In this weeks mailbag, we talk about the reasons behind the Republican Party’s extremism, the implosion of Newt Gingrich and who we’d rather be stuck on a desert island with – Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter!!
Why do you think the Republican Party has turned so extreme in recent years? I’m sure there are many reasons, but do you think there was a major event that lead to the crazies taking over everything? – Michael
Bob: It’s been a slow and steady dance towards the radical Cuckoo’s Nest, beginning around the time of Barry Goldwater’s trouncing in 1964. In 1980 or so, Reagan made a deal with the religious right that married the two entities, and then everything congealed when Bill Clinton was elected and wingnuts everywhere began to pass around conspiracy theories about how he and Hillary killed Vince Foster and, of course, there was Whitewater and the long list of conspiracies about his sexual affairs. From there, the extremism was amplified by the post-9/11 xenophobia and copious amounts of kneejerk patriotism. In the mix, too, was the rise of Fox News Channel and the expansion of right-wing talk radio, both of which turned the gurgling extremism of the party into an echo chamber of mutually reinforcing views. This became profitable for both business and the party, and so the Republicans cashed in on what David Frum called “a marketing segment” of disgruntled and marginalized white people who only became more disgruntled when Barack Obama won the presidency. The noise level (not the relatively small demographic numbers) of the tea party has since been wagging the Republican Party dog and, hence, we get a toxic mixture of opposite-day reactions to the Democrats, wafer-thin bumper sticker policy proposals and — let’s be real here — racism, all of which combine to form the extremism you see today.
Ben: I’d argue that the financialization of the economy that basically started under Nixon and really took off under Reagan is the primary reason why the Republican party is so extreme. The effects of financialization have been severe on much of the population as it has created serious poverty and extremes in wealth inequality. In order to keep half the population voting for them, the Republicans amplified wedge issues like abortion and gay rights to distract them from the massive amounts of wealth they were losing under their leadership. As the wealth divide has become more extreme, so have the measures to keep the Republican base motivated to vote. It’s a vicious cycle – the less money the government spends on things like education, the less informed the population are and the easier they are to manipulate. Idiots like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann serve as marketing tools rather than anything else. The brains behind the GOP are probably just as scathing about them as liberals behind closed doors, but without them, they lose their base.
Chez: This is something that’s been a pretty big topic of conversation at my site, I know at Bob’s, and really in general — especially since Jonathan Chait wrote a pretty all-encompassing piece about it a month or so ago. The fact is that when faced with the threat of political irrelevancy bordering on complete extinction, the Republican party doubled-down on the entitled, white Christian male rhetoric. The election of Barack Obama was the far-right’s worst nightmare — confirmation that they were losing the country bequeathed to them and them alone by the hallowed founding fathers to all those brown people they’d worked so hard to keep in their rightful place for so long. That made them lose their fucking minds. The fact is that America is becoming a more ethnically and socially integrated culture and there’s no going back; the Republican mindset as it stands right now is being demographically pushed out of existence and instead of accepting this reality and working to reach out to millions of potential new proponents of sane conservatism, the fringe rose up in the form of the Tea Party and exerted an incredible amount of force on the Republican establishment and dragged them to the right in the name of protecting the God-given rights of decent white folk — rights that their paranoia determined were being taken away. To answer your question — well, the answer’s kind of obvious really: the election of Obama is what drove the crazy bus completely over the edge of the cliff for the GOP.
This is a tough one guys. Who would you rather be stuck on a desert island with: Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter, and how long do you think you could last without murdering them? – Tim
Ben: Great question Tim! I’d say Coulter – she’s at least entertaining, and I have it on very good authority that her public persona is completely fraudulent. I’d probably kill myself first if I had to spend more than a day with Palin or Bachmann. I just couldn’t take their ignorance or completely unjustified self confidence.
Chez: Coulter. I get the impression she’s more of an opportunist than a true believer and I hear she’s actually a lot of fun when you get a couple of drinks in her. Plus, I can see her easily putting out — especially if I was the proverbial last man on earth. Can I trade all three for S.E. Cupp, though? And yes, I’m being kind of sexist. Go fuck yourself.
Bob: Hah! That’s a tough one. I think I’d have to go with Ann Coulter. Sarah Palin would be intolerable for so many reasons beginning with her word salad shrillness and white-trash pride. She’d also be deliberately antagonistic and it would be impossible to have a conversation without literally stroking out. Michele Bachmann would be like living in a padded room with a mental patient who spoke in tongues. Honestly, I don’t thnk Ann Coulter believes half of the awful things she says, so maybe that’s an opening for a reasonable coexistence on an island.
What the hell happened to Newt Gingrich? A few weeks ago he was storming ahead in the polls, getting millions of dollars from some weird rich dude, and making the other candidates look like idiots in the debates. Now he can’t get a look in anywhere. Did I miss something? – Galen
Chez: Newt was never a serious contender for the nomination, no matter what thrilling possibility the conflict-addicted political press wanted you to entertain. Yeah, he was one of the many non-Romneys the far-right faithful had a brief flirtation with — twice even — but he didn’t stand a chance because everyone in a position of GOP authority knew he was 100% radioactive. Nothing proved that point more than his petty, vindictive and insanely quixotic campaign to destroy Mitt Romney just because Romney hit him with a couple of negative attacks. Newt’s a megalomaniac, and as such his entire push for the nomination was about stroking his own ego and listening to the sound of his own voice as he issued supposedly smart proclamations from on-high. What eventually wound up happening is that a coordinated campaign against him by the party elite, combined with the far-right base’s realization that he just wouldn’t be able to make it happen for them, combined with, quite frankly, a new news cycle and the press having moved on to the next big horseshit political story — in this case, the rise of Santorum — all led to Gingrich being left in the dust. Where he belonged in the first place.
Bob: The Republicans tossed him aside like Cain, Bachmann, Trump and Perry. The party is leaderless and so they’ve been desperate for a savior. Gingrich staggered across their spotlight twice and failed to close the deal both times. The biggest problem he needed to overcome was the dick factor — no, not his multiple relationships/marriages, but his dickish personality. He simple couldn’t help but to stumble into one dick move or another. And while the Republicans briefly entertained the idea of an “intellectual” as the nominee (Gingrich is a poseur and a hack — not a real intellectual), they ultimately were turned off by his insufferable ego and unlikeable personality. I don’t think anyone thought Gingrich was someone they could have a beer with — an important feature in a GOP nominee. More than anything else, when they re-examined his roster of liabilities, they only wanted to throw a beer in his round pumpkin face, rather than drinking to his success.
Ben: I think Gingrich was a victim of his own sociopathic tendencies. He got some momentum, then started talking about putting colonies on the moon. It was plain to see that the guy was more interested in himself than anything else, and the primary was a giant platform for him to exercise his monstrous ego. Most Republicans hate Gingrich, not because of his politics, but because he is a gigantic douchebag, so it was always going to be impossible for him to win the nomination. It’s amazing he got so far – a true testament to the shallowness of the Republican field this year.
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Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.