Democrats used to marvel at Republicans’ political skill. But it’s been a decade since the GOP won a victory in policy or elections that wasn’t pre-ordained by circumstance.
For a lot of reasons, the current era will probably be seen as unusually consequential in the history of the two parties, particularly the GOP. For Republicans, it has been a time of ideological hardening and bitter infighting. But one aspect of the Republican dilemma hasn’t gotten as much attention as those: This is a time of unusual, even stunning, Republican political incompetence.
Let me back up for a moment, to put what I’m saying in context. As the 2012 election approached, liberals began to understand just how deluded many conservatives were about empirical reality, and in ways that could do them serious political damage. It’s one thing to deny climate change (a denial that may benefit you and your allies), but if you convince yourself that you’re going to win when you’re actually going to lose, you’re hurting no one but yourself. When they began to rally around a guy claiming to “unskew” the 2012 presidential polls that showed Barack Obama heading for a victory, liberals had a great time ridiculing them. But then it turned out that even within the Romney campaign—including the candidate himself—people who were supposedly hard-nosed political professionals had convinced themselves that it was just impossible they could lose, whatever the polls said. As seen in an unforgettable bit of election-night television, Karl Rove, the party’s most celebrated strategist, refused to believe that Romney had lost even when Fox News called the race for Obama.
Once the race was over, there was some soul-searching within the GOP about their loss, but most of it concerned the party’s image as a bunch of unfeeling, out-of-touch white guys who couldn’t appeal to young voters and Hispanics. (Needless to say, this is a problem they’ve yet to solve,) There was some discussion about the conservative information bubble and the distorting effects it can have, but nothing changed—lots of conservatives still get their news from Fox and Rush Limbaugh, and assume that everything in the New York Times is a lie.
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”?
In fact, before you’ll find evidence of the ruthless Republican skillfulness so many of us had come to accept as the norm in a previous era, you’ll need to go back an entire decade to the 2004 election. George W. Bush’s second term was a disaster, Republicans lost both houses of Congress in 2006, they lost the White House in 2008, they decided to oppose health-care reform with everything they had and lost, they lost the 2012 election—and around it all they worked as hard as they could to alienate the fastest growing minority group in the country and make themselves seem utterly unfit to govern.
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Curated from prospect.org