Saturday, February 8, 2014

Then and now

By Bill Kraus

What Republicans have known all along is that theirs is a minority party. Their efforts to win high offices were necessarily concentrated on wooing the undecideds and uninterested with occasional raids into Democratic precincts for converts. The party leaders and the elected Republicans were in the forefront of these efforts. Lee Dreyfus said that his run for governor was prompted in part by his fear that the party in Wisconsin was headed from minority to insignificant. His campaign brought in thousands of new voters for the GOP. Reagan did much the same thing when he ran for president. Tommy Thompson was deservedly famous for a lot of things and especially for branding the party as a big tent organization which welcomed any and all.

Presumably other candidates in other places did much the same thing as the Republicans became increasingly competitive even dominant.

The undesirable side effect was that electoral success led away from inclusiveness to exclusiveness. Some of us feel the radical, litmus-test party that has emerged in too many places seems to have a political death wish.

The voters with special interests and priorities began to dominate the headlines at least and the party as well. The party that was mildly libertarian, frugal, and offered a government that worked began to be a collection of very narrow, very strident, very exclusive, often ideological, interest groups that thought their competitive-to-dominant position came from out of the blue and was guaranteed for life.

The party’s obsession with the many special interests left no room for the greater good sometimes referred to as the "general interest." The priorities were specific. There was no time or room for talk about what kind of country they wanted this to be. The people who think their thing is the whole thing have become the public face and image of the party and may even be what the party is or wants to be.

Certainly the moderates are nowhere in the latest configuration.

Just as certainly the ideological purists who disdain amnesty, think everyone’s god is offended by gay marriage, believe the Constitution wants a gun on every hip, are willing to make medical decisions for women and the brain dead (not all the brain dead; just those that are medically so), and are more sure of everything than most moderates are of anything are casting aside all those voters who their predecessors fought so hard to bring into the fold even if only sporadically.

Clearly this strategy is electorally stupid.

Unless what seems suicidal is really subversive.

Conceding that the debt problem is real and scary and that we would be better off without drugs and drug wars and with juveniles who did as they were told and everybody hates taxes, the exclusive and exclusionary party cannot survive on these constituencies alone. Unless.

Unless the formula they have used to win legislative majorities in unfriendly places like Wisconsin where the GOP has a lock on big majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives would work everywhere.

This phenomenon can be extended to the presidential campaign simply by changing the way electoral votes are counted. By congressional district instead of by state. Two states already do this. So there is a precedent. There is no widespread affection for the present winner-take-all electoral vote system. The appetite for change to a district-by-district system has not passed the Churchill test where it comes clear that as bad as it is it is better than any of the alternatives. But the possibility does lurk.

The other reason it may not fly is that the move to make the presidency ride on the total popular vote, which also can be done by re-jiggering the electoral system, has not been universally embraced. So maybe the appetite for electoral college change is more imagined than real.

Since this is only a conspiracy theory, and I dislike and distrust conspiracy theories, I should dismiss it out of hand. To do so though, I would have to conclude that the people who are running the Republican Party now are either stupid or deluded enough to think their legislative majorities in Washington and elsewhere can be perpetuated by large amounts of campaign spending and rhetoric.

A dilemma.

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