Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kristol: It’s a Good Time to Be a Wingnut

William Kristol rules out the chances for a more moderate, temperate, and sophisticated GOP in the years to come. And he thinks that’s a good thing.

The Gallup poll released Monday shows the public’s conservatism at a high-water mark. Some 40 percent of Americans call themselves conservative, compared with 36 percent who self-describe as moderates and 20 percent as liberals.

The conservative number is as high as it’s been in the two decades that Gallup has been asking the question.

What’s more, fully 72 percent of Republicans say they’re conservative. Thirty-five percent of independents do so as well — and presumably the percentage of conservatives among independents who might be inclined, where the rules permit it, to vote in GOP primaries would be much higher.

The implications of this for the Republican Party over the remaining three years of the Obama presidency are clear: The GOP is going to be pretty unapologetically conservative. There aren’t going to be a lot of moderate Republican victories in intra-party skirmishes. And — with the caveat that the political world can, of course, change quickly — there will be a conservative Republican presidential nominee in 2012.

He then rules out the possibility that it could be a senator or a congressman in office since they’re not very popular with the public right now, so it comes down to an outsider:

The center of gravity, I suspect, will instead lie with individuals such as Palin and Huckabee and Gingrich, media personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and activists at town halls and tea parties. Some will lament this — but over the past year, as those voices have dominated, conservatism has done pretty well in the body politic, and Republicans have narrowed the gap with Democrats in test ballots.

Mr. Kristol’s track record as a prognosticator is about as good as the scouts who reported to General Custer that all was quiet out there at the Little Big Horn. But even if he is correct and the GOP turns the nomination and the party over to the people who rushed into the leadership vacuum with such things as “death panels,” competing shouts of “commie Fascist!” and thinly-veiled racist depictions of President Obama, and whose idea of competent legal counsel is Orly Taitz, you’re going to see a beat-down of the Republicans in 2012 to the point that it will make Barry Goldwater’s run in 1964 look like a squeaker.

This kind of wishful reassurance isn’t new; the Democrats thought they had it in the bag in 1972 when they decided that after four years of Richard Nixon what the country really wanted to do was to go left; they mistook the growing anti-war sentiment in the country to be anti-Nixon, and they thought the time was ripe for a populist uprising against the establishment. George McGovern was no Glenn Beck or even Sarah Palin — he was a war veteran and a senator with considerable experience — and he still lost 48 states. The next time around, they went with a moderate — Jimmy Carter — and won. (Of course, given the state of the GOP after Watergate, the Democrats could have run Teddy the Wonder Lizard and won.)

Mr. Kristol, not surprisingly, makes the same mistake a lot of disgruntled pundits make. He takes a poll that measures the mood of the country but doesn’t actually measure the issues, and the names that pop up as GOP front-runners like Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney are names that people know but don’t necessarily plan to vote for or even know their stand on the issues. It’s not unlike asking people to name a breakfast cereal: they may list Kellogg’s Corn Flakes or Froot Loops or Cap’n Crunch off the top of their head, but that doesn’t mean they’ll buy them.

If what Mr. Kristol says is true, and frankly, in this case he probably is, the GOP is going to spend the next two years in permanent shriek and wail mode, taking everything that the president does and turning it into a sinister plot, or, as another manifestation of their bipolar view of things, claim he’s weak and ineffectual. They will go completely overboard with their Fox-driven frenzies and keep pushing out the edge of the envelope and pushing away the moderate and temperate voters that used to be the base of their party and turn even more into the Party of No, running around the country like playground full of sugared-up six-year-olds. The problem with that is that it’s exhausting for them — they will have nothing to offer — and it’s exasperating for the people who used to be on their side: how is carrying on about “Chairman Obama” going to pay their mortgage, get them affordable healthcare, or fix a crumbling schoolhouse?

So Democrats, take heart: there’s no better sign that you’re on the right track than when William Kristol says you’re doomed.