Republican Party too 'wacko' to still be considered mainstream


AMERICA:Two prominent political scientists say the Grand Old Party has become more loyal to party than to country and is to blame for dysfunction in the US political system

THE REPUBLICAN presidential candidate Mitt Romney embraces the idea that climate change is a hoax.

His immigration policy is so extreme it’s been endorsed by Russell Pearce and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the architects of Arizona’s law.

Allen West, a Republican representative from Florida, accused up to to 81 Democratic congressmen of being members of the Communist party. No one called him on it.

At a Republican primary debate last year, the audience cheered for the idea that an unemployed man who loses his medical insurance should be allowed to die.

These examples are cited by two prominent political scientists, Thomas Mann of the liberal Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, as evidence the Grand Old Party is no longer mainstream.

The GOP, they write, has become “an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition”.

The Washington Post published excerpts of Mann and Ornstein’s new book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, under a large photograph of the grey, wrinkled posterior of an elephant – the symbol of the GOP.

“Admit it. The Republicans are worse,” read the headline.

Last summer’s debt-ceiling fiasco showed how Republicans “have become more loyal to party than to country”, Mann and Ornstein write.

House majority leader Eric Cantor planned the confrontation that culminated in the downgrading of the US credit rating.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (also a Republican) told Fox News: “We’ll be doing it all over” in 2013.

Mann and Ornstein have a reputation for fairness. Their article in the Post became a viral sensation on the internet. Yet television talk shows shun them, probably because they attribute much blame to US media who, in the name of “balance” (and perhaps out of a craven desire to maintain access to sources) continue to treat the two parties as if they were the same.

“A balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality,” the pair write. “At least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.”

In the decades since they studied together at the University of Michigan, Mann and Ornstein have criticised both parties.

But today, they say, with unprecedented dysfunction in the US political system, “We have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”

Republicans have systematically obstructed US president Barack Obama’s initiatives.

The Republican minority in the Senate uses the filibuster – the ability of 41 of 100 senators to block procedure – to stop presidential nominations and widely supported legislation. Absurdly, Republicans have repeatedly voted against Bills they co-sponsored.

Where the Obama administration succeeds in passing laws, Republicans prevent their implementation.

“It’s tribal politics now,” Ornstein told National Public Radio. “If they’re for it, we’re against it.”

“Every position taken, every vote cast, is geared toward the permanent campaign – how you’re going to defeat this party, get that president out of office, retain or regain majorities in the Congress,” Mann added.

Self-identified Republicans have told Mann and Ornstein, “Our party has gone wacko.”

The authors quote Mike Lofgren, a Republican congressional staffer who resigned last year, after nearly three decades, saying the party “is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th-century Europe”.

The defeat of Richard Lugar, the six-term Republican senator from Indiana, by Tea Party challenger Richard Mourdock in a Republican primary this month was widely cited as proof of the party’s extreme drift.

The day after his victory, Mourdock explained why he rejects compromise or bipartisanship: “One side or the other has to win this argument . . . The highlight of politics, frankly, is to inflict my opinion on someone else.”

Mann and Ornstein say the former speaker of the house and failed presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, did most to radicalise the party.

To engineer the 1994 Republican electoral victory, Gingrich convinced voters Congress was “elitist, corrupt and arrogant . . . undermined basic trust in Congress and government” and “created a norm in which colleagues with different views became mortal enemies”.

Norquist has persuaded the vast majority of Republican congressmen to pledge never, under any circumstances, to increase taxes. Similar pledges, for example on climate change, proliferate. Congressmen dare not opt out, for fear of losing office to challengers from further right.

Today’s Republicans are trying to kill government from within. Ultimately, they want “to renegotiate the entire social and economic policy edifice of this country, going back before the New Deal,” Mann says.

He hopes that will be “crystal clear” to voters in the November elections.