship, that's no problem — just invent a bunch of conspiracy theories about how he's a secret Kenyan Muslim anti-colonialist or something.
But the GOP is discovering the downsides of that strategy now that they've been trying to govern. They've held power for just over one year, and are already running into severe political difficulties as a direct result of the unhealthy way they have achieved that power.
As The Washington Post reports, the party's most immediate problem for the 2018 midterms is one that has plagued the GOP for a long time: weirdo candidates. In West Virginia, they have a convicted criminal making a strong play for the Republican Senate primary, in the form of Don Blankenship. This guy is the former CEO of Massey Energy who was jailed for a year for conspiring to violate mine health and safety standards before the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners. In Mississippi, there is Chris McDaniel, the kooky and flagrantly racist former state senator who nearly won the state primary in 2014.
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Conditions are looking favorable enough for Democrats that either of these two might bobble the race to a Democrat — thus joining Todd Akin, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, and many others who have given up winnable seats through extremism or sheer nuttiness. And that is distracting from Republican offensive plans to knock out the several vulnerable Democratic senators in states Trump won.
Their second problem can be summed up under the heading of "dishonesty." As noted above, they've portrayed a milquetoast centrist opposition party as akin to Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries. But Republicans have been just as dishonest about the content of their own attempts at policymaking. They sold their attempts to repeal ObamaCare as about making insurance coverage cheaper and better, when in fact it would have done the precise opposite. They sold their tax cuts for the rich as a "tax reform" that would mainly help the middle class, boost growth, and pay for itself.
All politicians lie or bend the truth to some degree. But most do not attempt to jam through sweeping policies with stone whoppers. President Obama, for instance, infamously said, "If you like your coverage you can keep it," when he should have said, "there will be some insurance disruption because we are imposing new coverage requirements, but almost all plans will be fine in the end." A bit misleading, sure, but he did not say, "you're all getting free Medicare, plus a million bucks and a pony."
The Republican Congress' failure to pass an ObamaCare repeal was a direct result of all this lying. Wobbly senators and representatives were deluged by calls from desperate constituents asking not to be killed, but had little organic support to counterbalance it. When a repeal was no longer useful as a cudgel for beating Obama, the Republican base quickly forgot all about it. They did manage to pass their tax cut, to be fair, but that also faced much less opposition — and will be much easier to reverse.
The third problem is related to the first two: the immorality plaguing the conservative movement. With the party in the grips of such fevered delusions, they became willing to accept almost any moral compromise to beat back the Democrats — and left themselves wide open to the loudest demagogues and most cynical liars. If freedom itself is at stake, then why not hold one's nose and vote for a thrice-married authoritarian crackpot, or a man who repeatedly defied federal court orders, or some other freak? The result is a spectacularly unpopular president, and nominees like Roy Moore (credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl) and Greg Gianforte (who assaulted a reporter on audiotape).
Taken together, this is the picture of a deeply sick political party. Its few committed politicians, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are scurrying around trying to tamp down restless moderates and beat back the primary cranks. Its more cynical leaders, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, are heading for the exits and the comforts of a big fat payday at a lobbying firm or think tank. Others are resigning just ahead of some scandal or another. A steadily expanding corruption investigation/sex scandal is slowly enveloping the whole Trump presidency.
And even in some of the most reliably conservative states, Republicans are facing brushfire revolts from teachers and other state employees fed up with a decade of austerity and government of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.
The GOP has reached a remarkable level of brief success with a near-total lack of honesty or virtue. They may yet manage to cling to power, if nothing else through the incompetence of their opponents. But we're seeing now that while such strategies might win power, they have severe downsides for holding it.
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