Easy Chair — From the January 2014 issue

Donkey Business

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That the Republican Party has worked its way to a lonely and unpopular place is not news. The G.O.P.’s congressional wing has been moving rightward since the 1980s, and in the five years of the present slump they have simply picked up the pace. Once they dealt in unpopular privatization schemes, but today they have graduated to extremely unpopular shutdowns and threats of default, and those among them who hesitate are thrown to the ravening mob. Red is the color of revolution, and today the G.O.P. suffers under its own peculiar Reign of Terror, in which newly arisen extremists continuously outflank the extremists of yesterday — and public opinion be damned.

As sheer spectacle, this Tea Party Thermidor inspires a certain fascination and even amusement in the observer. But the larger question always returns: Why haven’t Democrats made the G.O.P. pay for its widely despised views? Why aren’t they threatening to run up monster victories in even the safest red districts? What combination of incompetence and bad luck allowed the party of Roosevelt to fumble away the House of Representatives in the third year of an economic crisis — and then to keep on losing it even as its standard-bearing president was reelected by a substantial margin?

Let’s find out.

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  • George

    Progressive action need not be limited to promoting electoral success for Democrats. Driving the far right out of the Republican Party and thus out of Congress might very well result in as much of a leftward shift in the center of the body politic as would electing a slew of moderate Democrats.

    Thomas Frank discounts gerrymandering as an explanation of Republican electoral success. But, in districts where Republican majorities assure Republican victory, the only election that matters is the Republican primary. And, it is success in these primaries that explains the ability of the small far right minority of the total electorate to command as many seats as it does in Congress.

    If in districts gerrymandered to favor the election of Republican candidates, Democrats, progressive and otherwise, were to switch registration and vote in the Republican primaries, though a minority of the total electorate in the district, they could very well swamp the far right Tea Party voters. Progressives, ex-Democrats registered as Republicans, and Independents switching to Republican registration in order to have a chance to vote in the primary would most likely support left-of-far-right, centrist, or even the rare progressive Republican against Tea Party candidates. If this strategy were to succeed, the electorate would have a choice in the general election between a Democrat and a Republican both of whom be left of the Tea Party.

    Tea Party activists might very well withdraw their support from the Republican candidate in such a general election leading to election of a Democrat. But, even if Tea Party voters hang in and support a Republican who does not meet their standard of far right rectitude, the Republican victor would still be left-of-far-right and the Tea Party influence on Congress reduced. Either way, it is a win for those who wish to move the body politic to the left.

    Eventually, it seems sensible to expect, moving the Republican Party to the left will move the Democratic Party to left and will end up strengthening the progressive movement. Eventually, progressives can also hope that Tea Party rightists will withdraw from the Republican party in frustration and in the last act of their suicidal political drama, form a very short lived third party.

    • chromehawk

      YOu could save all this malarky and just support “Blanket primaries”. Top two vote getters move to the General election.

      This is what happens in Washnigton State and California. California of course only since 2012.
      You get an interesting result from this.
      Tea Party stalwarts worked hard to get their candidate Didier up for election. In a normal primary, Rossi would not have a chance to win the primary.
      But he came in second overall. And you had moderate Democrat vs. Patty Murray. And Rossi cxame close to winning.

      Or California … when Swallwell ( D ) challnged long-time incumbent Pete ( moderates are brain dead ) Stark. ANd beat him running away.

      Blanket primaries will end the tea party challange.
      Of course — like Swallwell vs. STark shows — they will crush the Progressives too.

      BTW : Count on this. Barbara Boxer will be announcing her retirement in 2015. She is despised in California and can only win against ultra-conservatives. That is why she spent more money in 2004 on the Republican pimary than she spent on the general election. No way did she want to face Rosario Marin! A pro-choice, latina Republican? no way.

      But with a blanket primary — she will be facing that or else be facng a moderate Blue-DOg Democrat. And will get trounced.

  • AlecDumas

    Thank you Mr. Frank. You’ve summed up my essential frustration with this administration and party: they just seem to settle. Allowing five years to elapse while federal judgeships remain unfilled. A DNC that has conceded the majority of governorships and state legislatures to the GOP. And as you state eloquently, on issue after issue, the party either presumes that the views of republican voters are written in stone and unmovable, or else are waiting for some magical demographic shift that will wipe away all opposition as a breeze displaces morning mist.

  • Orel Hazard

    “I’ve started to think that the main reason lefties join social movements is in order to kick everyone else out of them.”

    What? Social movements such as…?

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