The elites of the Republican Party are praying that Tropical Storm Isaac will gather strength and slam into Tampa. The sober party bosses need a cyclonic distraction. They need a hurricane to wipe the Todd Akin disaster off the front pages.
Those who cling to the notion that the goal in a campaign year is to win elections are surely astounded by the rhetorical self-immolation of the zygote-loving, biology-class-failing Akin. So they’re studying the radar, consulting with NOAA, and scanning the horizon for dark clouds. Their battle flag has become, if I may borrow someone else’s joke, a windsock. When we talk this week about Republicans who have a finger in the wind, we are not being metaphorical. They’re really checking the wind.
The Republican elites don’t want another Houston. Houston was the convention where Pat Buchanan gave a speech that scared the bejabbers out of most of the country.
Todd Akin represents the hardcore conservative fringe of American politics, which many people will tell you means that he’s a mainstream Republican. The GOP has a special challenge in that the most energetic element in its ranks is the fringeish Tea Party. The moderates have been drummed out of the GOP — begone, Dick Lugar and all your ideologically squishy kin. Grover Norquist and the Austrian economists are in ascendancy. The GOP platform writers are brokering deals with Ron Paul.
Mitt Romney might seem a relatively moderate choice against such a wave of fundamentalism. But in picking Paul Ryan as his running mate he has chosen someone who favors a radical shrinkage of the federal government. So much of the emphasis has been put on Ryan’s plans for entitlement programs, but that may miss the main thrust of his ideology. Under Ryan’s plans, Social Security and Medicare would still exist two or three generations from now, if in different form. But it’s not clear that there would be a National Park Service, or a Head Start program, or a National Institutes of Health doing medical research. In Ryan’s 2010 manifesto, the “Roadmap for America’s Future,” he favored shrinking discretionary spending (excluding Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the debt) from 15.9 percent of GDP in 2009 to just 7.4 percent of GDP in 2030 and eventually, in 2083, a mere 3.6 percent of GDP, which would mean a government that fit the Norquist ideal — one small enough (as Norquist put it) to drown in a bathtub.
[MoDo writes of Ryan: “[H]e’s just a fresh face on a Taliban creed — the evermore antediluvian, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-gay conservative core. Amiable in khakis and polo shirts, Ryan is the perfect modern leader to rally medieval Republicans who believe that Adam and Eve cavorted with dinosaurs.” Ouch.]
Do Republicans really want to get up in front of the American people and admit that this is what they believe? We live in a land of majority rule, and the GOP is unlikely to regain the White House if it resolutely occupies an ideological territory on one extreme end of the ideological spectrum. Hence the need for party bosses to get the Todd Akins to shut up — or pray for a deluge that forces the cancelation of the convention altogether. Maybe some pesky liberal journalists could be washed away in the tempest.
The grown-up GOP leaders know the painful truth: In American politics it’s often not your enemies you have to worry about it. It’s your friends.