Put yourself in their place. Walk a mile in the shoes of Republican office holders. The climate is changing, and not for the better. The base is melting fast and a hot environment is getting hotter. It's been going on for a long time, largely unnoticed at first except by a few Casandra like political specialists.
The observable process is a political death spiral. The party is conservative, very conservative. Moderates don't much like their position in the GOP, and, like the ancient Argonauts, they find the siren call of independence irresistible.
As a few moderates leap overboard, the party becomes proportionately more conservative. This alienates more moderates, so they jump ship. Without their influence, the party becomes extremist, and the beat goes on.
This is nothing new. Democrats have gone through their own death spiral. In England, Labour (or Labor, for those of us who are victims of American education), went through the same process. The cure was simple. A couple of electoral losses became the shock therapy of democracy. Labo(u)r turned around. The Democrats became a resurgent party. It was painful. It required re-examination of basic viewpoints. But the next election loomed menacingly, and so it was done.
But that is not happening for the GOP. They have lost the popular vote in 4 of the last 5 Presidential elections. Midterm elections showed a similar pattern. Republicans lost seats in 5 of the last 7. The long term trend has not been reassuring. But Republicans are not going through the same re-examination that began past recoveries for both parties. Technology is the culprit. Internet and cable television have joined with talk radio, providing conservatives with a protective cocoon, keeping reality away. Rush Limbaugh (popular leader of the GOP), Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly soothe anxious conservative nerves. You don't need to change.
So back to leadership and Hobson's classic choice. In this case it is a death choice: burn or freeze. If you go along with the base, you lose elections. If you try to moderate the party, the base tosses you out on your ear.
So what is a loyal party member to do? One possibility is to hunker down, survive for the moment, and hope the country crashes. Republicans vote as a block against economic recovery programs. Eric Cantor (R-VA) says efforts to save the U.S. auto industry are “almost like looking at Putin's Russia." Mark Kirk (R-IL) works behind the scenes, begging Chinese leaders to be skeptical about America's future, warning them the US is a bad bet.
“Republicans should stop the name-calling, roll up their sleeves, and start working with the president and congressional Democrats to turn the economy around,” says Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
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The protective cocoon won't last forever, though, any more than the spiral lasts forever. There's an end to it. When they begin to lose viability as a national party, the money will stop flowing in. That'll choke off the life-support system the cocoon thrives on. It'll be interesting to see what shakes out when that happens.
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