They are not thoughtful people interested in influencing policy debates; these terrifyingly ignorant hard-liners hold a know-nothing set of rigid beliefs about capitalism, foreign policy, “social values,” criminal justice, immigration, and pretty much anything else that arises. The ideology pumped into their brains is as wrong-headed as the Red Scare promoted by Joe McCarthy, or the racism behind Nixon’s Southern Strategy.
The Limbaugh “dittoheads” have stormed GOP headquarters and devoured dissenters. As political columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote this past week in the Washington Post, “the cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet, and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity — and Sarah Palin. Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans, learned manifestoes by direct-mail hit pieces.” And let’s not forget robocalls.
Buckley, who died earlier this year, once said that he had spent his life “separating the right from the kooks.” He failed — the kooks now run the right.
They’ve overwhelmed Republican politics everywhere, from New Hampshire, where a conservative talk-show host won the congressional primary, to Nevada, where the GOP’s control of the State Senate depends upon the re-election of two freshmen who voted in favor of the death penalty for minors and for arming schoolteachers.
“What used to be the Southern Republican agenda is now the national Republican agenda,” says Lincoln Chafee, former Republican senator from Rhode Island — who became an independent after losing his bid for re-election in 2006, in large part due to a primary challenge from a hard-right conservative.
Thus, the hand-wringing and debate over the future of the GOP is likely moot. The direction of the party is no longer controllable, but is firmly in the hands of rabid ideologues, dead-certain that those who disagree with them are sure to destroy the American way of life. With stakes that high, and enemies so vile, they will bellow louder and louder — even as their numbers continue to shrink, which of course makes them more dangerous.
Across the country, in this year’s run-up to the November election, Republican primary voters repeatedly chose unelectable hard-core conservatives over moderates to run in state, district, and local races — at times against even the open wishes of GOP brass.
“It’s amazing how far to the right the Republican candidates have been, and how out of touch with their districts,” says Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “There’s less and less enthusiasm for the Republican Party, so the only ones answering the call [to vote in primaries] are these very strong conservatives.”
Take New Mexico’s Senate race to replace the retiring Republican Pete Domenici, a relative moderate in a battleground state. Conservatives rallied around ultra-right-wing congressman Steve Pearce over the GOP’s preferred candidate, relatively moderate congresswoman Heather Wilson. With help from national conservative groups like Club for Growth — and despite the last-minute campaigning of Domenici himself on Wilson’s behalf — Pearce won the Republican nomination. As a result, Democrat Tom Udall is coasting to an easy victory. Not only that, but Democrats now stand a good chance of winning both House seats that Wilson and Pearce abandoned for their Senate campaigns.
A similar situation has ensured that a Democrat will win the Virginia Senate seat being vacated by another relative moderate, John Warner.