According to a recent report published by The Guardian, senior Republicans will meet at a rural retreat in Virgina on Thursday to discuss how to rebuild their party. Those invited are mostly state chairmen and “prominent activists from the conservative wing of the party”. So the meeting seems to be a gathering of the Authoritarian Right (.pdf), rather than representative of all factions within the Party.
Among other things on their agenda, the group intends to discuss “whether the party needs to switch to the right”. And my guess is they will decide the Party indeed needs to move in their own direction — and away from moderate and traditional conservatism.
I suspect to many of us, that move might sound counter-intuitive. But to illustrate why it might sound counter-intuitive, let’s assume a Democratic landslide tomorrow. Not only does Obama win the presidency, but the Democrats win both an overwhelming majority of the genuinely contested House and Senate seats, and as many governorships as they can.
We might intuitively think such a crushing defeat would make every Republican in America want to move to the center. After all, the center is where most of the votes are, and scurrying there is surely one of the best possible ways to prevent further losses in the next election. So, intuitively, we might believe we’ll soon find all our Republican friends in the center.
Yet in this case, our intuition is likely wrong. If we souped-up chimpanzees were utterly rational the Republican Party would swing to the center after a crushing defeat. Unfortunately, nothing about our species suggests we are utterly rational. Worse, most authoritarians are even less rational (.pdf) than the rest of us. So, let’s forget intuition for a moment and look at some facts. A recent poll conducted by Democracy Corps suggests the Republican base is way out of touch with political reality:
- While a sizeable majority of voters say Republicans have lost in 2006 and 2008 because they have been “too conservative,” a sizeable plurality of Republicans say, it is because they have “not been conservative enough.”
- Over three-quarters of Republicans say Palin was good choice, while a majority of the electorate says the opposite.
- Two-thirds of Republicans say McCain has not been aggressive enough, but a majority of voters think they have been too aggressive.
- Looking to the future, a large majority of Republicans say the party needs to “move more to the right and back to conservative principles,” while an even larger majority of all voters say, it should move to the “center to win over moderate and independent voters.”
- Finally, almost 60 percent of Republicans say “if Barack Obama is elected, he will lead the country down the wrong path and Republicans should oppose his plans,” while 70 percent of all voters say they “should give him the benefit of the doubt and help him achieve his plans.”
I’m willing to bet the faction of Republicans in the poll that differ so strongly from the majority of voters are for the most part the very same folks who comprise the Authoritarian Right, and that most moderate and traditional Republicans are largely in line with the majority of voters.
Yet, if that’s the case, it’s fairly easy to see how the Authoritarian Right these days is isolated from the majority of voters. In the world of the Authoritarian Right, the prefered thing to do will be to swing away from the center. Not towards the bulk of the electorate, but towards their radical base. Rightward, Ho!
So will that move, if successful, destroy any chance the Republicans have of winning big in future elections?
Maybe. But I wouldn’t count on it. A lot else would need to happen between now and the mid-term elections in 2010, or the next presidential election in 2012, for the Republican Party to be locked in as a minority party. Most importantly, a lot of people would need to defect from the Party to the Democrats. But no matter how bad things get in the Republican Party for moderates and traditional conservatives, they are not going to defect to the Democrats unless the Democrats provide them with an attractive option. People stay put, even when they hate where they are, until they judge they’ve got someplace better to go.
So, I’m only going to say the Authoritarian Right will meet on Thursday and almost certainly choose a course that leaves them wide open to defeat in the next election or two. But it’s up to the Democrats now to take advantage of that folly by stripping away as many moderate and traditional conservatives as possible. And if the Democrats fail to govern wisely and fairly, if they get a mandate and then screw it up, you can pretty much count on most moderate and traditional Republicans to stay put in the Republican Party. That will mean the Authoritarians have a real chance to come roaring back to life in 2010 or 2012.
Suggested Further Reading: