These days, the favorite pastime of commentators right and left is psychoanalyzing the troubles of the Republican Party. There’s lot being written out there, and, as you might expect some of it is good, while a lot of it is bad (incidentally, I find the mix to be about 15/85 or so…).
Yesterday I read what I think is a particularly insightful piece on what I believe may be the root of the GOP’s political problems, penned by former Representative Joe Scarborough and titled Tearing Down the Conservative Echo Chamber. Here’s an excerpt:
After Chuck Todd concluded that Republicans are afraid to leave the safe confines of conservative media outlets, I explained that such a response was short-sighted. After all, it was the Conservative Entertainment Complex that led Republican thought leaders, grass-roots activists and even the presidential candidate himself into believing that a GOP victory was imminent on Election Day. The Romney team was isolated so deep inside this conservative media bubble that they continued to believe victory was theirs well into the evening.
That embarrassing political tale proved that conservatives had finally become what they had once mocked: an insular movement so lost in its own echo chamber that it rarely made contact with those who didn’t share their world view. This is, of course, the same trap that liberals fell into in Manhattan newsrooms and on college campuses throughout the 1960s and 70s during the rise of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the Silent Majority. And yes, there was a silent majority that liberal newspapers and TV anchors were blind to for the better part of a generation.
. . .
Why is Rush Limbaugh batting one for six in presidential races? Why is Fox News one for five? Perhaps it is because two decades later, what many of us once considered to be an important balance to left-wing media bias have become the only outlets conservative politicians and thought leaders consider legitimate. That has proven to be a terrible calculation.
This assumption has now become so widespread on the right that any news analysis or media poll that runs counter to Republican interests is dismissed by the right as biased and irrelevant. This mindset took firm hold in 2012 so that the echo chamber syndrome that once made fools of left has now come back to undermine the right. Not only does this approach distort political reality by only reinforcing pre-existing worldviews, it also stifles intellectual debate inside the party. This in turn creates the kind of stale political environment that has been criticized of late by conservative thought leaders like Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz and Pete Wehner. Mr. Wehner wrote a column today in “Commentary” calling for the “intellectual unfreezing” of the right.
The GOP talks to itself too much, and therefore ends up confusing means and principles and taking all of its ideas too seriously. Within the party, you have the national level equivalent of a dominant party state primary, where candidates struggle to outdo each other in consistency to principle. And so, as I’ve written elsewhere, every little political fight is converted into a must-win battle to the death over fundamental principles. The Grand Old Party is ossifying, becoming inflexible and unwilling (seemingly almost unable) to creatively apply its principles to changing conditions and political realities.
And the casualties?
Diversity of thought and viewpoint. Creativity and solutions. Hard-headed, realistic thinking (the very thing Republicans have always prided themselves on). Expansion of appeal. And, ultimately, elections and influence.
Today, we have a Republican Party that seems trapped by the very principles underlying its extraordinarily important contributions to government over the last 150 years. It single mindedly pursues a romantic version of its own ideal, at almost all consequences. In a way, the GOP has become it’s own version of the emotional bleeding hearts it derides among Democrats. Instead of healthcare and welfare, it’s no taxes, absolute freedom from regulation and gun rights. The party of clear-eyed realists has become the party of emotional originalists — so emotionally committed to an inflexible variant of realism that it’s ability to act in all but the most favorable circumstances is paralyzed.
The good in the GOP is still there. It’s message of limited government is just as important as it has always been, if not more so.
I’m a Republican because I believe in the GOP’s core message of the importance and practical reality of limited government and financial responsibility. I believe it is a message suited for the most pressing challenges facing today’s America. We need to GOP to break out of its echo chamber, take a clear assessment of our situation and its political realities, and get back to being the GOP again:
As much as at any time in recent history, America needs a strong, vibrant party on the right to speak for the civilizing ideal of limited government. Barack Obama has put in place an agenda of unreconstructed progressivism that is at war, not only with Reaganism, but also with Clintonism. He has exacerbated a massive fiscal imbalance, added a poorly designed entitlement that further destabilizes the health sector, and sounded an uncertain trumpet of global leadership. If Republicans urgently need to recalibrate, and they do, it is because the stakes are so high.
Among some party loyalists, there is a natural tendency to maintain that the GOP is simply suffering from a “communications problem,” that if only Republicans spoke more loudly, more insistently, and with greater purity and passion, they would broaden their appeal and proceed to sweep national elections. But that counsel, appealing as it might be to a shrinking segment of the electorate, is surely not adequate to present circumstances. More is needed than pumping up the volume.
Intellectual honesty is the first requirement of self-renewal. Republican problems are not superficial or transient.
For the GOP to revivify itself and enlarge its appeal, Republicans at every level will have to think creatively even as they remain within the boundaries of their core principles.