Jonathan Chait (2012): How the GOP Destroyed its Moderates: "Moderates... do continue to exist in the Republican Party. They merely do not exercise power.... They provide off-the-record quotations to reporters, expressing unease over whichever radical turn the party has taken at any given moment. They can be found in Washington and elsewhere rolling their eyes at their colleagues. The odd figure with nothing left to lose—say, a senator who has lost a primary challenge—may even deliver a forceful assault on the party’s uncompromising direction. For the most part, though, Republican moderation is a kind of secret creed, a freemasonry of the right. It lacks institutions that might legitimize it, or even a language to express itself...

...Following the climactic showdown in 1964, the demise of the moderates is the story of a very long bout with a terminal disease. The moderates enjoyed a brief renaissance in the wake of Goldwater’s crushing defeat by Lyndon Johnson, and they counted disproportionately among the party’s new faces in its successful comeback in the midterm elections of 1966. Richard Nixon helped to heal the party’s internal breach by straddling its wings. But once in office, Kabaservice argues, Nixon eventually settled upon a populist strategy that set him irrevocably against his own party’s moderates, even plotting to deny funding and support to insufficiently conservative members of the party....

The moderate Republican tradition had always leaned heavily on elitism, which abhorred demagoguery and the crude appeals to self-interest that they correctly identified with the machine hacks and Southern racists of the Democratic Party. Nixon’s strategy of counting upon white resentment began to identify the party as a less congenial place for thoughtful, educated people.... Nixon’s re-branding of the party helped set in motion a long-term political swap, in which Republicans slowly lost support among white voters with a college education while gaining traction among the white working class....

The GOP’s rightward lurch in response to the Obama administration flung Frum right off. AEI fired Frum in 2010, after he castigated the GOP for launching a holy war against health care reform rather than negotiate with Democrats who were desperate for bipartisan concord. (AEI had very much thrown itself into the holy war cause.) Intellectually, the party had left Frum, as he found himself defending its old positions on health care, climate change, and stimulus and monetary policy against its new ones. Emotionally, though, Frum had left the party....

If Frum and his fellow exiles have maintained a coherent analysis but forfeited their chance to affect the Republicans, a larger and more influential coterie of moderate conservatives has done the opposite. Columnists such as David Brooks, Michael Gerson, and Ross Douthat have formulated a serious and often stinging critique of the GOP’s radical direction, and, with varying degrees of seriousness and specificity, laid out an alternative path. What they have failed to do is to face up to the cold reality that the alternative they propose diverges wildly from the actually existing Republican Party.... After Ryan delivered a dishonest and vacuous address before the Republican National Convention, Douthat conceded that “that Paul Ryan—the policy entrepreneur, the risk-taking wonk, the man who’s willing to get out ahead of his own party—is not the Paul Ryan who appeared on the convention stage last night.” But he insisted that just as Sarah Palin’s exposure as an anti-intellectual culture warrior did not vindicate critics who identified her as such all along, so Ryan’s fulfillment of the expectations set by his critics was not “proof that they’ve been right about him all along.” Douthat is genuinely puzzled that the Republican politicians he gazes upon so hopefully turn out in the end to be advocates of an indefensible agenda. The mystifying pattern keeps repeating itself....

Recently a voter at a forum asked Paul Ryan about “the death panels that we’re going to have.” Ryan framed his answer as a mere semantic disagreement. “That’s not the word I’d choose to use to describe it. It’s actually called. It’s actually called, so in Medicare, what I refer to as this board of fifteen bureaucrats. It’s called the Independent Payment Advisory Board.” When a tape emerged recently of Romney regaling donors with a fever dream that 47 percent of the country had grown irrevocably dependent on government, it later emerged that he had drawn the notion of the moocher half-nation from conversations with Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute. Here, then, was the most moderate candidate in the party’s presidential field, in conjunction with the president of its most prestigious think tank, producing a bizarre worldview of plutocratic hallucination.

It was a horrifying peek into the intellectual state of one of our two major parties, but only a peek. The changes in a party remain largely obscured when it is out of power. Many Americans found themselves shocked by the obstinate, anti-empirical methods of George W. Bush, who seemed in 2000 like a sensible man surrounded by establishmentarians. But in the GOP’s exile since the first Bush administration, the party had determined that its misfortune occurred entirely because its last president (George H.W. Bush) had betrayed the true faith. Through a thousand op-eds and foundation panels and talk radio sermons, the Republicans undertook a vast ritual of purification. But they lacked power to implement their own agenda, and so the full results of the transformation lay mostly hidden from sight until they revealed themselves. This time its radicalization in exile has occurred even more swiftly, the final results awaiting only the party’s chance to exert power once again. How long can the current respite last?


#shouldread

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