Two posts got my attention today. The first, ironically, was Ed Kilgore’s response to Paul Waldman’s article in the American Prospect.
Kilgore’s response to Waldman was simple:
At the Prospect today, Paul Waldman argues that the Republican Party has been locked in the grip of political incompetence since the 2004 elections. I tend to agree, but while Paul attributes the problem to self-delusion via the closed feedback loop of conservative media, I’d suggest there’s been a tendency to elevate short-term over long-term strategic considerations.
He gives five specific examples of short term strategy and argues that in many cases, these short term positions limit the party’s ability to maneuver long term. (I.e. having embraced the death panel lie, the party found itself unable to talk about entitlement reform.)
Paul Waldman’s argument can be summed up simply:
In fact, in the last ten years they’ve only had one major victory, the 2010 midterm election. But that didn’t happen because of some brilliant GOP strategy, it was a confluence of circumstance; the natural tendency for the president’s party to lose significant numbers of seats two years after he’s elected, and the stagnant economy would have meant a big GOP victory no matter what they did.
Waldman goes on to build a strong argument that the Republicans have lost their strategic mojo through a combination of intra-party fighting and a deep commitment to the conservative movement’s hothouse media which has created and fed epistemic closure.
There seems to be little question that the alternative media universe they built, which was once a strength for the right, has become a liability. But their biggest problem now isn’t the things so many conservatives believe about the world that aren’t true, or what they think will happen that won’t. It’s about the strategic decisions they make, and where those decisions come from. Think about it this way: Has there been a single instance in the last few years when you said, “Wow, the Republicans really played that one brilliantly”?
If you take the 2012 election, Dems walked into it uncertain, nervous but focused on real world polling showing it would be a tough win, but that things generally favored Obama. Republicans by contrast, including the Romney campaign, were busy unskewing polls.
There are still plenty of smart Republicans out there. But the days when Republicans would run circles around Democrats, outdoing them in fundraising, messaging, organizing, and every other aspect of campaigning and politics, are a fading memory. The 2010 election may have blinded us to how long it’s really been since they set out to achieve a political goal and made it happen through their acumen and judgment. I’m sure that one day the GOP will get its strategic mojo back. But it could be a while.
Two arguments from writers I respect, looking at the same things and drawing differing conclusions. They’re not mutually exclusive. What if the focus on short term issues is being fed by the party’s epistemic closure? The right wing echo chamber tells conservatives they and they alone are the true Americans, that the natural order of things is Republican governance. Democratic governance is never more than an interregnum. In the face of that, of course they’ll impeach Barack Obama – even if he won the election, his victory is inherently illegitimate. The Republican case of impeachment rests on a series of unproven suppositions, which have been repeated ad nauseum in the right wing echo chamber without being challenged so conservatives believe they’re true.
However, and this is big, I think both Waldman and Kilgore are missing an important point. Even if we accept that Republicans are incompetent, we have to grant that the scorched earth politics they embraced starting the 2008 election have had the effect, intended or not, of seriously undermining Americans’ faith in the ability of government to govern. The ARRA and ACA have proven modestly effective, but in the face of absolute opposition without any reluctance to lie, many Americans believe those programs have failed. Helped along by the President’s own infuriatingly self inflicted wounds, Republicans have sustained a narrative of governmental failure. The liberal promise inherent in 2008 has been badly hurt and discredited even though the Obama administration has been boringly center left and neoliberal.
IOW, as I see it, Republicans have extended a generation long campaign against government since 2008 and have done so depressingly well, even if they’ve otherwise been a collection of bumbling morons.