Michele Bachmann addresses CPAC
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

What’s happening in the Republican Party would be endlessly amusing were the consequences for the nation not so significant.

The strident far-right wing has taken over the GOP. Conservatives deemed not conservative enough have lost their seats in the primaries. Moderates who aren’t drummed out in primaries are  leaving the party. Some wackadoodle candidates are rejected during the general election because they have scared off independents. And many of the candidates who do earn voters’ trust seemingly couldn’t care less about transitioning from politicking to governing once they get to Washington.

The American political system depends on a thriving two-party system. Competition and compromise and the ideas those two forces generate make Democrats and Republicans better. But the dysfunction in the GOP reveals a broken party out of step with the country. When he was asked last Sunday if Republican former presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon could win the nomination today, former senator Bob Dole said, “I doubt it.” The 1996 Republican presidential nominee then delivered a damning assessment of his party:

I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says “closed for repairs” until New Year’s Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas.

The “GOP autopsy” of its 2012 presidential loss took a similarly scolding tack.

The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.

Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us. We need to remain America’s conservative alternative to big-government, redistribution-to-extremes liberalism, while building a route into our Party that a non-traditional Republican will want to travel. Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism.

Unfortunately, the brand of conservatism coming out of the Republican Party in the states and on Capitol Hill remains a problem.

Sen. Ted Cruz (Jim Lo Scalzo, European Pressphoto Agency)
Sen. Ted Cruz (Jim Lo Scalzo, European Pressphoto Agency)

Tea Party darling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is making friends and influencing people on both sides of the aisle as he lectures colleagues. E.W. Jackson came from out of nowhere to become the Republican nominee for Virginia lieutenant governor earlier this month. Since then, we’ve been wading through a treasure trove of his intolerance and incendiary remarks. He once said that “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.” And in announcing her decision not to seek a fifth term, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota waved from the Grassy Knoll of Conspiracyville when she said, “I’ve demanded that this administration never, under any circumstances, subordinate our national security for the administration’s weak version of political correctness.” As Jamelle Bouie noted yesterday, Bachmann might be leaving, but her brand of “paranoia and resentment” will linger long after her departure.

Things have gotten so bad in the GOP that Lincoln Chafee, the Rhode Island governor who descends from an old-line Republican family, left the party in 2007 to become an independent. Today, he will switch to the Democratic Party. “The governor reached this conclusion after assessing his own principles and priorities and values, and deciding they blend very well with the national Democratic Party,” Chafee spokesman Christian Vareika told Greg Sargent yesterday. “The governor has seen the Republican Party has become much more hostile to reaching across the aisle and compromising and finding a middle ground. The governor has the feeling that at every juncture, Republicans in Congress have worked actively to thwart the president’s agenda, not for substantive policy reasons, but for political ones.”

We have gerrymandering, reactionary politics and the politicians who practice it to appeal to a shrinking monochromatic base to thank for a Republican Party more interested in obstruction at all costs than in governing. This simply isn’t sustainable. Not only does the GOP suffer because of this but so does the Democratic Party, which could grow complacent without a viable opposition. The whole mess would be hilarious were the nation not at risk.

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.