10 September 2012

Republicans Need a Mondale Moment

As of this morning, Nate Silver puts Obama's chances vs. Romney at 80.7% vs. 19.3%. Those are 4 to 1 odds., folks, and ought to give Republicans incentive to reconsider their party platform.

Ronald Reagan crushed Walter Mondale in the 1984 election, winning 525 out of 538 electoral votes. After that, the Democrats were open to the possibility that they needed a different image, a different set of policies. As it turns out, people did not want to choose between pro-business and pro-government programs to help the needy. They wanted both and Clinton (a hairdresser's son?) provided that.

The Republicans need a Mondale moment. They probably won't get it in this election that they're likely to lose by only 100 electoral votes rather than 500. That will leave them close enough that they'll be able to blame Romney rather than their platform. Plus they'll hold onto the House and may even gain the Senate. Those are conditions less likely to force them to do any soul searching than just make them cantankerous. But given the shifting demographics and the Republicans penchant for offending women and minorities, it seems probable that things will get worse, not better, for the GOP by 2016. Maybe by then they'll begin a slow slide into obsolescence, going the way of the Whigs and Federalists. Or perhaps they could reinvent themselves as did the Democrats in the late 80s and early 90s.

The odd thing is that it would not take much for  Republicans to change themselves back into a dominant party. Against abortion and they get some support; against abortion even in instances of rape and incest and they are instead perceived as ideologues wildly disconnected from popular opinion. Against an increase in taxes and they get support; against even one dollar of tax increases for every ten dollars of budget cuts and, again, they are perceived as intransigent extremists. The Republicans now offer too many positions that the average person has to vote for them in spite of.

Even though the average American realizes that Obama did create the recession, this was nonetheless the Republican's election to win. Unemployment has never been below 8% since Obama's first full month in office. The Republicans had to essentially hand over policy to the Bill Kristol and the Tea Party in order to lose this one. If the GOP jettisons the extremists for independents, they could easily take the next election. They still own the old, white religious guys vote but lots of them will be heading to heaven over the next few election cycles, leaving earth to be ruled by an increasing percentage of young, minority women whose politics are more secular. If the Republicans can't win in 2012, they definitely won't be able to win in 2016 or 2020. It's not too soon for them to start reinventing.

There are at least two places to start with their reinvention. One would be by confronting reality, whether it comes in the form of inconvenient truths like climate change or budget arithmetic. Another would be by honestly assessing why George W. Bush's presidency resulted in so many failures, from domestic security to foreign relations to economic growth and stability. The current teachings of the GOP faithful is that Bush somehow screwed up, executed poorly. That's possible but I don't buy it. Cheney was a former CEO. Bush had an MBA. They had some really sharp and incredibly conscientious people in positions of authority. Instead, it seems easier to argue that the whole Bush team executed bad beliefs really well. In fact, one of the problems with a really bad beliefs is that the better you are at executing them, the worse things get. Napoleon and Hitler both had troops that bravely executed the really bad idea of invading and conquering Russia. George W. had the really bad ideas of de-regulating financial markets he was obligated to insure and of putting a democratic government into the country Iraq that still can't decide whether to vote itself into pieces  or into a theocracy. Bush championed terrible ideas that ably executed.

Republicans have to give up on such ideas - or at the very least modify them to reflect even a programmer's humility of realizing that his program as it is currently written just keeps crashing. Until they do, either they'll lose at the polls or we'll lose when they win office.

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