The attack on the Republican establishment by the tea party folks grabs the gaze like a really bad horror flick — some version of “Hee Haw” meets “28 Days Later.” It’s fascinating. But it also raises a serious question: Are these the desperate thrashings of a dying movement or the labor pains of a new one?
My money is on the former. Anyone who says that this is the dawn of a new age of conservatism is engaging in wishful thinking on a delusional scale.
There is no doubt that the number of people who say that they are conservative has inched up. According to a report from Gallup on Thursday, conservatives finished 2009 as the No. 1 ideological group. But ideological identification is no predictor of electoral outcomes. According to polls by The New York Times, conservative identification was slightly higher on the verge of Bill Clinton’s first-term election and Barack Obama’s election than it was on the verge of George W. Bush’s first-term election.
It is likely that Republicans will pick up Congressional seats in November partly because of the enthusiasm of this conservative fringe, democratic apathy and historical trends. But make no mistake: This is not 1994.
This is a limited, emotional reaction. It’s a response to the trauma that is the Great Recession, the uncertainty and creeping suspicion about the risks being taken in Washington, a visceral reaction to Obama and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and loss.
Simply put, it’s about fear-fueled anger. But anger is not an idea. It’s not a plan. And it’s not a vision for the future. It is, however, the second stage of grief, right after denial and before bargaining.
The right is on the wrong side of history. The demographics of the country are rapidly changing, young people are becoming increasingly liberal on social issues, and rigid, dogmatic religious stricture is loosening its grip on the throat of our culture.
The right has seen the enemy, and he is the future.
According to a Gallup report issued this week, Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats and a third more likely as independents to have a pessimistic outlook for the country over the next 20 years. That might be the fourth stage of grief: depression.
So what’s their battle plan to fight back from the precipice of irrelevance? Moderation? A stab at modernity? A slate of innovative ideas? No, their plan is to purge the party’s moderates and march farther down the road to oblivion.
Erick Erickson, the incendiary editor of the popular conservative blog RedState, appeared on “The Colbert Report” on Monday and said that “no one really knows what a Republican is anymore.”
Split hairs about labels if you must, but the Republican brand already has begun a slow slide into obscurity. And turning further right only hastens its demise. Quiet as it’s kept, many in the party know this. That, alas, is called acceptance.