One Party, One Mind

Michael SteeleRemember back when we were "turning the corner" in Iraq? Republicans tend to rely on a sort of hive mind, driven by talking points, that often results in them all "staying on message." That message is generally delivered almost verbatim, making the distinction between conservative officials and pundits a technicality -- it really doesn't make any difference whether that suit on a talking head show is George Will or Newt Gingrich or Peggy Noonan. They're all going to say what Frank Luntz -- the GOP's "messaging guru" -- tells them to say. So we get everyone on the right saying things like "turned the corner," "stay the course," "cut and run," etc. The hive dispatches the drones to spread the message.

I bring this up for two reasons. First, Republican National Committee head Michael Steele has an op-ed at Politico titled "The Republican Party turns a corner." Second, the hive mind seems to be a little off its game. Steele, left pretty much on his own, has to go to the party's recycling bin to find a spiffy talking point and pulls out "we've turned the corner" -- which dates back to 2003, at least. Otherwise, his message is that the Republican party isn't going to change a damned thing. You wonder how long he lingered over "stay the course" before rejecting it. It's become too loaded now, but it just fits so well.

...We may be America’s minority party at the moment, but Republicans represent the views and concerns of a majority of Americans. Republicans across America -– from our national and state leaders down to our local activists and grassroots supporters -– have to get about the business of telling families how Republican principles of less spending, lower taxes, responsive and responsible government, personal freedom and strong national defense stand in stark contrast to the reckless policies we’ve seen from the president and Congressional Democrats in four short months.

"Principles of less spending, lower taxes, responsive and responsible government, personal freedom, and strong national defense" -- how refreshingly indistinguishable from the GOP that people voted out in droves in 2006 and 2008. And that whole "personal freedom" thing is undermined by the Republican stand against freedom when it comes to issues like reproductive freedom, sexual orientation and gender identity, and First Amendment liberties. The authoritarian party doesn't get to brag up its commitment to freedom, while seeking government control over people's lives.

But do "Republicans represent the views and concerns of a majority of Americans?" It's easy to make that claim -- that is, until you do something crazy like ask Americans if that's true. Gallup did just that and this was the result:

The decline in Republican Party affiliation among Americans in recent years is well documented, but a Gallup analysis now shows that this movement away from the GOP has occurred among nearly every major demographic subgroup. Since the first year of George W. Bush's presidency in 2001, the Republican Party has maintained its support only among frequent churchgoers, with conservatives and senior citizens showing minimal decline.

Everyone else -- and I mean everyone -- is moving away from the party. Often in substantial numbers.

graphic showing GOP losses in nearly all demographics
graphic showing GOP losses in nearly all demographics

The only demo where the GOP isn't bleeding is frequent churchgoers -- and there are no gains there. In contrast, the biggest loss is 10% among college grads. That one's pretty easy to explain, the Republican party is the anti-knowledge party. From evolution to stem cells to global warming, the Republicans are on the wrong side of the issue, promoting anti-science and anti-fact. People who value reason and knowledge -- i.e., the educated -- are turned off by the promotion of illogic and ignorance. When someone says that creationism must be true because they feel it in their heart, you know you're not dealing with the most structured thinker in the world.

When Steele writes about "reckless policies we’ve seen from the president and Congressional Democrats in four short months," the mind immediately leaps to the impulsive Bush administration -- not only in their invasion of Iraq, but also in their rejection of all data that didn't back up what they already believed. Bush and Republicans rejected stem cell science, for instance, because it wasn't politically correct. Ideological purity is what's destroying the GOP. As they home in on their perfect Utopian vision, they leave more and more people out of the party. That old cliché -- that people haven't left the party, the party left them -- couldn't be truer. When it's more important not to break with a minority religious doctrine than it is to cure disease, you're going to start losing some voters. You don't need a crack staff of political researchers to figure that one out.

And that's the corner Michael Steele's party has turned. Not just on stem cells, but on everything. There is no room for moderation or compromise when the purity of an ideological stance is at stake. When a Republican believes something, they believe it all the way -- to the most extreme position. And that position cannot be compromised -- ever. It's probably less true to say the GOP has "turned the corner" than it is to say they've jumped the shark. To be a Republican is now to be an extremist, practically by definition. All they have left are the unquestioning faithful who go to church every Sunday. Everyone else has been chased off.

If the Republican party really wants to turn a corner, they're going to have to turn away from the whole mindset of unfounded certainty. When they know they're always right -- even to the point of rejecting all evidence to the contrary -- they're going to shut out anyone who's less convinced and less committed. People want a party, not a lifestyle complete with acceptable positions and thoughts on everything. Being a drone serving the hive mind really isn't all that attractive a proposition.


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