We have all seen it. A close friend or family member on a path to self-destruction. It may have been a buddy in your freshman year of college who was more interested in partying than hitting the books. It may have been a friend who never gave their keys to someone else to drive after drinking. It may have been a family member who couldn’t end their drug addiction, no matter how many times they went through rehab. It may have been a cousin who continued to ignore medical advise to alter his life style because he was at high risk for a heart attack or a stroke. In all of these cases, regardless of attempts at sincere intervention, the self-destructive behavior continued. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion in a movie. Is this same kind of unalterable path to self-destruction what we are witnessing in the GOP right now?
It has become clear to anyone observing the Party’s behavior over the past several years that there is an internal battle raging for its’ very soul. During this period it has been pulled further and further to the right while it castigates any member who dares to use the word compromise or move in a more moderate direction. After the 2012 election the leadership, representing the old line establishment, instigated an internal soul-searching and called it an autopsy. The results were stated with fanfare and a promise to broaden the party by becoming more representative of the hopes and dreams of the many groups that now constitute America. There was, in fact, the beginnings of an effort to reach the Black community and the Latino community. However, in short order, the GOP fell back into its bad habits and its old rhetoric. It blocked legislation that impacted on immigration, gun control, support for undeserved populations, pay equity, women’s healthcare and an extension of unemployment benefits. They attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 50 times and protect the privileged class while doing everything possible to weaken the middle and working class. They even closed down the government. Obviously, the highly touted autopsy ended up in the morgue. The attempted intervention by the party establishment has clearly failed. The soul of the party is being controlled by an extreme element despite its obvious self-destructive path.
Events over the past couple of months have illustrated just how far down that path the Party has traveled. The Presidential campaign this summer has been nothing if not entertaining. However, by now we expected to get down to reality and be left with the serious candidates. The problem is that we are where we hoped to be. We are left with the serious candidates, only they are quite different from what we expected. They represent the most extreme elements of the Party and the more traditional candidates are falling by the wayside. The party establishment, while attempting to intervene and support those more traditional candidates, has so far failed.
The announced departure of John Boehner from the position of Speaker of the House is another indication of just how serious the internal battle for the soul of the Party is. While Boehner was far more conservative than I could tolerate, he was far more moderate than the boisterous, undisciplined and ideologically orthodox plurality of his caucus. After a five-year Speakership characterized by endless internal conflict within his caucus, Boehner has decided to leave the stage. No doubt those who step into Party leadership in the House will be more to the liking of the loud and boisterous plurality. Just as in the Presidential campaign, the soul of the Party is shifting into the hands of the most extreme elements.
There are those among the pundits who say that it is rare that a Party wins a third term in the White House and that both Parties have been relegated to the role of regional party during the other Party’s terms in the White House. But they are wrong. We don’t have to look too far back to see that George Herbert Walker Bush was a GOP third term after the two-term Presidency of Ronald Reagan or that during that time the Democrats played a major role in the the governance of this country. In contrast, the GOP has played a role of obstruction while the President has almost single-handedly moved our country forward.
It seems to me that unless there is a major intervention on the near horizon for the GOP, its path to self-destruction will be unavoidable. It will be relegated to representing the extremism characteristic of regional politics, but will never be represented in the White House again.