|If only white people had some power in this country!|
It's interesting that the entire Republican field seemed to be nothing more than an undisciplined rabble, a group of cranks and nincompoops unprepared for the challenge of a national election, so deeply enclosed in their own ideological bubble that they were utterly unaware that their 'ideas' had little in the way of popular traction. And, of course, the explanation for this is that the Republican party has been completely pervaded by the most extreme tribal, sectarian and bigoted portion of the right wing. And while that is undeniably true, it is not, in and of itself, an explanation for the relentless failure and accumulated hopelessness of the Romney campaign.
This wholesale movement to the extreme right has resulted in an uncompromising, stringently enforced set of policy plans that the party, and all of its candidates, must enforce in lockstep. These policies are not only unpopular, but are tailor made to eliminate support from vast swaths of the electorate. The black vote - gone due to blatant bigotry. The Latino vote - ditto. Gays - forget it. Women - well, let's just say the Republicans haven't made them feel completely welcome, as equal partners in the movement. Unions - well, no, and there goes the police and firefighters that have traditionally been strong Republican constituency. The elderly - another part of the traditional Republican base feeling deep concerns about how a Romney presidency might affect their lives.
This is important for three reasons. First, in the past the party's presidential nominee has taken on the role of de facto party leader, defining the policy agenda for his presidency in broad strokes, including plans for specific legislation alongside larger, more conceptual issues in areas such as social concerns, civil liberties and foreign policy. But the Romney campaign, indeed, the entire Republican presidential nomination process, has turned that history on its head. The party defined its specific ideological agenda and demanded the candidates adhere to it in perfect lockstep. The process reversal means that we can predict, with greater accuracy than has been possible before, what the actual policy goals of a Romney administration would look like.
Second, it completely undercuts the advantage the Republicans should have as a result of the Citizens United verdict. Being the party of rich white men, they have an outsized share of the large political contributions, and can expect to deliver more of everything, from lawn signs to television advertising. But when your message is not just unpopular, but downright toxic to vast swaths of voters, the ability to convey that message in a relentless stream can actually become counterproductive. Is simply provides the Obama campaign with an opportunity to offer real, compassionate and inclusive policy choices to an electorate coming to largely fear and dislike the apparently bigoted and authoritarian Republicans.
And third, it leaves the Republicans as a national party in a trap. With an ideological agenda provided in a bottom-up fashion by the base, any attempt by the national party leadership to change those policies in order to make them friendlier to some of these growing American constituencies will result in a firestorm, complete with threats of primary challenges and re-direction of contributions. When a national party allows its most extreme wing to define its mainstream message, it becomes a de facto hostage to that wing, leaving it with no flexibility to attempt to increase its voter population. It is a party, that is, that has been forced to value ideological purity over electoral success. And that simply does not make for a viable political organization.
2012 might be the last real opportunity for the Republican party to grasp the levers of power and undertake fundamental change to the American system - rolling back the New Deal, sharply reducing the role of government in American life and fundamentally remaking the social compact. Demographics suggest that an over-reliance on the votes of white males has seriously diminishing returns, and in four years success under that strategy may have become impossible. So if they fail and the hated enemy Barack Obama is re-elected, there will be many on the Right who blame Mitt Romney, the candidate and the campaign. And they will have plenty of examples of his incompetence and egregious errors. But perhaps they should look the other direction, at the bigots and christian fundamentalists, the war mongers and the vast insular communities full of anger and resentment. Perhaps they should embrace the future, and the real American population in all it's diversity, and finally leave behind the fantasy of an America that can never again exist.