Friday, August 12, 2011

The race towards extremism

Yes, I watched the Republican Presidential debate in Iowa last night. It was painful, but what can I say, I'm just that much of a political junkie.

Its hard to decide what to say about it because to comment in any way almost gives it too much credence given the laughable performance from everyone on that stage. Those who have attempted to define the "serious" candidates from the nutcases would be hard-pressed to make that distinction now. And the idea that Governor Goodhair (Rick Perry) can somehow come in and give this race some credibility is just ludicrous. As soon as he formally announces and joins this pack we'll see yet another attempt to find a savior candidate (Guliani and Palin are still waiting in the wings and you KNOW folks still think Gov. Christie could save the day).

The candidates are not the issue. Certainly they are a weak bunch. But the real problem is that the Republican Party has embraced extremism - the more the better. With the exception of Ron Paul last night, they were tripping over themselves to show just how extreme and intransigent they could be. That's how you win points in the GOP these days.

I'll grant that a certain amount of that in any primary is the norm. The old adage about playing to your base in the primary and then moderating during the general election is nothing new. But this one feels different. Not one of these candidates seems to be positioning themselves to be able to pivot back to the center if/when they win the nomination. As time goes on - the competition seems to be about who can go farther out on a limb.

Case in point from last night:

The question was, who on this stage would walk away from a deal that was 10 to 1 spending cuts to tax increases. Every hand went up.

Steve Benen has a good reminder of just how far these folks have come in only 4 months.

Let’s note for context that in March — just five months ago — Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee released a report on deficit reduction. In it, House GOP officials outlined their ideal cuts-to-revenue ratio, and concluded that “successful” attempts at deficit reduction meet this goal: “85% spending cuts and 15% revenue increases.” Roughly speaking, that’s about a 5-to-1 ratio in Republicans’ favor — and this is what GOP officials characterized as their ideal earlier this year.

I'd suggest that it is interesting to ask how/why this is happening. Why would a party move from embracing an 85/15 split to rejecting even a 10/1 split in just 4 months? Is there some policy concern that recently emerged that changed their thinking? I don't think so.

It has everything to do with the story I wrote about yesterday. President Obama offers to work with Republicans to develop a balanced approach. To cooperate gives the President credibility and their only tactic is to avoid that at all costs. And so they paint themselves farther and farther into a corner of extremism...and irrelevance in the general election.


  1. If we are at the point where Ron Paul seems like the most reasonable guy of the bunch, the Republican Party has moved a long, long way toward extremism.