Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Right Turn

David Brooks analyzes the aftermath.

It’s only been a week since the defeat, but the battle lines have already been drawn in the fight over the future of conservatism.

In one camp, there are the Traditionalists, the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed. George W. Bush was a big-government type who betrayed conservatism. John McCain was a Republican moderate, and his defeat discredits the moderate wing.

To regain power, the Traditionalists argue, the G.O.P. should return to its core ideas: Cut government, cut taxes, restrict immigration. Rally behind Sarah Palin.

Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are the most prominent voices in the Traditionalist camp, but there is also the alliance of Old Guard institutions. For example, a group of Traditionalists met in Virginia last weekend to plot strategy, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. According to reports, the attendees were pleased that the election wiped out some of the party’s remaining moderates. “There’s a sense that the Republicans on Capitol Hill are freer of wobbly-kneed Republicans than they were before the election,” the writer R. Emmett Tyrrell told a reporter.

Just so we’re clear, when Mr. Brooks sayd “Traditionalist,” he means right-wing whackos. And he rightly (pun intended) asserts that they will win in their battle between what he calls the “Reformists” (i.e. sane and moderate Republicans) to become the dominant force in the GOP for the foreseeable future.

Having seen what happened to the Democrats in 1968 when they went through a similar internal battle and spent a long, long time in the wilderness, I can tamp down my schadenfreude only so much. The Republicans brought this all on themselves, and if they keep up thinking that the country truly is a center-right nation and keep up with the fear and loathing of immigrants, gays, taxes, and women who insist on controlling their own bodies, they might as well start talking about the evils of fluoridating water and the Yellow Hoard streaming over the border because that’s how relevant they will be — stuck fifty years in the past. Even Ronald Reagan gave up on the John Birch Society.

Lest the Democrats chortle and gloat too much, they should remember that the same thing can — and did — happen to them (see: Elections, 1994). But the difference seems to be that the Republicans have acted, especially since the Reagan administration, as if they were entitled to rule. It may take a few more elections for the news to sink in on them that they’re not. Meanwhile, they will provide us with endless hours of entertainment of loopy talking heads on the radio and TV and congressmen who cannot keep their paranoia in check.