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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 09:27 AM ET, 09/05/2011

The dysfunctional Republican Party

The big sensation over the weekend (at least for liberals) was a vicious attack on the current Republican Party from a recently retired Republican Hill staffer, Mike Lofgren (via Fallows). Steve Benen ably summarizes the main takeaway:

There is one great overwhelming dilemma that dominates American politics in this early part of the 21st century. It is not the extent to which President Obama has failed to meet the expectations of the progressive base, though this matters. It is not the lazy, negligent and incompetent establishment media, though this matters, too. The issue that should dominate the landscape is the radicalization of the modern Republican Party and the effects of having one of two major political parties descend into madness.

Lofgren, in what I find the most interesting part of the piece, describes the basic strategic thinking of this brand of Republicanism:

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

Lofgren believes, and I think most Democrats and Republicans would agree, that this strategy has in fact been a huge success. I strongly disagree. Republicans have been using this scorched-earth, bomb-throwing strategy since at least the late 1970s (when Newt Gingrich arrived in the House), and one can certainly argue that it goes back to Richard Nixon. And yet, the promised day of American disgust with government never does show up. Oh, yes, Republicans certainly have succeeded in winning plenty of elections — but 30 (or 40) years on, they’ve never managed to solidify a majority for very long. Nor have they really succeeded in changing the ideological balance. Just as was the case at any point over that span, Americans are happy to tell pollsters they agree with GOP anti-government slogans — and just as happy to agree with liberal slogans (see, for example, William Mayer’s The Changing American Mind for an early look, and generally little has changed since then). Nor has policy shifted radically to the right, no matter what frustrated liberals believe. Both sides have had policy victories since 1980.

That’s not to say, however, that all of this has had no effect or isn’t important. It has, and it is. The effect isn’t in “left” or “right”; it’s in the collapse of the Republican Party’s capacity for making policy, which has the effect of reducing the nation’s ability to make good policy. Not liberal or conservative policy, but effective policy of any kind. And that, I’m afraid, only gets worse as the GOP’s Gingrichified strategy becomes more and more ingrained. I entirely agree with Benen: It’s the biggest problem in American politics right now. The truth is that it should be conservatives, not liberals, who are reading and taking seriously critiques such as Lofgren’s or those from David Frum and Bruce Bartlett and Chuck Hagel and several others. But they don’t, and I have no idea how any of this gets better.

By  |  09:27 AM ET, 09/05/2011

 
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