GOP Death Wish ?

Republican Death Wish

By Tom Landess

As readers of this column well know, I have never really trusted the Republican Party. Even in 1962, when I first worked actively for a Republican candidate (the late Bill Workman), I saw the arrogance of the Party leadership—its love of money and power, its fine contempt for grassroots beliefs and sensibilities. Over the years I have come to understand that those who run the GOP would rather control the party machinery than win elections. In campaign after campaign, fellow Republicans rather than liberal Democrats have provided the most formidable obstacles to conservative victories.

In 1962, it was the country-club crowd in South Carolina. They wanted seats at the 1964 National Convention and thus were unwilling to bring new activists into the Party, for fear they would want to hang around after the election. In 1980, it was the Texas Republican establishment sulking over Ronald Reagan’s primary defeat of George Bush that dragged its feet during the general election and then used its connections with James Baker III to block the appointment of Reagan’s supporters to government posts. In 1986, it was Haley Barbour’s office in the Reagan White House that withheld crucial support from Republican Larry Cobb in his attempt to unseat veteran New Dealer Jamie Whitten.

In those days, with Ronald Reagan leading the conservative wing of the Party, there was good reason to support the Republican cause, despite its often devious and unprincipled leadership. Today there is almost no reason to be a Republican. The Party is once again completely in the hands of the big-money crowd. They are increasingly arrogant in dealing with their recent historical constituency—middle-income, God-fearing family folks. For years GOP big-wigs have swaggered around Washington, dismissing the legitimate petitions of these good people, laughing at their naivete, saying to one another, “We don’t have to give them anything. They’ve got no other place to go.” And when candidates rise up to speak for this forlorn constituency—which gave George Bush the bulk of his support in 1988—the Republican hierarchy calls them extremists and says they are outside the Party’s mainstream. In this fashion they dismissed Pat Buchanan in 1992 and even blamed him for Bush’s defeat, despite the fact that Christian evangelicals deserted the Party in huge numbers because they didn’t hear enough of the rhetoric Buchanan was using.