Republican Fork In The Road: Purists Or Realists?

[ Posted Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 – 23:07 UTC ]

The Republican Party is at a real fork in the road. It is rare, in politics, to be able to see with absolute clarity such dividing points while they are happening, I should point out. Usually these things are analyzed after the fact, when conclusions can be drawn with certainty. But the GOP is now at such a point, and it faces two choices: absolute purity, or some shade or another of pragmatism ("the road less traveled," as it were, for Republicans these days).

In other words, does the party want the purest of the pure when it comes to ideology, or would it (perhaps) like to win some elections at some point in the future? Because make no mistake about it, that is the choice they now face. There is the Bobby Jindal / Sarah Palin path to the future, and there is the Charlie Crist / Arnold Schwarzenegger path to the future. The choice is theirs.

I actually waited to write this until now, because I wanted to hear Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal give his response to Barack Obama's "this is not a State of the Union" State of the Union speech. But this is not a comparison between President Obama's nice breath of reality (quite a change from most SOTU speeches, I have to say) and Bobby Jindal's... um... whatever that was. Nor is this a critique of Jindal's speech itself. I just wanted to give him a chance to prove my idea wrong before I wrote it down. I can now say with certainty, he did not prove me wrong. Quite the opposite.

Republicans, to put it bluntly, are in a tough spot. They have been soundly spanked in two consecutive elections, and 2010 is not looking all that great for them at this point. They are finally free of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but as a result they currently have no identifiable "leader" of their party. There is the Republican congressional leadership, to be sure, but they are in a struggle with some of their own governors that has been increasingly playing out in the media.

With the perceived "leader of the party" spot wide open, an ideological struggle is taking place. On one side are the congressional Republicans and the governors who are pretty hard right. On the other side is a handful of people crying into the wind that the party has to change and be more accepting of differing ideas in order to grow: moderate congressional Republicans... all three of them... and the more pragmatic governors like Charlie Crist, Tim Pawlenty and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As you can see, so far it's a pretty uneven balance. This is shown best in the party apparatus going after apostate Republicans with a vengeance and a fury usually reserved for Democrats and Lib-ruls. California is the best example of this, where six Republicans voted with Democrats to (finally!) pass a state budget, and were almost thrown out of the party as a result. The Senate leader was deposed by the party in the process, and the party just "censured" all six. They can all look forward to primary challenges from the right in the next election cycle, one would assume. On the national level, the same thing is playing out; Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Arlen Specter were all threatened by the party organization that no campaign funds would come to them, and perhaps even primary challengers would attack them from the right.

This would all but guarantee the loss of these seats to Democrats, but this fact seems to have escaped the Republican party as a whole. If an ultra-right primary challenger managed to beat any one of these three in a primary, they would then go on to lose the general election in either Pennsylvania or Maine to the Democrat, because neither state is exactly a bastion of far-right Republicans.

This is what I mean about the choice between purity and electability. Republicans, it would seem, would be happier running a candidate who swore fealty to the Republican orthodoxy (and who would, in the end, lose) than they would running a candidate not as "pure," but who might have a chance of actually winning.

Oh, sure, House Republicans may have some safe, gerrymandered districts. They may not feel the necessity to change their ways at all. But they are the least relevant players in Washington right now. Senate Republicans (those up for re-election in 2010) may feel a little more pressure.

Into this fray walked Bobby Jindal tonight. His campaign speech... oh, pardon me... his rebuttal to Obama's speech (ahem) was about as devoid of anything smacking of Republican heresy as you could get. It was also devoid of any ideas we haven't been hearing from Republicans for the past two or three decades, to boot. He was a spokesman, in other words, for the "we're just not being Republican enough, dammit!" faction in the party. As such a spokesman, he probably did fairly well (not being a Republican orthodox myself, it's hard to draw the distinction). But as someone who can empathize with average Americans and offer some original solutions to the problems we face, he didn't do so well (at least in my admittedly biased opinion).

Contrast Jindal's campaign speech... sorry, I don't know why I keep doing that... Jindal's response to the president tonight with Charlie Crist, both on last week's Meet The Press, and throughout the whole stimulus package debate. Crist realized that Obama's plan would actually help his state's citizens. And he agreed with enough of it to support it. He even introduced Obama during a town hall meeting in Florida -- which is amazing when you stop to think about it.

Or contrast Jindal with what Arnold Schwarzenegger was quoted saying in the San Jose Mercury News today: "It's very important for the country that both parties pull together right now. We need to get the confidence of the people back. What's good for the party is not good for the people, and what's good for the people is not good for the party." He also responded earlier, when asked about his fellow Republican governors (including Jindal) who were turning down stimulus money for them to instead give it to California -- "we'll take it."

This is the difference between pragmatism and ideology. But Crist and Schwarzenegger seem to be the minority voices in their own party right now. And if their voices are buried under a sedimentary layer of Paleolithic conservatism, then the Republicans may have to lose another few elections before they start to wake up. Pure dyed-in-the-wool Republicans are going to have a tough row to hoe nationally, even as they joyously enthuse the Republican voter base. But their tent, to be frank, is going to get smaller following this path, not bigger.

The media has already anointed Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin as the frontrunners of their party for a presidential run in 2012. It's not just the media, either, as the hopes of a lot of Republicans seem to hinge on one or the other of these two.

