This first week following the election has seen endless Republican hand-wringing. What did the party do wrong and how will it be fixed going forward? Morning Joe Scarborough and the the crew on MSNBC this morning suggested it was a problem of tone. Too shrill. Too demeaning. Too scapegoating. “What happened to the compassionate conservatism of President Bush?” Scarborough whined. Immigrant bashing. Gay bashing. Forty-seven per cent bashing. Louisiana Governor Jindal drew praise from the morning crew for criticizing Romney’s latest attempt to blame his defeat on those who would benefit from benevolent government policies (student loan relief, healthcare, etc.).
Talk nice and the party will be restored. Really, Joe Scarborough? That’s all that’s wrong with the once-proud party of Lincoln?
Since the “Southern strategy” of Richard Nixon, this has been a party that has fed the beast plenty of red meat, and now the monster is threatening to devour the party. Has the beast master lost control?
For those too young to remember, George Wallace was a race-baiting segregationist governor of Georgia in the early sixties who had great success as a third-party presidential candidate by stoking the fears of angry white southerners. Nixon and his cronies learned from Wallace. Lee Atwater was Richard Nixon’s Karl Rove, and his 1981 explanation of the southern strategy, long rumored, has now been confirmed on video (dug up by President Jimmy Carter’s grandson, no less).
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Willie Horton. Welfare queens. Food stamp president. Takers vs. makers. 47%. Code language that supported the unstated narrative. Only now, when there aren’t enough angry white men to offset the coalition of the young, the women, the Hispanics, and the blacks that has become the Democratic base of the twenty-first century, are Republicans having second thoughts.
How will they put the beast back in the cage? Tea party insurgents have defeated moderate Republican Senatorial candidates in the last two elections only to see the red seats turn blue in the general election. Senate majority leader McConnell will likely face a primary challenge next go-round unless he continues to throw plenty of red meat. The same is true of House Speaker Boehner and his own caucus that may oust him if he seeks moderation in negotiations with the White House.
Talk nice, if you will, Joe Scarborough. That may placate the party moderates and some independents, but how will the party tame the beast that has gorged on culture wars, nativist and racist code-words, and the apocalyptic rhetoric of more than a generation? Pardon me if I don’t feel sorry when the beast you have loosed turns on you.
Before the election, President Obama predicted a Republican civil war. We can only hope for minimal collateral damage.