My mother in law proved a point that I had learned back in my political science days. Back in 2004, she said the Democratic party was dead. I'm not quite sure what led her to that conclusion. John Kerry wasn't exactly an exciting candidate and he still narrowly lost the election to George W. Bush. Congress was in the hands of the Republicans, but things had been worse. I suppose it was wishful thinking.
My in laws tend to be on the libertarian side of things. They weren't fans of George W. Bush and they aren't tea party people. They come from a wing of conservatism I respect. They tend to be live and let live type of people in terms of social policy. They believe we are overtaxed and that government is not equipped to solve our problems. Fine. I don't necessarily agree, but it is a legitimate viewpoint.
Funny, but the midterm elections in 2006 turned that death prediction on its ear. So, as I write this I am quite aware of the irony. There will always be a divide between ideology and party. Some liberals are angry with President Obama because he has not been as liberal as many thought he would be. George W. Bush had the same issues in office. Conservatives found him to be too centrist while those on the left thought he was too extremist.
We are all big boys and girls, so we understand the differences between ideology and real life. So, when I question the long-term viability of the Republican party it is not the same thing as questioning the long-term viability of conservatism. All political parties must reconcile the various wings of its tent. Republicans are loosely held together by a hatred of all things taxation. From there we have a sharp divide. There are your supply-siders that think low taxes stimulate the economy. They believe in large defense budgets and cuts in the safety net. Then, you have your minimalists like Ron Paul. Give them credit, at least they are consistent across the board. Then, you have your social conservatives. They want to return the world to 1952 when everyone knew their place and we didn't have Trojan commercials on television.
This happens from time to time. You have too many groups underneath the tent and the tent walls begin to fray. The solution is usually to purge some of the groups from your tent. It's not that you want them voting for the other side, but you cannot actively pander to them anymore. The Democrats have had to do it from time to time. The Republicans are purging, but the groups they are purging are alarming. Essentially, they are ridding themselves of the rank and file members that were their bread and butter. In their wake, they are creating a membership test that rivals those of great secret societies. It might be nice to have strict rules if you are the Knights of Columbus or the local lodge, but when you are one of the two national parties it spells doom.
In the short term, this is good news for Democrats. President Obama would normally be very vulnerable with a sluggish economy. Yet, the opposition party seems to be imploding before our very eyes. So, barring something unforeseen, it looks like Obama should get four more years and the Democrats should gain seats in both chambers. Yet, the long-term ramifications are yet to be determined.
Will the Republican party fold altogether and become something new? Will they finally wake up and expel the extremists that seem to running the ship into the cliff? Will they simply ride out this wave and hold on for dear life? Whatever the future, the most interesting part of this equation is the distant past. The Republicans came into being because they took a strong stand on an issue that neither establishment party was willing to address or share. That issue happened to be the most important issue of its day.
Slavery was front and center on everyone's minds back in 1860. What current issue rivals that today and what stand could today's conservatives take to reestablish themselves? 2012 is a unique time in American politics. A majority of voting Americans are center to right. Yet, the Republican party in its current state seems unable to take advantage of that. When a party is so dysfunctional it creates across the spectrum. Do Democrats tack to the right to claim those disenfranchised or do they stay the course and govern as if everything were normal? Of course, they also have to keep their eye out for populist movements because that movement could become the new Republican party.