The Washington Post piece, published in 2012, shows more than the foresight of its political science authors Tom Mann of the center-left Brookings Institution and Norm Ornstein of the center-right American Enterprise Institute. It shows that the disease had spread within the Republican Party long before Trump metastasized it.
Their conclusions – that the GOP had become “ideologically extreme, uncompromising, unaffected by the conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, rejecting the legitimacy of their political opposition” – did not find broad acceptance at the time. Many journalists have joined Republican leaders to get them fired.
“Ultra, ultra-liberals,” whose views “have no weight with me,” scoffed Mitch McConnell, Senate GOP leader.
“I thought you were overdoing things,” recalls Republican Charlie Dent, who was then serving his fourth term at the Pennsylvania home.
“People like me thought, ‘Yeah, there are some crazy people, but come on,'” says William Kristol, who was the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine at the time. With John Boehner as the House Speaker and Mitt Romney winning the GOP President nomination, Kristol saw that the Republican mainstream was still in command.
Reality has struck everyone since then. What plagued the party in 2012 has worsened.
Dent, now a CNN political commentator, left after moderates like him were further marginalized. McConnell was rocked by violence in the US Capitol for which he declared the defeated Republican president “practically and morally responsible”.
“I’m not very happy with being right,” says Mann, now retired in California. “A country and a system like ours must have two strong ruling parties. The fact is, we only have one.”
“It’s a bleak picture for the foreseeable future,” Ornstein adds. “We have a serious risk of losing our democracy.”
GOP incumbents keep showing why.
Denying the scientific facts of climate change is no longer enough. The Republicans of the House have made honesty a disqualification for the party leadership.
Mann and Ornstein described the refusal of party leaders to contain lawmakers such as Allen West of Florida, who falsely claimed that Congressional Democrats “78-81” were communists. Retired from Congress and moved, West now heads the Texas GOP.
It’s gotten worse
When Mann and Ornstein wrote their piece in 2012, the Republicans of the Tea Party had threatened the American economy with a debt crisis. However, this year’s uprising created a physical threat – to the Capitol Police, the lawmakers of both parties, even to then-Vice President Mike Pence.
What alarms them are the evolving demographic, cultural, and economic realities of 21st century America. The country continues to become less white, less Christian, and less financially rewarding for workers without advanced technical skills or higher education.
The GOP electoral base is increasingly dominated by older, evangelical whites in economically backward cities and rural areas. Conservative media fueled the anger of the nativists over their loss of status and power.
Democrats have received more popular votes in seven of the last eight presidential elections. In key states like Georgia that use Trump’s lies for fuel, Republicans are now looking for new electoral rules to help them win.
“I don’t like where we’re going, but I don’t think it’s inevitable that we’ll get to this awful place,” says Dent. He recently joined more than 100 prominent Republicans in a letter calling on the GOP to “revert to founding ideals”.
“There is always just enough hope for people who want to tell themselves that the Republican Party is salvable,” says Kristol.
McConnell’s condemnation of Trump in January suggested that the most powerful Republican left in Washington may head off on a new path. After the riot was put down, the seven-year-old Kentucky Senator furiously attacked “criminal behavior” that “tried to disrupt our democracy”.
But like his counterpart Kevin McCarthy, McConnell cares most about winning back the majority in next year’s elections.
For obvious reasons, Trump is opposed to the measure passed by the House to create a 9/11-style bipartisan commission to investigate the uprising. Depending on the support of the former president, McCarthy led the vast majority of Republicans in the House no last week.
McConnell also joined.
“I made the decision to oppose the House Democrats’ weird and unbalanced proposal,” he said. That practically ensures that the Republican filibuster will die in the Senate.
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