Republicans convinced themselves that it was essential for a Republican — any Republican, even an unfit one — to take the White House in 2016 because … well, because the Supreme Court! Because Obamacare! There was no consideration that the damage to the country and the GOP would be so deep and permanent that a single Supreme Court seat’s importance would pale by comparison. Moreover, no one thought to say, “Hey, Supreme Court seats open up again and again.”
It’s the nature of politics, aggravated by breathless 24/7 news coverage and the hunger for great infusions of cash prompted by terrified donors, to insist that the current election is “the most important ever.” In the case of 2016, social conservatives insisted that it would be the “last” election if Hillary Clinton won. Western civilization would crumble if Clinton were elected! This was balderdash, but it fed into the win-at-all-costs mentality that justified support for a narcissistic, racist, unqualified and ignorant presidential candidate who embraced few, if any, conservative policy principles. It still prompts conservatives to insist that their support for Trump was correct. “But Gorsuch!” is the sound of a political party in its death throes.
You see the same phenomenon in the desperation of some Republicans to cling to Roy Moore. “But tax reform!” is the new “But Gorsuch!” Ordinary Republican voters have figured out that Moore is toxic. A Morning Consult-Politico poll finds that “59 percent of voters say they considered the original allegations against Moore outlined in a Washington Post article last week very or somewhat credible. Just 17 percent say the allegations are not too credible or not credible at all. The remaining 23 percent don’t know or have no opinion.” Furthermore, “Nearly half of GOP voters, 49 percent, say the accusations against Moore are at least somewhat credible; just three-in-10 say they are not too credible or not credible at all. … Half of Republicans think Moore shouldn’t continue his campaign — nearly double the 26 percent who think he should continue.”
However, it has taken days of searing coverage for elected Republicans to come around to the same conclusion. The initial reaction — to suspend judgment, not call for Moore to get out — was indicative of the sense of false urgency that grips Republicans and forces them into circle-the-wagons stances, which, if successful, would spell long-term catastrophe for the party.
Assume that Republicans — at least some of them — stick by Moore. If he wins and is not removed from the Senate (or, the removal process takes months, not days), Democrats will turn 2018 into a referendum on child sexual predation. Todd Akin, Missouri’s GOP Senate nominee in 2012, was vilified for his offensive comments on rape. A winnable race for Republicans against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was lost. Moreover, a good deal of the Democratic National Convention was devoted to Akin, rape and related women’s issues. It’s hard to tell whether Akin’s candidacy contributed to Mitt Romney’s loss or to Democrats’ net gain of two Senate seats, but it sure didn’t help Republicans and was very likely a motivator for some Democratic voters, especially women. And that was simply about Akin’s comments.
Politicians’ shortsightedness is nothing new, but it has reached epidemic proportions in the GOP. It led the party to support Trump and to approve plainly unfit nominees who have cost the administration and Republicans, more generally, a good deal of grief. Tom Price’s ethics issues were already evident, but Republicans shoved him through. Was it worth it, considering Obamacare failed and he embroiled himself in scandal? Hardly. Rex Tillerson was plainly temperamentally unfit and lacking essential knowledge to be secretary of state. But we’ve got to have him, Republicans decided. Jam him through as well. Has he been a positive force for American diplomacy? Hardly. (See hundreds of years of collective experience pour out of Foggy Bottom as he wrecks the State Department.)
It would behoove Republicans to consider that sometimes they need to protect the party, not to mention the country, from itself. The immediate pressure to rubber-stamp every dumb idea and rally to every miserable candidate should be resisted. Mature grown-ups, grounded in common sense and basic decency, understand this — and hear the alarm bells ringing when presented with dangerous choices. This crowd, however, hears only the tribal war-whoops and Fox News blather. It may be the death of the party.