It never ceases to amaze me how far the Republican Party has lurched to the far, far, far-right since my days as a Teenage Republian in the late 1970s in Connecticut. At that time, the Republican Party arguably had three strong wings: the (rising) Jerry Falwell/”Moral Majority” wing; the traditional, pro-business, “moderate,” “country club” Republican wing; and even (believe it or not) a significant progressive Republican wing (represented by people like Lowell Weicker, Jacob Javits, Charles Percy, Charles Mathias, Jim Jeffords, John Chafee, Nelson Rockefeller, Gerald Ford, Arlen Specter, Thomas Kean, Thomas Meskill, William Milliken, John Danforth, Nancy Kassebaum, Edward Brooke, etc.).
Today, the thought of a progressive Republican, a la Teddy Roosevelt or any of the folks mentioned above, is beyond laughable. The amazing thing to see is the collapse of the traditional, pro-business, “moderate” Republican wing, and the domination of today’s Republican Party by: a) theocrats such as Ted Cruz, Ken Cuccinelli, EW Jackson and many others; b) anti-government, science-denying extremists, John Bircher tinfoil hat types, and angry bigots of various types (see a typical Trump rally for evidence); and c) more traditional, mainstream, pro-business conservatives such as John Kasich, pre-presidential-campaign Chris Christie, and here in Virginia, former Lt. Governor Bill Bolling. The problem for that latter group is that they are basically under siege these days by the John Birchers, Tea Partiers, “I’m a Christian first, American second” types (seriously, Ted Cruz actually said he’s Christian first, American second), and rabid anti-government types (think of the armed thugs occupying the wildlife refuge in Oregon) of all types. Meanwhile, if the more “traditional” conservatives – still highly conservative by almost any measure, by the way – even attempt to stand up to the crazies, they are shouted down on social media, right-wing talk radio, Faux “News,” and the 24/7 right-wing noise machine in general. Not a good situation.
Which brings us back to former Virginia LG Bill Bolling, the man who was in line to succeed Bob McDonnell as the likely next governor of Virginia…until Ken Cuccinelli and his merry band of raving lunatics (Tea Partiers, theocrats, etc.) essentially took over the Republican Party of Virginia and purged mainstream conservatives like Bolling. The result, of course, was the infamous “Extreme Team” ticket of 2013 — Ken “Kookinelli,” wild-eyed lunatic E.W. Jackson, and Mark “Criminalize Miscarriages!” Obenshain — which went on to lose all three statewide offices in that election to Democrats Terry McAuliffe, Ralph Northam and Mark Herring. Today, in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bolling laments what has become of his (former?) party. Here are a few highlights.
- Bolling argues that today’s GOP is “factionalized and out of control,” and says “that should worry us all.” I agree 100% with Bolling.
- Bolling writes: “Not very long ago I was regarded as one of the leading conservative voices in the Republican Party in Virginia. I have not changed, but the definition of what it takes to be a conservative Republican has so changed that many now regard me as an ‘establishment Republican,’ in the popular vernacular. I prefer to think of myself as a mainstream Republican, or a more traditional Republican.” That’s essentially what I’ve been saying for years; the party that used to have three strong wings now has ditched two of them, and perhaps added another one in the Tea Partiers, John Birchers and related tinfoil hat types.
- Bolling argues that the Tea Party has come to dominate the GOP, and that this is a big problem for two reasons: 1) Tea Partiers “are not so much conservative as they are anti-government, and there is world of difference between those two things”; and 2) the Tea Partiers et al “offer no positive vision for the future of our country or our state,” and instead “are defined by what they are opposed to, not what they are for.” Again, I agree 100% with Bolling.
- Today’s GOP is a party dominated not by hope and a positive vision for the future, but by “gloom and doom…anger and division.” Again, ditto.
- If this continues, and if the party doesn’t get its act together fast, Bolling correctly argues, the GOP could go extinct, just like the Whig Party in 1854.
- Finally, Bolling argues that the 2016 presidential election is a “critical test case” for the GOP. He writes – clearly referring to candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz – that “if the party nominates a candidate who is viewed as being too extreme, divisive and out of touch with the American people, it will inevitably lose the election and drive another nail into what may quickly become the Republican Party’s coffin.”
As a partisan Democrat, and also as an American, of course I’d be thrilled to see the off-the-deep-end version of the Republican Party collapse. Ideally, this would lead to formation of a more sane, “normal” Republican Party like it used to be – conservative, but not completely off the deep end, not anti-government, not anti-science, not anti-rationality and anti-reason.
Is that really too much to ask for? Or is America going to be cursed with a party led by the likes of Donald Trump, a neo-fascist at worst and a wildly irresponsible demagogue at best; or Ted Cruz, one of the most extreme political figures imaginable in the United States of America? For all our sakes, let’s hope that the Bill Bollings of the world manage to take back their party…before it’s too late for them, and possibly for the rest of us.