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The Barrier to Republican Success in 2010: Republicans

5 years ago
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As the 2010 midterm elections loom, Republican Party leaders would do well to remember this rule of politics: sometimes nothing is better than something. With unemployment high and likely to stay that way -- see The New York Times' chilling Sunday front-pager on chronic joblessness -- the incumbent party could well become a piñata for ticked-off and anxious voters. The out-of-power party, also known as the Republicans, need not do much to capitalize on this powerful dynamic. It can thrive without offering well-honed counter-policies or specific solutions for the problems ailing the nation. It just has to make sure it doesn't come across as the party of wing-nuts and scammers.

That seems to be a challenge for the GOP.

The R's are steering hard into bizarro land. A few weeks ago, GOP Chairman Michael Steele told an audience that "after taxes, a million dollars is not a lot of money." Within nanoseconds, the Democratic Party had an ad ready. As I noted last week, prominent GOPers are brazenly lying about the stimulus, claiming it has produced no new jobs. It's almost as if they are publicly rooting for no job creation. (At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, presidential contender Mitt Romney joined this parade.) That false spin about the stimulus may sync up with the beliefs of many Americans who are highly skeptical of the recovery package, probably assuming it's somehow connected to TARP and other bailouts. But the remarks of these GOPers show they're not living in the real world -- as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has pointed out. This weekend he chided Republicans who are trash-talking the stimulus, saying that it created 150,000 new jobs in California alone. "It's kind of politics," Schwarzenegger said.

Meanwhile, at CPAC, which was co-sponsored this year by the John Birch Society, right-wing wackiness was on full display. While decrying President Obama's agenda as "socialism," Rep. Steve King, an Iowa GOPer, declared that the right's political opponents are "Trotskyites, Maoists, Stalinists, Leninists, Marxists." Yeah, that's a good way of describing Rahm Emanuel, ex-investment banker. (Reality check: King sits on the House Agriculture Committee, and his congressional district is one of the top recipients in the country of federal farm subsidies. So who's a redistributionist?)

Romney insisted that Obama was responsible for the 10 percent unemployment rate. Don't they teach them at Harvard Business School how to read a spreadsheet? Six million of the 8 million jobs lost in the past year or so vanished prior to the passage of Obama's stimulus package. (Romney also served up a big dose of I-love-Dubya. Good luck selling George W. Bush nostalgia to the American public.) And Liz Cheney, the daughter of ex-veep Dick Cheney, told the crowd, "They will try to silence us." What they was out to get Liz Cheney? She didn't specify. But this was an odd spurt of paranoia -- especially since Cheney, a regular on "Meet the Press," was saying this on live television, courtesy of C-SPAN. She and her dad seem to have no problem breaking any silence.

On the final night, big-draw Glenn Beck took the podium and bashed . . . Teddy Roosevelt, and Republicans who fancy that GOP president. (This means you, John McCain.) What was TR's great sin? Apparently, he once said, "We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used . . . so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community." Beck asked if such sentiment was the credo of the Republican Party. The assembled yelled, "No!" And Beck denounced Roosevelt for advocating "a socialist utopia" that he likened to "a cancer."

Beck, of course, is not an official of the Republican Party, and at CPAC he blasted the R's for their own addiction to "big government." But he and Rush Limbaugh have a pull on the party, especially since its leadership in Congress is so weak. Consequently, the GOP is in a position of being tainted by its association with Beck and these folks, as it continues its delicate and difficult dance with the Tea Party crew. (Last week, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch told a town hall meeting that he was worried that Tea Partiers insisting on conservative ideological purity within the GOP could "fractionalize" the party.)

If come November unemployment remains high, voters will be in the mood to vote for Anyone-but-a-Democrat. Unless perhaps if that other person is a Republican and the GOP is seen as collection of extremists out of touch with reality. I'm not predicting the Dems will hold their ground. But at this point the biggest barrier to a whopping Republican win appears to be the Republicans and their allies.

Speaking of conservative activity, check out this article posted by my home base Mother Jones on the Oath Keepers, a fast-growing "patriot" group that is recruiting soldiers to resist the Obama administration. Glenn Beck loves these guys.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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