"The party in the Northeast is all but extinct; the party on the West Coast is all but extinct; the party has lost the mid-South states — Virginia, North Carolina — and the party is in deep trouble in the Rocky Mountain West, and there has to be a message and a vision that is compelling to people in order for them to come back and to give consideration to the Republican Party again."
—Steve Schmidt, McCain campaign manager
It’s been four days now since the Republicans’ “big tent” officially imploded. Like Schmidt says, the party is basically defunct in the majority of the country. We appreciate the sentiment, Steve—always the wishful thinker. But sorry. Watching the party canibalize itself over the past four days, it's obvious to anyone without an NRA membership: The party's over. Forever.
The decimation of the Sarah Palin campaign (this election was never about John McCain) exposed a devastating reality for the GOP: all of the awful divisions born during the 1960s culture wars are, for the majority of Americans, over.
The country is certainly just as God-fearing and moral as it has ever been. But until Democrats make some outward and obvious attack on religion or gun rights, the days of riding into national office on the backs of social issues ended sometime during George W. Bush’s second term.
This reality is lost on the people who showed up en masse to Palin's rallies. For this collection of backwoods half-wits, the culture war is like the war on terror or drugs — endless and omnipresent. These are the Republican Party’s new loud and boisterous base, focused so intently on saving America from eternal damnation, they would rather vote against gay marriage than in favor of their own economic interests.
These mobs are small and shrinking in lockstep with the number of good jobs in small-town America. Yet these mobs have, throughout the Rove years, become the face of the GOP, and remained that way throughout Palin's cartoon campaign. The party's microscopic intellectual wing can gasp and choke on the stupidity of the party's base until they turn blue, but it won't help. Who else would vote for Republicans now?
At some point, one side of the party is going to lose their voice entirely. It will be wildly entertaining to see which half can suffocate the other first. Will it be the orphaned children of Reaganomics, left to flounder aimlessly after their theories on deregulation and trickle-down wealth redistribution were buried under the weight of the economic disaster they caused? Or will it be the lunatic fundamentalists, whose ugly, racially-tinged rhetoric was exactly what the party needed if it wanted to get blown out in every conceivable electoral way.
For most, I think the answer is: Who cares? Let the two halves of the GOP gut each other until they both bleed out. At this point, it looks like it might happen; the nasty and very public in-fighting over the degree of Sarah Palin’s ignorance and selfishness during the campaign might well be the first wounds of the death match. At the end of the day, it might be all for the best. The party can't and won't survive as it is, with two rotting ideological corpses as its central premises, its main talking points.
In Ana Marie Cox's terrific interview with Schmidt, he talked about moving the party to the ideological center — the home of most American voters. Again, Steve is always the optimist. The Republican base detests the center. The center is the bastion of gay marriage, of upholding Roe v. Wade, of enforcing the division of church and state. The base would flee, and if they lose the base, they lose the few remaining loyal Republican voters in America.
Maybe Schmidt knows this and just doesn't care. They've lost everything already. Maybe he knows as well as we do that the party can't be repaired. It has to be ripped apart and reconstructed, from the ground up.