While running the risk of underestimating a future opponent, I have to say: is that the best you've got? Really? That's honestly the direction you want to head in? Wow.


-- Chris Weigant


7 Comments on “Republican Fork In The Road: Purists Or Realists?”

  1. [1] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Know what, Chris? I'd like to see the "libral" media get off its collective butt and ask Jindahl a few questions about his campaign speech (dang! now you've got me doing it):

    1) You said the stimulus bill contains $8 billion for a train from DisneyLand to Las Vegas. In fact, the bill contains money for the Department of Transportation to build rail lines, but there's no money earmarked for that route. Governor, why are you repeating a talking point that's been thoroughly discredited?

    2) Governor, you made light of funding for volcano monitoring. Isn't that like someone from Washington state making fun of hurricane monitoring?

    3) Governor, you said the stimulus bill was "almost a trillion dollars" of new spending and then said we should cut taxes instead. The stimulus bill actually contains more than $300 billion in tax cuts, the largest middle-class tax cut in American history. How do you square your rhetoric with the actual numbers in the bill?

    4) Governor, how do you expect a Louisianan who has lost his job, and doesn't have the same unemployment benefits as someone from Texas, to vote in 2010? Do you think he might harbor some resentment against you and the Republican party?

    5) Bobby, why does your delivery SUCK so badly?

    Chris, the GOP is done. It's all over but the shouting. They've got nothing left anymore -- the only people buying their bullshit are themselves. They've gotten so used to "making their own realities" that now, they are completely out of touch with reality.

  2. [2] 
    LewDan wrote:

    Jindal lost me with his claim that Republican's had "lost their way by going along..." with who? -- exactly?

    Republicans weren't really in charge for 6 years? They were mind controlled by aliens? They were misguided because they're just so darn eager to please and nonconfrontational that bigfoot misled them?

    Please -- Its bad enough when politicians lie. But the in-your-face Twilight Zone fantasies of Republicans can no longer be stomached. If they won't even bother to pander to us by at least pretending to respect our intelligence how can we even pretend they can be our representatives?

    Chris, while I'm always amused by your attempts to engage Republicans in rational conversation with sound advice, just as if they were adults -- and sane... I've still never understood what I take to be your belief that Republicans can be beneficial, even necessary.

    Personally, they can't complete their total destruction fast enough for me. We need to make room for some other Party that actually has something constructive to contribute.

  3. [3] 
    kevinem2 wrote:


    Hear, hear...

  4. [4] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I agree that the current GOP strategy makes no sense whatsoever. However, I am fine with that and I hope all the voters in those red states take a good look at the direction their party is going in and realize that it is not in their best interests to keep supporting such a party.

    What I would really like to see is the GOP split up into a variety of different parties. If these "new" parties loose their waivers to comply with all the regulations to be a national party we might see a change in the those rules which will actually allow existing and new political parties to participate in national elections.


  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OsborneInk -

    I read comment somewhere else that Jindal immediately went to -- wait for it -- DisneyWorld right after his campaign speech response to Obama.

    You just can't make this stuff up sometimes, I guess (sorry, I don't have a link).

    Anyway, as to your points, (1) he's hoping nobody notices, I guess. (2) I could not have put this point better myself. (3) Ooo! Another good one. You're pretty good at this! (4) I've been wondering about his (and all the other governors who are talking about refusing stimulus money) approval ratings in his own state, but have no data. (5) See, I couldn't even take this cheap shot, because I actually felt sorry for the guy. "Not ready for prime time" was my initial reaction...

    LewDan -

    I liked the mind-controlled by aliens mental image. Heh heh.

    Seriously, that's a good question: Are Republicans necessary? I'm going to have to give that some thought.

    Yeah, it is probably a futile effort, but when Republicans are this deep in a hole, my American pity on underdogs must come out or something. But I have to occasionally call them as I see them for the other side of the aisle. Now, if Dems had lost two elections in a row, I probably wouldn't be giving Republicans advice, I fully admit!

    Stan -

    We may be witnessing such a split taking place before our eyes. And then again, we may not. The two parties in America are kind of like those banks that are "too big to fail" -- they are so institutionalized that it's easier to see the party falling into such disarray that a strong personality grabs them and takes them in an entirely new direction. But Jindal (or Palin) is NOT going to be the one to do that, as he made plainly obvious last night.


  6. [6] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    "But Jindal (or Palin) is NOT going to be the one to do that, as he made plainly obvious last night."

    yes, I think that's the take-home reality we saw. The GOP has no leader, and they're chasing their best potential leaders away (Ahhnold, for instance) with "purity" tests.

  7. [7] 
    ChicagoMolly wrote:

    We can also politely point out that Political Correctness is not an exclusive trait of the Left. PC is all about being ideologically impervious to reality, a trait currently on mind-boggling display by GOP: The Next Generation (Jindal, Palin, Steele et al.).

    I've got two questions I'd love to ask these people if they ever dared show up around here. (1) If you really, truly believe that Government is always the problem, not the solution; and that a 'Government job' isn't a 'real job', then what the badword are you doing in the government?? (assuming that you're not there simply to commit sabotage). (2) Since you are, albeit grudgingly, participating in the dreaded government, are you at least, as a matter of principle, refusing to accept your paychecks?

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