By Ben Cohen: The Republican party is in serious trouble. You only have to watch one of the debates to understand how completely disconnected the Presidential candidates are from reality. This disconnect works well with the base (the crazier the better) but spells suicide for a general election. Should any of the nominees other than Mitt Romney make it through the primaries, Obama will have the easiest re-election campaign in modern history. Rick Santorum's fire breathing fundamentalism and Newt Gingrich's sociopathic behavior make it impossible for them to take on Obama, and the money men behind the GOP know this. Mitt Romney is no idiot, but his inability to stick to a single position for more than a week and his astonishing lack of charisma makes a potential showdown with the President a serious mismatch.
More worrying for the GOP is that the problems are further reaching than the upcoming Presidential election. Why? Because the party has run out of ideas and cannot move past and an orthodoxy that the public is beginning to dismiss.
The low tax, no government fundamentalism is appealing when the economy is booming and there are jobs-aplenty. But when there is severe economic uncertainty, soaring costs and stagnating wages, people want action. And waiting for rich people to trickle their money down is not a good enough solution anymore. We've been waiting, and while the rich continue to amass sickening amounts of money, most people are not seeing any of it.
The GOP candidates are finding it harder and harder to sell free for all capitalism, even to their own base. So instead, they attack the President with increasing vitriol, accusing him of infanticide, apologizing to Al Qaeda, and trying to destroy religion in America. And since they've pretty much exhausted that line of attack, the candidates are now attacking each other's 'conservatism' all in the name of purging the party of impurities. Amazingly, it gets more and more extreme by the day and there's no knowing where it will end. Matt Taibbi wrote a brilliant piece in Rolling Stone describing this bizarre self flagellation we're seeing on live television:
This current race for the presidential nomination has therefore devolved into a kind of Freudian Agatha Christie story, in which the disturbed and highly paranoid voter base by turns tests the orthodoxy of each candidate, trying to figure out which one is the spy, which one is really Barack Obama bin Laden-Marx under the candidate mask!
We expected this when Mitt Romney, a man who foolishly once created a functioning health care program in Massachusetts, was the front-runner. We knew he was going to have to defend his bona fides against the priesthood ("I’m not convinced," sneered the sideline-sitting conservative Mme. Defarge, Sarah Palin), that he would have a rough go of it at the CPAC conference, and so on.
But it’s gotten so ridiculous that even Santorum, as paranoid and hysterical a finger-pointing politician as this country has ever seen, a man who once insisted with a straight face that there is no such thing as a liberal Christian – he’s now being put through the Electric Conservative Paranoia Acid Test, and failing!
The long term effects of the Republican implosion will be significant. What has become clear is that there is no single dominant philosophy in the GOP. The free marketers, religious fundamentalists, centrists and Tea Party members are all jockeying for dominance, and all the candidates are attempting (badly) to please all of them. It is an impossible task and one that will prove fatal when fighting Obama later this year.
The Democrats have one overriding philosophy that gives them a clear advantage over the Republicans: They are not crazy.
Sadly it has come to that. The fact that the Democrats craft policy somewhat according to reality means the public at least views them as responsible adults. Other than the die hard base, the Republicans are going to have a very hard time convincing educated Americans that they are fit to run government. Their arguments about the role of government haven't changed in decades, their unwillingness to embrace modernity is untenable, and their lack of a realistic vision for America's future is emblematic of very serious dysfunction.
We are currently watching the end of the Republican Party as we know it. It must change or become politically irrelevant for decades to come. It will go one of two ways - the first is to modernize, reform its ideas and accept reality. The second is to withdraw further into itself and its bizarre version of reality, isolating the party from the mainstream and continuing to plug an irrelevant philosophy that bears no relation to life in the 21st century.
What is the most likely outcome? Sadly, it's probably the latter.