Very early in my newly found blogging career, I posted a piece quoting extensively from a David Brooks column and then waited expectantly for the comments to come pouring in. Nothing. Nada. Not a one. I was such a novice at the time that I hadn't as yet downloaded a tracker to follow visitors, so I didn't have a clue as to whether or not anyone had even read it. Probably not.
Brooks offered up a little history lesson that added some insight into all the ugly hysteria that was only just really kicking in but which, as we have seen, has grown into a cacophony of twisted lies, conspiracy theories and ugly rhetoric. He wrote:
Just months after the elections  and the humiliation, everyone is again convinced that Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and the rest possess real power. And the saddest thing is that even the Republican politicians come to believe it. They mistake media for reality. They pre-emptively surrender to armies that don't exist.
They pay more attention to Rush's imaginary millions than to the real voters down the street. The Republican Party is unpopular because it's more interested in pleasing Rush's ghosts than actual people. The party is leaderless right now because nobody has the guts to step outside the rigid parameters enforced by the radio jocks and create a new party identity. The party is losing because it has adopted a radio entertainer's niche-building strategy, while abandoning the politician's coalition-building strategy.Unfortunately, the Republicans weren't paying any attention to Brooks - or me, she says modestly - back in October 2009. Now the conservative columnist is all but writing the Grand Old Party's obituary.
Brooks begins by pointing out how once thoughtful and reasonable Republicans such as Richard Lugar and Orin Hatch have swung sharply to the right to maintain their Congressional seats. "Politicians do what they must to get re-elected."
. . . this behavior is not entirely honorable. It’s not honorable to adjust your true nature in order to win re-election. It’s not honorable to kowtow to the extremes so you can preserve your political career.
Republicans on the extreme ferociously attack their fellow party members. Those in the middle backpedal to avoid conflict. Republicans on the extreme are willing to lose elections in order to promote their principles. Those in the mainstream are quick to fudge their principles if it will help them get a short-term win.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the fight was between conservatives and moderates. Conservatives trounced the moderates and have driven them from the party. These days the fight is between the protesters and the professionals. The grass-roots protesters in the Tea Party and elsewhere have certain policy ideas, but they are not that different from the Republicans in the “establishment.”
The big difference is that the protesters don’t believe in governance. They have zero tolerance for the compromises needed to get legislation passed. They don’t believe in trimming and coalition building. For them, politics is more about earning respect and making a statement than it is about enacting legislation. It’s grievance politics, identity politics.Brooks missed the boat when he said. "For them, politics is more about earning respect . . ." Obviously, they aren't interested in "earning respect" but in "gaining control".
All across the nation, there are mainstream Republicans lamenting how the party has grown more and more insular, more and more rigid. This year, they have an excellent chance to defeat President Obama, yet the wingers have trashed the party’s reputation by swinging from one embarrassing and unelectable option to the next: Bachmann, Trump, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum.
But where have these party leaders been over the past five years, when all the forces that distort the G.O.P. were metastasizing? Where were they during the rise of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck? Where were they when Arizona passed its beyond-the-fringe immigration law? Where were they in the summer of 2011 when the House Republicans rejected even the possibility of budget compromise? They were lying low, hoping the unpleasantness would pass.
The wingers call their Republican opponents RINOs, or Republican In Name Only. But that’s an insult to the rhino, which is a tough, noble beast. If RINOs were like rhinos, they’d stand up to those who seek to destroy them. Actually, what the country needs is some real Rhino Republicans. But the professional Republicans never do that. They’re not rhinos. They’re Opossum Republicans. They tremble for a few seconds then slip into an involuntary coma every time they’re challenged aggressively from the right.
Without real opposition, the wingers go from strength to strength. Under their influence, we’ve had a primary campaign that isn’t really an argument about issues. It’s a series of heresy trials in which each of the candidates accuse the others of tribal impurity.As a result, two kinds of candidates have emerged: one forceful but outside the mainstream and the other who may have started out in the mainstream but now look weak and unprincipled "because they have spent so much time genuflecting before those who despise them."
Neither is likely to win in the fall. Before the G.O.P. meshugana campaign, independents were leaning toward the G.O.P. But, in the latest Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll, Obama leads Mitt Romney among independents by 49 percent to 27 percent.
Leaders of a party are supposed to educate the party, to police against its worst indulgences, to guard against insular information loops. They’re supposed to define a creed and establish boundaries. Republican leaders haven’t done that. Now the old pious cliché applies:
First they went after the Rockefeller Republicans, but I was not a Rockefeller Republican. Then they went after the compassionate conservatives, but I was not a compassionate conservative. Then they went after the mainstream conservatives, and there was no one left to speak for me.Like extremists of all persuasions and throughout history, the wingers aren't listening. They don't care. They're so hell-bent on gaining control they don't care if they destroy not only their own party but the entire country. The "Opossum Republicans" are more interested in preserving their careers than standing on honor and principle. They have sold their souls to the devil for a few votes and, in the process, doomed the country to an uncertain future. Patriots they are not.