After recounting the worst of what Phil Robertson said about blacks and gays in that GQ interview, Salon's Brian Beutler writes about what he calls "the GOP's Duck Dynasty problem":
... Robertson's comments don't fly in most of America. If Robertson were, say, running for Senate in Missouri as a Republican, the GOP would have disowned him immediately. But Robertson isn't a politician. He's not a mouthpiece for a political party that needs to maintain a national brand identity. Rather, his remarks reflect the views of an American cultural subset the GOP depends on for its survival. His suspension made him a tribune of modern conservatism. Thus, conservative Republicans (not just opportunists like Sarah Palin, but party standard-bearers) felt impelled to rally to his side without actually echoing anything Robertson said....I see Beutler's point -- saying that blacks were happy and content "pre-welfare," saying that homosexuality is as vile as having sex with animals, and blaming war with Japan on Jesus-less Shintoism would get a Republican Senate candidate in trouble -- at least in a swing state -- and would have a nationwide ripple effect in an election year.
You won't hear a lot of Republicans saying these things so plainly. But a lot of Republicans believe them. Republicans want to amend the Constitution to prohibit gay marriage across the country. And of all the social spending programs in the country they're itching to cut or dismantle, the ones that disproportionately benefit poor minorities top the list....
The GOP's key dilemma right now is that it has to be a party for people like Robertson without letting people like Robertson speak for them. Which is why the party retrogressed to its old agenda so quickly after the 2012 election, and why it can't eliminate its Todd Akin problem simply by putting Republicans through finishing school.
But while trouble comes to GOP pols who say things like this in election years, Robertson got away without a scratch -- his suspension was brief and he's back on the air, and in A&E's good graces. Beutler sees the Robertson story, specifically the fact that Republicans such as Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal defended him, as a sign that the GOP has a serious election vulnerability; I see it as a sign that the reactionary resenters are much stronger than the rest of us between elections.
Why did Phil Robertson win? Why was his suspension from Duck Dynasty ended shortly after it began? Because rank-and-file right-wingers, goaded on by a very focused right-wing noise machine, went to the wall to defend Robertson. Right-wingers were much more determined to keep him on the air than we were to keep him off. We may rally to elect Democratic presidents, or to keep the Senate out of the hands of people like Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, and Christine O'Donnell, but right-wingers rally like that all the time, on nearly every issue. (This is how they win on gun issues despite being vastly outnumbered.)
Beutler sees the beliefs of Robertson and his supporters as an electoral burden. Yeah, maybe -- maybe it will keep the White House and Senate Democratic for the foreseeable future. But Republicans are unlikely to lose the House anytime soon, or fall below the number of senators needed to mount a filibuster. In fact, they're likely to gain seats in both chambers this year. And Republicans still dominate at the state level.
So they're doing well enough at the ballot box. And then, between elections, they run the country.
It's no surprise that the GOP "retrogressed to its old agenda so quickly after the 2012 election": supporters of that agenda fight like hell for it, even when Election Day is many months away.