The circus has pulled out of Tampa, with only the scent of elephant dung in the air as a reminder of the curious parade that passed through there last week.
So many freaks were available for viewing on that particular mile-long midway, it would have made Tod Browning proud. Not since the heyday of the John Birch Society has the GOP so gleefully embraced its fringe connection. There may still be some moderate Republicans out there somewhere, but the convention suggests you’d have better luck finding a carton of Red Bull at a Mormon tabernacle.
The 2012 GOP platform shows how hard to starboard the S.S. Republican is tacking. According to the document the party ratified in Tampa, under Romney and Ryan, Medicare would be replaced by a voucher plan, all abortion procedures would be banned and a commission would be established to get America back on the gold standard. In other words, we can’t go backwards fast enough.
The language of many of the convention speeches reflected a desire to take the country back, to restore what was, to reach back to some mythical Utopia established in previous Republican administrations; say, Reagan or Eisenhower.
Or, maybe, Johnson and Grant. For all the rhetoric about encouraging diversity, there was an unmistakable 19th Century vibe permeating the convention. Not white supremacy, exactly, but white ubiquity. Try as they might to create photo ops for people of color—even going so far as to rearrange the traditional floor seating to move delegations from Puerto Rico and American Samoa into camera range—the Republicans could not alter the reality that their party is 90% white.
It’s nothing new, of course. The seeds of the present GOP were sown in 1948 when southern segregationists angry at the national party’s endorsement of civil rights walked out of the Democratic convention to form the short-lived States’ Rights Democratic Party. Though only three of the original Dixiecrats ever became Republican, resentment of federal efforts to institutionalize integration lingered. When Senator Barry Goldwater offered a right-wing alternative to Lyndon Johnson’s candidacy in 1964, the once-Solid South jumped to the GOP, with Alabama becoming one of only six states going for Goldwater in the LBJ landslide. The newly energized Southern GOP helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968, then cleared the way for Ronald Reagan into the White House in 1980.
The Republican Party evolved, but never forgot its latter-day impetus, as evidenced by Mississippi Senator Trent Lott’s shoutout to the States’ Rights Party in 2002. Though proclaiming itself inclusive, the party of Lincoln has offered little incentive for people of color to join. That’s worrisome to Republican leaders like Senator Lindsay Graham, who told the Washington Post last week, “The demographics race we’re losing badly…we’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
Indeed, the core of the GOP reactor is cooling. Though high-profile speakers such as Condoleezza Rice and Marco Rubio got face time on the podium in Tampa, the top of the ticket remains white, male and, well, angry, reflecting the sentiments of the base of the party as it’s presently constituted. Outside the party lines, the GOP is not connecting with significant segments of the electorate, with polls showing it in a position to pick up only 26% of the Latino vote and a whopping 0% of African-Americans.
This has led to some interesting speculation by pundits such as Jonathan Chait, who suggested in New York magazine that the Romney campaign may be utilizing a “2012 Or Never” strategy, recognizing that this might be the last chance to get enough old angry white guys (and the gals who love ‘em) to turn out at the polls in sufficient numbers to retake the White House.
Together with a big emphasis on suppressing the turnout of young and nonwhite voters in the so-called “swing” states, the Republican machine will gin up as much active antipathy against the Obama administration as nearly a billion dollars in campaign funding will buy, in hopes of eking out a win in the Electoral College. With the House and the Senate up for grabs, the GOP conceivably could pull off a governmental trifecta, giving a Romney administration at least two years to institute whatever radical changes in society—see the 2012 Republican platform—it desired.
One estimate indicates that Romney-Ryan would have to get 61% of the white vote to win; John McCain attracted only 55% in 2008. This means going apocalyptic in the last 70 days of campaigning, conflating the end of the world with the re-election of Barack Obama. It means negative ads will dominate the advertising message as Mad Men contrive to bring out the mad men on Election Day. It means that, amid the glut of information generated by a 24-hour news cycle, a candidate will be free to lie straight-faced to voters with little chance of castigation. As the anonymous GOP strategist told National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein, “This is the last time anybody will try to do this.”
If we’re lucky.
Republicans like Florida’s former senator Mel Martinez know that the GOP could go the way of the Whigs if it cannot find a way to connect with an America in which white people are a voting minority. Even Artur Davis 2.0 realizes, as he said last week in Tampa, “It’s going to take being willing to define conservatism…as a broader way of constructing a society that can promote social mobility.”
But for now, the GOP is going to rely on the philosophical thinking of Karl Rove and the late Lee Atwater to dragoon the fearful. The lingering image of the 2012 Republican convention will be not of its candidates, but of the original Angry White Man, Clint Eastwood, morphed over forty years from Dirty Harry to Ditzy Harry, alone on a stage, hollering incoherently at an empty chair.
Romney-Ryan 2012: Get Off My Lawn!