Monday, December 26, 2011

The dangers of ideological purity

When parties lose power, pundits generally expect them to move to the center. But they don’t, at least not at first. Instead, recent history suggests that defeated parties become more extreme...

The process works something like this. When parties lose power, activists ascribe the loss to the ideological impurity of their incumbent president. In so doing, they vent the frustrations they kept bottled up while their side was in power. Since defeat frees them from the messy business of governing, ideological purity suddenly becomes easier. And since defeat usually hits party moderates disproportionately hard, the opponents of purity usually hold less sway.

That is from an article written over a year ago by Peter Beinart in which he compared what is currently going on in the Republican Party to what happened to the Democrats between 1968 and 1972.

Leading up to the 1968 election were the Kennedy/Johnson years of great victories by the Democratic Party combined with the turmoil of Vietnam. Following Humphrey's loss to Nixon that year, the more "ideologically pure" elements in the Party gained power and nominated McGovern - who lost sweepingly to Nixon in 1972.

And now, after 8 years of Bush/Cheney, the more moderate(?) McCain lost to President Obama and we see the same kind of attempt to control Republicans by the ideological purists. Much more than his Mormonism, it is this battle that plagues the candidacy of Mitt Romney - who is the symbol to these folks of accommodation.

So as the party elites continue to wail about not having their A Team on the field, I would suggest they have misdiagnosed their problem. Far be it from me to help them see the error of their ways (I'd love to see an electoral map of blue to the extreme that Nixon saw red in 1972!), but as David Frum suggests, they have a "followership problem" more than a leadership deficit these days. He demonstrates that by positing (gawd help us) a Romney presidency.

Here’s a question to worry about in 2012: Does the inability of Speaker Boehner to lead his House caucus foreshadow the inability of a President Romney to lead a dual-chambered Republican Congress?...

Boehner’s weakness has repeatedly empowered House conservatives to drive the party and the country to the edge of disaster. Would a President Romney wield a stronger hand?

I'd suggest "yes" and "no" to Frum's questions.

But then, I'm not convinced yet that the ideological purists in the Republican Party will give Romney that chance. And that, my friends, is history repeating itself on the dangers of a Party catering to the wishes of their purists.

P.S. In case you've missed it, Al Giordano is back at it in writing about US politics (yeah!!) And in his inaugural post on the 2012 race, he's seeing what I'm seeing...its too early to count Gingrich out.

Gingrich, however, is handling his late dip in the polls like the political “ninja” that Huckabee drooled over. Newt has done two smart things:

The first Newtonian chess move can be read in this CNN headline: “Gingrich lowers expectations, shoots for top three or four in Iowa.” He followed it with: "I probably will be in the top two in New Hampshire, and then to win South Carolina and Florida."

And that’s Gingrich’s ace up his sleeve: He’s got a firewall around the South’s winner-take-all primaries that General Sherman couldn’t march through, much less Mitt Romney. All Newt has to do is survive Iowa and New Hampshire, and then comes the Georgian’s moment in the sun with a string of victories below the Mason-Dixon line.

The other thing Newt did as his numbers started to slip was, from a tactical standpoint, very Reaganesque: He gave GOP faithful more red meat than the other candidates have been able to feed them to date. Now he’s threatening to invade the judicial branch of government from the executive, saying he’ll force the removal of court judges that issue rulings he and the conservative base do not like...

...even if Romney or Paul win in Iowa, I am ready to project that, win or lose the first caucuses, Gingrich is not going away, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the primaries down the stretch, especially in the South, and I still think, as I wrote here in April 2010, that the media – perhaps partly out of the intense personal dislike he provokes – has always underestimated him. I dislike him, too. But that doesn’t color the cold and rational projections that y’all rely on me to make. This should have been evident to all the “professionals” of the pundit class 20 months ago! Of all the GOP hopefuls, he’s the only man with a plan. That makes him armed and dangerous and nothing that has happened so far, not even his sudden dip in Iowa polls, causes me to reconsider my general sense that in the sum of all the primaries and caucuses of the coming months, Newt Gingrich is likely to carve his initials with a switchblade through Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or anyone else he perceives as standing between him and the Republican nomination.

And if that works for Gingrich in the primaries, he’ll then bring that knife to the gunfight of the general election. And that will likely have a less stellar outcome for him. So, put the popcorn on the fire and let’s sit back and watch the Republicans, for a change, kick the crap out of each other in a contest that is practically designed for the meanest man to win.

I'm not as confident in my own powers of prediction as I am those of Giordano. But he's paying attention to the "followership" in the Republican Party and their desire for the red meat of purity in a way that other pundits are missing. In that department...Gingrich is the man.


  1. Well there's one primary south of the Mason-Dixon he won't win: Virginia. A man with a plan, but no apparatus with which to carry out that plan. Does that have an effect on the landscape?

  2. I think his campaign mismanagement affects Gingrich much more than the reality of not winning Virginia (a state that has now marginalized itself in the primary process).

    The question, however, is what kind of apparatus you need given the new media's involvement in this race - along with the old standbys of Faux News and talk radio.

    Those ideological purists won't care how organized Gingrich is as long as he keeps tossing out the red meat.

  3. Mo'nin', Ms. Pants

    Trusting yesterday was just VERY nice for you. Tell you what....

    Both your posts of today would indicate you did alright :-).

    Tien Le (of whom I've become a fan as well) asked you a question, and I did read all of Al G.'s post. Al G's post came out before Newton Leroy flubbed Virginia.

    I, as well, have been wondering about this. Annnd, you've answered. N. Leroy is DEFinitely tossin' out the red meat ('FUCQ them Federal Judges!!!!')

    This is REALLY something to behold.

  4. Afternoon Blackman.

    I think all Giordano and I are saying is that those who are assuming Gingrich is toast are being WAY too quick to count him out. He has some "juice" with these Republican primary voters - especially in the South - that should not be overlooked.

    But who knows what the outcome of this circus is going to be? I'd suggest that Romney, Gingrich and Paul are in it for the long haul. Paul will fade at some point - although he has the cajones and $ to stick it out.

    But for all those assuming a Romney victory - they'll have to demonstrate how he gets above his current 25%. As far as the remaining 75% - one has to wonder how long they have to say "no thanks" before folks take them seriously.

  5. Thanks, Smartypants. I knew you'd have the way to look at the Virginia screw up.

    Thank you Blackman...I'm blushing.


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