Gotta Run, My Coalition’s Collapsing

2 comments April 24th, 2008at 07:16am Posted by Eli

Dang, I sure hope Blumenthal’s right about the right:

Bush’s second term has witnessed the great unraveling of the Republican coalition. After nearly two generations of political dominance, the Republican coalition has rapidly disintegrated under the stress of Bush’s failures and the Republicans’ scandals and disgrace. The Democrats have the greatest possible opening in more than a generation — potentially. They should pay strict attention to how Bush has swiftly undone Republican strengths as an object lesson.


In 2004, Bush swaggered through his reelection campaign, still swept along on the momentum from September 11. He and Rove did not consider the perverse and unprecedented illogic of Bush v. Gore as anything but a rightful decision. They did not see the means by which he became president as artificial, making his position inherently weak and unstable. Bush took occupying the office itself and September 11 as tantamount to a resounding mandate for his radicalism. Nor did Bush or Rove view Bush’s steady and precipitous decline in popularity as cause to reconsider their preconceptions. After the Afghanistan invasion, Bush’s numbers tumbled until he ramped up the campaign for the invasion of Iraq, after which his standing dived again, only to spike once more after the capture of Saddam Hussein, only to fall again. Nonetheless, Rove drew no lessons from these warnings, except that war and terror served as indispensable political weapons to sustain Bush. On this rock, Rove proposed to build a reigning party.


The scale of the Bush disaster is larger than any cataclysm since [the Democratic collapse in 1968]. Whether or not there is a powerful geopolitical analogy between Iraq and Vietnam wars, as Bush first insistently denied, then vehemently argued, there is a pertinent domestic political analogy. Vietnam ended a Democratic era as definitively as Iraq is closing a Republican one.


Every time the conservative Republican period seemed to be exhausted it gained new impetus through openings created by Democratic fractiousness and incompetence in politics and governing. With each cycle conservatism reemerged more radicalized — a steady march further to the right. After Nixon’s disgrace in Watergate came Reagan; after the conservative crackup that engulfed George H.W. Bush came the radical Congress elected in 1994, led by Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay; and then came George W. Bush. Bill Clinton’s presidency served as an interregnum that might have broken the Republican era for good had his vice president Al Gore been permitted to assume the office he won by a popular majority. But the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court ultimately thwarted him. When the court in Bush v. Gore handed the presidency to Bush it gave him an extraordinary and unnatural chance to extend Republican power.

Only through the will to power in the Florida contest, the deus ex machina of the Supreme Court, and the tragedy of September 11, was Bush able to gain and hold the presidency. But he and the Republicans have been living on borrowed if not stolen time.

Karl Rove believed he could engineer a political realignment by recreating his work in Texas where he marshaled money and focused campaign technology in order to destroy the Democrats. But the analogy of the nation as Texas writ large was faulty from the start. In Texas he had the wind at his back, regardless of how elaborate and clever his machinations. The transformation of Texas in the 1980s and 1990s into a Republican state was a delayed version of Southern realignment. Yet Rove came to Washington believing that the example of Texas could be transferred to the national level. With the attacks of September 11, this seasoned architect of realignment believed he possessed the impetus to enact his theory. It apparently never occurred to Rove or Bush that using Iraq to lock in the political impact of September 11 would ever backfire. In his First Inaugural, Bush spoke of an “angel in the whirlwind,” but the whirlwind was of his own making. For all intents and purposes Rove could not have done more damage to the Republican Party than if he had been the control agent for the Manchurian Candidate.

The cataclysm has consumed Rove’s theory, his president, his party, and prospects for a Republican majority. The Republicans may take years if not decades to recreate their party, but that project would have to be on a wholly different basis.

The radicalization of the Republican Party is not at an end, but may only be entering a new phase. Loss of the Congress in 2006 is not accepted as reproach. Quite the opposite, it is understood by the Republican right as the result of lack of will and nerve, failure of ideological purity, errant immorality by members of Congress, betrayal by the media, and by moderates within their own party. They may never recover from the election of 2004, when they believed their agenda received majority support and they ecstatically thought they were the “Right Nation.”

Herbert Hoover did not transform his party but became its avatar through failure. By contrast, Bush has remade the Republican Party, turning it into a minority party as a consequence of his radicalism. Bush’s discredited Republicanism has further provoked the radicalization of its base where religious right and nativist elements are increasingly dominant. The party is in the grip of an intolerant identity politics — white male semi-rural fundamentalist Protestant — that seems only to alienate women, suburbanites, Hispanics, and young people. By the end of his presidency, Bush had achieved the long conservative ambition of remaking the Republican Party without an Eastern moderate wing. Once a national coalition, embracing New York and California, Alabama and Illinois, the Republican Party has retreated into the Deep South and Rocky Mountains.


But the Democrats have not yet solidified a new coalition. They may be on the eve of becoming a majority national party for the first time in their history without conservative Southerners at their core. But they may still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, mesmerized by grandiose delusions as if the past were weightless. Just as the Republican collapse under Bush has given the Democrats an unprecedented opening, the Democrats may still find a way to reinvent the Republicans. Even if they win the presidency, the Democrats can only consolidate their future coalition through skillful and successful governing. Only then they will be the sun. In Bush’s final days, a new era has not yet dawned, but an old one is setting.

In other words, Rove managed to suppress America’s gag reflex just enough to keep the Bush and Republican toxins in our system for an extra four years, and now everyone is far more sick of Republicans than they would have if Bush and the Republican majority had gone away like they should have in 2004.

I think there’s something to that, but the question is whether the Democrats can capitalize on it – especially after doing so little to oppose the Bush agenda, even after they assumed the majority in 2006.  I have to admit to being amused by Blumenthal’s worry that the Democrats might blow it by becoming “mesmerized by grand delusions” – if there’s one thing the post-2000 Democrats have not been guilty of, it’s overreach.  It’s underreach that I’m worried about – that even with control of Congress and the White House, the Democrats will be too timid and cautious to effectively roll back and repair all the damage BushCo. has done.

In which case they’ll hand power right back to the Republicans, who will probably have retooled and reinvented themselves by then. I mean, who would have thought that we would have a Republican president just 6 years after Watergate?  The Republicans are more resilient than cockroaches.

Entry Filed under: Bush,Constitution,Corruption/Cronyism,Iraq,Politics,Republicans


  • 1. Cujo359  |  April 24th, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    but the question is whether the Democrats can capitalize on it

    I assume that’s a rhetorical question – of course they won’t. Too few of them want to. We need better people in Congress, no matter which party they belong to.

    Of course, given the choices available, I’d prefer they were Democrats. It’s really not such a strong preference these days, though.

  • 2. PoliShifter  |  April 24th, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    I don’t know…They seem to be rallying around The Straight Liar just fine. He’s pandered enough to the right wing evangelicals and pro-fetus crowd. He’s locked up the Bomb Iran Hate ALL Brown Muslim crowd.

    He has the racists and white supremacists in the bag.

    The only vote he lacks perhaps are the hate-immigrants crowd who still pound The Straight Liar for his amnesty bill.

    But McCain with his ‘strong military and national defense’ stance will likely win them over as well.

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