The Reckoning

The World According to GOP (and Why Slate Readers Should Care)

gingrich returns crowd's salute
Says the man who wants to build a base on Mars: The GOP in 2012 won “a mandate to fight for lower taxes and smaller government.”

Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images.

What will emerge from the battered body of Michael Patrick Leahy’s party?

“Who the heck is he?” you understandably ask.

Alright, how about Jenny Beth Martin’s party?

Still drawing a blank?

OK, what about the party of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Rand Paul?

Light bulb ignites, and “The Tea Party!”

Epitaphs may be penned for weeks to come about the populist insurgency that grew (mostly) out of frustration with the TARP program. But friends, there is life in the Tea Party yet!

As in John Irving’s classic The World According to Garp, the inert, brain-dead Tea Party body wheeled into the critical ward on the day after the election still contains the seed of something. Will that seed produce a rational, thoughtful, loyal offspring like Nurse Jenny’s son? Or will it simply prove to be the seed of the GOP’s final destruction as a viable party?

So far, the signals are mixed. And there are reasons even you, readers of Slate, should care about the GOP’s fate.

A good deal of attention is being paid to conciliatory, almost contrite statements from Speaker of the House John Boehner, and more recently, Romney economic adviser Glenn Hubbard, who suggested in the Financial Times on Monday that step one for the post-election GOP should be to “raise average (not marginal) tax rates on upper-income taxpayers.”

Yet while the Republican old guard tries to backpedal with some dignity into a “fiscal cliff” deal with President Obama (and I wish them all the luck in the world), the Tea Party tail may still be wagging the dog. The Tea Party, which after all prevented the 2011 Obama-Boehner “grand bargain” talks that would already have made a start of correcting the unsustainable, long-term U.S. debt trend, remains in denial.

Look at Leahy, a software marketing exec whose book Covenant of Liberty is about as close as the Tea Party movement ever came to coherent philosophical thought. A blogger for the right-wing site Breitbart, Leahy has reacted to the failure of his call for revolution by arguing that just a few well-placed votes in four key states (New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Virginia) would have given the vote to Romney. To be precise, 330,000 votes.

“This election was not about grand vision,” he insists. “It was about small details and focused pandering to specific demographic groups.”

Yes, I suppose New York and California, the pillars of Obama’s victory, could be considered specific demographic groups if we stretch the definition a bit. If Romney had out-pandered Obama in either, I suppose, he’d be drawing up a transition Cabinet.

But then, Democrats will point out that merely accurately reflecting the actual votes of Floridians in 2000 would have put Al Gore in the White House. How relativism rules in the wake of defeat: Suddenly, it’s the GOP that wants to banish the evil Electoral College and the Democrats who find if a work of genius. Leahy’s analysis certainly sounds desperate.

Yet his willingness to consider Romney a legitimate candidate who lost a hard-fought election shows that he retains some purchase on reality. In contrast, Tea Party leader Jenny Beth Martin—echoing know-nothing talk-radio hosts coast to coast—is a chief proponent of the argument that the GOP lost because it nominated a “Republican in name only,” or RINO. Throw Romney under the bus is the new Tea Party battle cry.

If anything, Mitt lost because his pandering to the nutty right left most Americans completely confused about who he was: that and the fact that the one thing he couldn’t run away from was that he is a creature of Wall Street.

Instead of civil war, which is the current drift, what the GOP needs to do to survive is to ensure that it is people like Martin, not soft but pandering vessels like Romney, who look like a RINO to future voters. The GOP has to have the guts to excommunicate heretics—the way Lyndon Johnson bravely set in motion the loss of the solid South with the Civil Rights Act. It means a lot of bleeding, but in the end doing the right thing, rather than the Right thing, is rewarded.

In America’s stunted political spectrum, with only red and blue and a mushy purple center, we fail to appreciate the range of colors extending from our extremes. The fact is that on the left of the Democrats there is a small, pretty ineffective “pink” faction of American socialists. And on the right of the GOP caucus—far too close to the center of that caucus, this election shows, are the grays and browns that end eventually in the “black” of genuine fascism. The more time you spend away from our wacky political landscape (and I’m in London at the moment), the more obvious it becomes.

And here’s where I get to Slate readers: Why should you care?

The U.S., like any democracy, needs at least two sentient parties to survive. At the end of the day, it was Obama and not Romney who moved into the purple, and he did it making mostly genuine economic arguments rather than warmed-over fallacies about trickle-down magic. So, there’s one rational actor.

What about the other side? It will be tempting for Democrats to hope that the GOP’s civil war continues and that a new generation of eccentric, unelectable characters follows Sarah Palin and Todd Akin into the fray. Newt Gingrich, in encouraging more of the narrow-minded partisanship he pioneered in 1994, can only have inflamed this wish in liberal hearts.

I would rather see the party come to grips with reality. I’d personally rather win an argument with an impressive right-leaning intellectual than a redneck dipshit any day. (They just punch you in the face when you use big words, anyway.)

But seriously, as high as Democrats may be flying right now, there will come a time in the not too distant future when you lose the national argument again, and when you do lose it, would you want to leave the country in the hands of Jon Huntsman or Rick Perry?*

That’s why Slate readers should care.

Correction, Nov. 13, 2012: This post originally misspelled Jon Huntsman’s first name.