Immigration reform is dead to Republicans; it alone may sink Jeb Bush, by most measures their strongest presidential contender. Unless a CEO gave Obama money, the party has nothing to say about corporate abuse of any kind. Super PACs have swallowed up the party. As for inclusiveness and social intelligence, you can make a strong case that the 2016 GOP field is even worse than the last one.
Early 2016 GOP campaign events are like cattle calls for great herds of ignorant opportunists, ranging from the now pathetic Sarah Palin, to the ever more odious Donald Trump, to the apparently bright but seemingly demented Ben Carson, a doctor who spent last week walking back his professional medical opinion that homosexuality must be a choice because people in prison choose to be gay. Carson calls Obamacare “the worst thing to happen to the nation since slavery” and recycles a fabricated quote from Lenin to connect it to communism.
Every four years, the guardians of our national discourse take a look at the Republican candidates and say how, how can they be like this? Every four years, our media marvel, absolutely flabbergasted, at the idiots who purport to represent the American Right. Every four years, they put on their Serious People hats and survey the smoking, cratered field of play, shaking their heads in paternalistic despair and clicking their tongues in judgment.
In 2016, people are shocked. But in 2008, the GOP put up Sarah Palin as vice president, hailed her as their new standard-bearer, and then watched everything go straight to shit. In 2000, the GOP’s third highest primary vote-getter was Constitution Party whackjob Alan Keyes, who would go on to self-immolate in a Senate race against a state politician named Barack Obama.
Into this newly chaotic Republican landscape strode Mitt Romney. There could be no doubt that it was his turn, and yet his journey to the nomination was interrupted by one against-the-odds challenger after another — Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul; always Ron Paul. It was easy to dismiss the 2012 primaries as a meaningless circus, but the onslaught did much more than tarnish the overall Republican brand. It also forced Romney to spend money he could have used against Obama and defend his right flank with embarrassing pandering that shadowed him through the general election. It was while trying to block a surge from Gingrich, for instance, that Romney told a debate audience that he was for the “self-deportation” of undocumented immigrants.
At the 2012 convention in Tampa, a group of longtime party hands, including Romney’s lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, gathered to discuss how to prevent a repeat of what had become known inside and outside the party as the “clown show.”
How many times do we have to see that clown show before we stop being so appalled by red noses, fuzzy wigs and giant, comical shoes?
I mean it, how many times? At what point do we notice that the circus isn’t pulling up stakes? The Big Top has a boardroom now, and a fitness center, and the trapeze artists have joined the homeowner’s association. At what point do we just call the clown show Thursday, and stop being so goddamned surprised by it?
Because it’s gross, this every-four-years longing for the Republican Party of Yore. It’s gross because this was always the Republican Party, these racists and doomsayers and religious fanatics, and to yearn for a time when nobody talked about that is to yearn for the closet and the noose again. I’m not saying it’s better now, that they say what they mean. I’m saying, they say what they have always meant.
Ronald Reagan couldn’t make it through a Republican primary today, we lament, and what we are really saying is, “Ronald Reagan hid his racism and bigotry well.” That is disgusting. The Republican Party has always been this venal, this broken, this dysfunctional. To yearn for a time when it was otherwise is just to yearn for a time when we didn’t know.
When it wasn’t obvious. When our eyes were closed.
It’s gross because, like almost everything in our modern political commentary, it’s borne of laziness and fear. Because, hear me out: If there are Two Serious Parties made up of Serious Men and Women Who Just Sensibly and Reasonably Disagree, then they will Talk Things Out and Come to a Compromise, and everything will be fine.
The Royal Media We don’t have to worry our heads. We can sleep sound. We can keep going to our cocktail parties, keep writing our columns, and keep talking to one another on TV.
If, however, one party has absolutely lost the plot, and is not able to be responsible for anything, and cannot hold the other party accountable, and cannot offer a sane or sensible alternative to whatever the other party is proposing, then our political system does not function and must be torn down and rebuilt.
We don’t want to do that. It’s too big. It’s too hard. It’s almost like what other countries, that aren’t already perfect, have to do all the time. It’s almost like what human beings have to do all the time. It’s too much.
So we keep pretending that this present state of affairs is temporary and shocking. We keep looking to a past that doesn’t exist, and wishing it back again, because it lets us off the hook.