There is a great deal of hand-wringing going on inside the Republican Party right now. The potential of a landslide blowout by Obama and the Democrats is inevitably leading to a battle over which faction will control the Republican Party after the election. On one side are the Limbaugh shock-troops, the loud angry social conservatives that have dominated the base for 25 years. These people are completely embarrassing to the intellectual movement conservatives like David Brooks.
And so, politically, the G.O.P. is squeezed at both ends. The party is losing the working class by sins of omission — because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety. It has lost the educated class by sins of commission — by telling members of that class to go away.
Chris Buckley, son of the founder of modern conservative thought William Buckley, just announced he was going to vote for Obama, partly because the right wing kooks scared the bejesus out of him.
My colleague, the superb and very dishy Kathleen Parker, recently wrote in National Review Online a column stating what John Cleese as Basil Fawlty would call “the bleeding obvious”: namely, that Sarah Palin is an embarrassment, and a dangerous one at that. She’s not exactly alone. New York Times columnist David Brooks, who began his career at NR, just called Governor Palin “a cancer on the Republican Party.”
As for Kathleen, she has to date received 12,000 (quite literally) foam-at-the-mouth hate-emails. One correspondent, if that’s quite the right word, suggested that Kathleen’s mother should have aborted her and tossed the fetus into a Dumpster. There’s Socratic dialogue for you. Dear Pup once said to me sighfully after a right-winger who fancied himself a WFB protégé had said something transcendently and provocatively cretinous, “You know, I’ve spent my entire life time separating the Right from the kooks.”
So here is the question. Will the “kooks” take over the defeated Republican Party, with Sarah Palin as their Joan of Arc? If so, where would the “Buckley conservatives” go?
The only reason I could even ask this question is because of the power of Right Wing Radio. When someone capable of “riling up the brownshirts”, like Rush Limbaugh makes $20 million a year, it inevitably attracts imitators like Michael Savage and Sean Hannity and all the hate fest shock jocks who ply their trade in local markets. Over the last 20 years these propagandists have managed to convince a lot of hard working Americans that all their problems can be traced to liberals and government meddling in the free market economy. Even though conservatives have had a veto over the American political process for 26 out of the last 28 years (Given that Clinton only had two years with a Democratic Congress), the kooks bought into this line of unreason. And of course now they are witnessing the great unraveling and they are both confused and angry and that is spilling out at rallies for Palin and McCain where hate and bigotry against “the other” seem out of control.
Ultimately the moves to control the Republican National Committee in January will be important to watch. If the hard right wins the battle to control the party, then the Democrats should make room in their “Big Tent” for the Buckley’s and the Brook’s, with the notion of a permanent center-left governing coalition. The Palin Republican brand will be marginalized to a permanent (though loud) minority status. But if the Washington center right establishment retakes control of the party, then Limbaugh, Savage and their kooks will inevitably split off into some sort of third party faction. The Republican Party would lose its foot soldiers and might go the way of the Whigs in the 1850’s.