The GOP’s dysfunction all started with Sarah PalinDoes Daley remember nothing from the Clinton years? The years when right-wingers openly speculated that the president and his wife had a long record of involvement in crimes such as murder and drug dealing? The years when you could reach #1 on the New York Times bestseller list with a book claiming that a Christmas tree in the Clinton White House was decorated with crack pipes and sex toys? Oh, and did I mention that moment of unpleasantness involving impeachment for lies about sex?
When The Post’s front page declares: “Republicans are on the verge of ceasing to function as a national party,” it’s time to ask: How did this come to pass?
You can choose from a litany of insurrections, government shutdowns and other self-inflicted wounds. But this year’s carnival-like GOP presidential primary makes one event, in retrospect, stand out as a crucial turning point on the road to upheaval: the 2008 embrace of then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat from the presidency.
Palin’s blatant lack of competence and preparedness needs no belaboring. What’s critical is that substantive, serious Republican leaders either wouldn’t or couldn’t declare, before or after the election: “This is not what our party stands for. We can and must do better.”
... Palin became a Fox News fixture, reinforcing the newly formed tea party’s “never compromise” demands. Bombast, not reason, reigned. Now the “settle for flash” aura of Palin’s candidacy looks like a warning that the party was prizing glib, red-meat rhetoric over reasoned solutions.
Once McCain put Palin on the ticket, Republican “grown-ups,” who presumably knew better, had to bite their tongues. But after the election, when they were free to speak their minds, they either remained quiet or abetted the dumbing-down of the party. They stood by as Donald Trump and others noisily pushed claims that Obama was born in Kenya. And they gladly rode the tea party tiger to sweeping victories in 2010 and 2014.Is any of that a huge leap after 2004, when Republicans rode to victory in part because of blatant lies about the Democratic presidential candidate's military record? Wasn't birtherism just a new form of Swiftboating?
All through this period, the GOP took advantage of nonsense peddlers who kept voters loyal to conservatism and the party. There were a lot of such nonsense peddlers: in the conservative Christian media, on websites such as Newsmax and World Net Daily (and, later, Breitbart), on talk radio (remember, after the 1994 midterms, the incoming GOP majority in the House made Rush Limbaugh an honorary member of their class), at conservative book publishing outfits such as Regnery, and, of course, on Fox News. The GOP clearly thought it could keep these forces under control forever -- even as late as the 2014 midterms there was the belief that the Republican Establishment had successfully tamed and domesticated the Tea Party. Maybe Palin's nomination represented a turning point -- although I don't know how can she can be regarded as much more of an ignorant simpleton than Dan Quayle or George W. Bush. I think it's more likely that what destroyed the GOP was not nominating a few simpletons, but rather a day-to-day reliance on the political equivalent of superstition.
It's possible that Daley doesn't believe what he's writing. It could be that he's just baiting Palin, in the hope that she'll resurface -- she's been lying fairly low these days -- and make the GOP seem even crazier than it already does. I hope that's what he's trying to do, and I hope it works. She's an embarrassment, and Republicans deserve all the harm she does to their reputation. But she didn't turn them into the crazy party. They were heading in the direction for a long while.