For years, Democrats have been forced, unenviably, to engage in debate with such rigid and dangerous arguments. That is about to end. Republicans will comprise roughly just 40 percent of each chamber of the US Congress, and about the same proportion of the state governorships and legislators. The Democrats will no longer need the Republicans.
More important, they will know that the voters are not interested in that debate. The back-to-back national electoral pummelings the Republicans are apparently in the process of receiving is an extreme rarity in American politics. (Usually one drubbing gets voters’ anger out of their system.) But this is much more than an angry reaction to circumstances. Democrats have gained nationally in state legislatures each of the past five years; party identification with Republicans is at a stunning low and shows no signs of recovery. The country is done with the Republicans, until the party puts some grown-ups back in charge.
That is highly unlikely, as the grown-ups are streaming out the exits —either retiring or, having been dragged down by the GOP’s reputation, facing tough reelection campaigns.
As gratifying as that may be to Democrats, there is this sobering thought: once everyone but the zombies has fled the village, only pro-zombie candidates can get elected.
In the US House of Representatives, where the GOP caucus has shrunk to 199 members out of 435, more than half their ranks have lifetime ratings above 90 (on a scale to 100) from the ultra-right-wing American Conservative Union. For comparison, New Hampshire’s two Republicans ousted in 2006 both held ratings in the low 70s.
Such moderates, with ratings below 80, are an endangered species, accounting for less than one-fifth of the caucus — and half of those are either retiring or appear headed to defeat next week.
The same holds true in the US Senate, where New Mexico’s Domenici and other relative moderates, such as Virginia’s Warner and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, are retiring, and still others, such as Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, are trailing in polls.
Unless McCain pulls an enormous upset, there will be no White House personnel running the Republican show.
Instead, the increasingly dominant rabid conservatives are planning to elevate their own frightening leaders to top Republican positions in the House, Senate, national committee, and other key organizations. In the US Senate, both Phoenix sources and other reports suggest that Arizona’s ultra-conservative Jon Kyl is considered most likely to climb the ladder, possibly to minority leader, while Chafee says that moderates are frantically hoping instead to elevate South Dakota senator John Thune — a staunch conservative but not a kook. In the House, Mike Pence of Indiana, John Shadegg of Arizona, Eric Cantor of Virginia, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and Kevin McCarthy of California — all of whom, like Kyl, have ACU lifetime ratings in the high 90s — have been discussed and written about as likely new leaders.
Even more disconcerting is the rise of the kooks in the traditional party structure, which numerous Republican insiders have discussed with the Phoenix over the course of this election cycle.
For decades, the Republican Party has maintained itself through an infrastructure of loyal long-time party members, who were more operational than ideological in disposition. They are conservative, yes, but more so like partners at a white-shoe law firm, cautiously tending to the long-term stability of the enterprise.