Thursday, January 29, 2009


Nate Silver, looking at the GOP's unanimous rejection of the Obama stimulus package and near-total rejection of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the bill to delay the changeover to digital TV, finds himself a lot more baffled than he should be:

... [John] Boenher and Eric Cantor have obviously done an impressive job of rallying their troops -- and Cantor, in particular, seems proud of his efforts. But what grander purpose does this strategy serve?

... the Republicans, arguably, are in something of a death spiral. The more conservative, partisan, and strident their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base -- but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself....

I've said some of this before, but I'll risk repeating myself: I think the Republicans see two paths, which may not be mutually exclusive.

One is remaining a smaller, regional, angry, ideologically pure minority and just not giving a damn whether moderates and fence-sitters like what they're saying or are drawn to it. (As I said a few days ago, this seems to be similar to the strategy of the Catholic Church under Pope Benedict.) For the GOP, can't being the angry backseat drivers of American politics be a pretty good life? If you represent 28% of the population and still get two thirds of the TV airtime on critical issues, why not? If zealotry means fewer potential donors but more enthusiasm for giving on their part, why not? If you never have to be accountable for how your ideas actually work out in the real world, why not?

Plus, it's enjoyable to be juvenile delinquents, as Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity agreed on Fox News last night:

...COULTER: ... I just heard this that all the Republicans voted against the stimulus bill, and 11 Democrats. That's fantastic.

HANNITY: That is fantastic.

COULTER: And this will probably go through, and God bless the Republicans, isn't it fun being an angry insurgent?

HANNITY: But you know what we're dealing -- but as.

COULTER: So much better than being in the majority.

HANNITY: Do you like that? You like being conservatives in exile? The conservative underground.

COULTER: We can be principled now....

The other path Republicans see, I think, is a sort of "underpants gnome" theory of party renewal. The underpants gnomes were characters on a South Park episode who had

a three-step business plan, consisting of:

1. Collect underpants

2. ???

3. Profit!

Where none of the gnomes actually knows what the second step is, and all of them assume someone else within the organization does.

The three steps in this case are: (1) oppose everything Obama wants, (2) ???, (3) regain control of Washington!

They're confident they can find step 2 because they went from Nixon's resignation to Reagan's election in six years, and from an all-Democratic federal government under Bill Clinton to a takeover of Congress in two years. And they did it led by obnoxious liberal-bashing zealots (Reagan and Gingrich).

So no, Nate -- they're not going to change. They're just going to keep doing this. I think they see path #1 as just fine for now -- and really believe path #2 is inevitable.

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