Stop celebrating, Democrats.
And, yes, it looks as if the Republican Party is paralyzed with dysfunction, trapped in a civil war about the fundamental mission, values and tone of the party. The GOP base is drifting further and further into crazyland, thanks to its many influential conspiracy theorists and witch-hunters wielding microphones and muskets.
Moreover, it looks like core pillars of the Republican platform — such as commitments to free trade, civil liberties, deregulation, entitlement reform, family values — have crumbled. And sure, it appears there are no longer any conservative principles uniting the party. And agreed, in the absence of any unifying principles or policies or general political philosophy, Republicans seem to have lost all interest in governing.
The schadenfreude must seem irresistible, Democrats. But resist you must.
The end of a principled, intellectually coherent, organizationally robust center-right party is bad for democracy. It’s also bad for Democrats, given some of the dumb ideas flourishing on the left that desperately need a thoughtful counterweight.
Even before Donald Trump became their party’s standard-bearer, Republican leaders were struggling to hold on to any consistent objectives beyond anti-Obama-ism.
The party turned off the spigot on judicial and other civilian confirmations well before Obama entered the final year of his presidency, for example. Intraparty infighting and tea party tussles brought the country to the brink of a debt default and led legislators to basically give up on budgeting. In the absence of common conservative principles, obstruction and delay became the only paths forward.
And, the way things are going, they will likely continue to be.
Already, multiple Republican senators have expressed a willingness to leave a Supreme Court seat vacant indefinitely. And already, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who heads the House Oversight Committee, has declared his intention to spend “years” investigating a President Hillary Clinton (something the Republican-led Congress has expended plenty of time, and taxpayer money, on already).
As Yale University political scientist Jacob Hacker put it recently: With no coherent vision or values, the GOP could well turn into a “zombie party for the next few years,” united only by the mantra “eat brains, eat Hillary brains.”
This would certainly make it more difficult to keep the trains running on time and to make any deals on policy issues of interest to liberals.
But even on priorities on which liberals are likely to make progress, the lack of an honest, articulate, respected adversary is troubling. That’s because liberals need a worthy intellectual rival to sharpen their thinking and keep their own bad ideas in check.
Right now a number of bad ideas booming on the left need a credible, coherent, megaphoned rebuttal. These are ideas that may sound nice and perhaps appear helpful. But pursuing many of them would be, at best, irrelevant and ineffective, a waste of time and resources; at worst, they would be actively harmful to the marginalized groups that bleeding-heart liberals claim to champion.
These are proposals such as bringing back Glass-Steagall, a banking law whose repeal actually had nothing to do with the 2008 financial crisis. Its resurrection is perplexingly popular on the left.
Or banning genetically modified organisms.
Or free college for all, including rich people.
Or arbitrary tax carve-outs for items such as tampons (which constitute a giveaway to rich people, too, and ultimately require raising tax rates on everything else, which can disproportionately hurt poor people).
Many of these ideas have little chance of making it into federal law, given current Capitol Hill dynamics. But inspired states and municipalities are going forward with some of them. Additionally, liberal firebrands such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have made clear their intention to pressure a President Clinton from the left when and where she would have policymaking power.
Kansas has provided a useful illustration of what happens when (in this case, conservative) ideologues get their policy wish lists, because they’ve written off any objections from skeptics as unserious or motivated by ill intent. With the Republican Party’s wholesale intellectual implosion, we may see the same temptations take hold on the left.
Which is why I caution Democrats not to dance on the grave of the conservative platform. The decline and disintegration of an intelligent adversary risks dooming them to decades of lazy thinking as well.
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