The Republican Base: Frustrated, Angry, and Desperate

Ed Kilgore, at Washington Monthly, captures one of the key forces driving the conservative movement – frustration.

Since the 1960s, the conservative movement has been trying to repeal the welfare state:

It’s the Goldwater campaign over and over and over again, with the same goals, the same demonology and the same frustration at Republican Establishment squishes who are willing to settle for what Goldwater himself (in referring to the Eisenhower administration) called a “dime-store New Deal” instead of a rollback of the whole welfare state.  Indeed, the goals are so audacious and the frustration so intense that it can make conservatives look like “nihilists” if you miss the underlying patterns.

Kilgore quoted Ross Douthat:

[W]hat you’re seeing motivating the House Intransigents today, what’s driving their willingness to engage in probably-pointless brinksmanship, is not just anger at a specific Democratic administration, or opposition to a specific program, or disappointment over a single electoral defeat. Rather, it’s a revolt against the long term pattern I’ve just described: Against what these conservatives, and many on the right, see as forty years of failure, in which first Reagan and then Gingrich and now the Tea Party wave have all failed to deliver on the promise of an actual right-wing answer to the big left-wing victories of the 1930s and 1960s — and now, with Obamacare, of Obama’s first two years as well.

From the teabagger perspective, American politics has been defined as defeat followed by defeat even when electoral outcomes looked victorious.  The result is a revanchist movement driven to recreate a mythical golden age before the welfare state and liberalism came along and ruined everything.

Daniel Larison points out:

. . . the experience of the Bush era is a much more important factor than disappointments with inadequate conservative victories of the past. During the Bush era, most conservatives either supported the administration’s domestic and foreign policy agenda or they didn’t put up much of a fight against any of it for at least the first five or six years. Not only did they end up backing a huge expansion of the welfare state and extraordinarily costly foreign wars, but in order to justify these moves they emphasized the value that these things supposedly had for the political fortunes of the GOP. The Bush-era GOP didn’t just fail to roll back previous government expansions, but did a great deal to increase the size and scope of government. Not long after making this bad bargain, conservatives saw the Republicans lose control of Congress, and they were still associated with one of the most unpopular presidents of modern times. Most conservatives backed almost every bad political and policy bet that Bush-era party leaders made, and it all went horribly wrong for both the GOP’s electoral prospects and conservative priorities. Many conservatives realized too late that they had put the political goals of the party first too often, and had deferred to party leaders too frequently, and so now there is great reluctance to do these things under any circumstances.

When any of those same leaders warn them against a certain course of action now, many conservatives, especially those members of Congress elected in the years since the defeats of 2006 and 2008, are not inclined to pay any attention to them.

The Bush administration should have been a roaring success.  It followed the conservative playbook to a T – aggressive foreign policy, tax cuts and weakened regulation at home.  Conservatives followed Bush and his team to defeat.  America turned its back on them and there’s no going back.  FWIW, many teabaggers are angry at Bush and his cronies, seeing them as traitors to the cause, but also as the people responsible for the rise of Barack Obama.

The net result is a movement frustrated at its leaders, angry at its leaders and everyone else, and increasingly desperate as they perceive their window of opportunity (to affect change) closing.

  1. #1 by Richard Warnick on October 5, 2013 - 4:01 pm

    Maybe Tea-GOP has a positive agenda, but it’s not evident. They really do look like nihilists right now.

  2. #2 by cav on October 5, 2013 - 9:21 pm

    “It’s not easy leading a political movement that believes the federal government is at the core of all our problems while depending heavily on the votes of citizens who get both their retirement money and health care from the federal government.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/05/opinion/collins-frankenstein-goes-to-congress.html?hp

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