In recent polls of the Republican presidential hopefuls, former neurosurgeon, Ben Carson has taken the lead both in Iowa and nationally over big mouth, Donald Trump. Mr. Carson has continued to rise in popularity in recent months. With the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, the Republican Party, either consciously or subconsciously decided to feature or tolerate minorities on its presidential nomination list. During the 2012 presidential season, it was Herman Cain, who at one point led in the polls of presidential contenders. Even though, the Tea Party rose to prominence during the Obama administration, the fact that Republicans were forced to tolerate an African American as their possible presidential nominee is a testament to the effectiveness of his leadership.
After almost seven years as president, one of the many qualities that president Obama is admired for, is his cool and calm demeanor in the way he approaches issues of governance. Even his avowed enemies will stipulate to that. Therefore, it comes as a surprise that the most redeeming quality ascribed to Ben Carson for his rise in the polls and popularity this election season is the fact that he is reportedly “soft spoken”. Given the stiff opposition from conservatives, that is a huge surprise. (Although, someone should explain to them that there is a world of difference between being “cool and calm” and “soft spoken”, not to mention the huge political and philosophical chasm between the two). Having said that, how is it possible that the very quality for which the Republicans mock and ridicule Obama; calling him “weak” and creating a narrative of him as “leading from behind”, how was that the same reason their base voters use in choosing their favorite candidate? Did I miss something here? Are Republicans and conservatives in general secret admirers of Obama, but just won’t admit to it? This is the second political season with the same phenomena. Is this just a mere coincidence? I think not!
This, however, is nothing compared to the huge effect the president’s leadership has had on the conservative movement in general. With all the goodwill and feelings of political accomplishment achieved by the election of Barack Obama in 2008, it did not take long for conservatives to turn against the new president. The opposition started almost immediately after his inauguration. In fact, it was reported that the Republican Party held a strategy meeting as he was taking the Oath of office on January 20th, 2009. In that strategy meeting on inauguration day, they unanimously decided that they would make him a one-term president. With each successive issue and/or legislation, the opposition became louder and louder. Despite the fact that the nation was losing about 800,000 jobs per month, after the previous Republican president, George W. Bush ran the economy into the ground, the GOP and its base were not willing to cooperate with the new president to enact policies aimed at stabilizing the economy. When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed the House of Representatives few days after he took office, not one Republican voted for it even though democrats dropped some of their proposals to accommodate Republican demands. They were instead content with strident opposition, sitting back in the hope that he will fail.
As the president successfully led the country from the brink of financial disaster to an improving economy, Republicans and conservatives in general became entrenched in their opposition. The more they tried by vilifying him, the more the cool and calm president continued with his steady leadership, notching successes upon successes. Now that a black man is at the top of the nation’s political leadership, it seems as if the Republican base voters felt relieved to let out their feelings even if it’s explicitly racist in nature. They were quite comfortable calling the president all sorts of names including but not limited to racist tirades, caricatures and xenophobia. Some even compared him to Hitler. As they grow unrestrained in their opposition, they demand that their leadership do the same against the president, i.e. opposition at all cost. Even when he conceded to their demands or adopts the positions they’ve advocated for years, they would often reject his conciliatory gesture in deference to the request and cravings of their base.
These unprincipled politicians kept promising their base that if only they controlled one or more of the legislative branch of government, then they will stop the “Obama agenda”. In 2010, they got their first wish when they won a majority in the House of Representatives and took over control of the House of Representatives. Even then, they could not accomplish anything substantive other than to threaten shutdown of the government and came within hours of letting the country default on its debts. This resulted in the downgrade of the country’s credit worthiness for the first time in history in addition to the loss of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs in 2011. Two years later, they were back at it and this time, they actually succeeded in shutting down the government for 16 days. Despite all the hardships and losses, they really did not care even though the public blamed them for the shutdown. The reason they gave to their base for yet another failure to achieve their impossible goals was that the Senate was still controlled by the Democrats. In the 2014 election, they got their wish when they took over the senate. But yet again, they were not able to affect any meaningful legislative changes. Sure, they voted more than 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act aka “Obamacare” but, they know that was pure fantasy, as long as Mr. Obama remains the president.
In the end, what the GOP and conservatives in general got for their rabid and pointless opposition to the Obama administration is the abandonment of their core principles and are now at the threshold of destroying their movement. To understand the extent of the disarray the movement is in, one only has to look at what’s going on in their current presidential race for the 2016 election. The conservative base has completely turned against the establishment. For years, the “grownups” in the party have failed to live by their core principles. Instead, they have pandered to the extreme members of the base who revels in racist, anti-immigration, anti-abortion, nativist and homophobic fears. These leaders knew the country is changing and that, what their base is clamoring for is no longer the prevailing sentiments in the country. Yet, they went along and continue to promise the delivery of an agenda that’s no longer feasible and/or workable for the country. Now, their base voters are mad as hell and wants anyone associated with their establishment out of office. They do not care whether or not you know what you are talking about (i.e Trump, Carson & Fiorina) as long as you are a political outsider. They do not even care if you make sense so long as you publicly advocate what they want to hear and more importantly, bash, demean and insult president Obama. That is how Ben Carson and Donald Trump came to prominence.
This dysfunction within the GOP ranks has even spilled over to the leadership election in the House. GOP members who were elected in the wave of gerrymandered elections in 2010 – 2014 were emboldened to challenge House rules and stake out opposition to their leadership. This led to the resignation of Speaker Boehner in early October with members of the House Freedom Caucus rejoicing and taking credit for that accomplishment. In the ensuing election to replace the speaker, the Freedom Caucus again refused to accept or support the House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, who was in line for succession to the speakership. Among their reasons for not supporting him, is that he is not conservative enough and hence, does not meet their requirements. In order to get their votes, the now newly elected speaker, Paul Ryan had to make several promises to this extremist minority group within their caucus, including the fact that he will not advance immigration legislation, even though polls show that a majority of the nation wants the legislation passed.
And the dysfunction does not stop there. Just this weekend, all but one of the 15 remaining presidential candidates held a meeting to discuss how to rewrite their debate criteria, claiming the national Republican committee had not done a good job. Their complaint stems from last week’s CNBC debate where they all banded together in attacking the media. Some, like Ted Cruz, refused to answer question posed to him and instead choose to bash the moderators and the media for asking them “gotcha” questions. (Far be it for me to defend the media. I am one of those who beat up on them because I believe they are in it for the money and not for the mandate that their role requires). But the Republicans have it backwards. In this case, the problem is not with the media, it lies with the Republican candidates themselves. With the support of their credulous base voters, these men and woman have a problem with the truth. Their pronouncements are without any foundation in truth. They have learned to speak in sound bites without providing any detail to support their claims. Thus, when seasoned journalists for once tried to hold them to account, they went to their playbook of always blaming the media. That usually gets them applause from the partisan audience, but it will never win them anything. They should ask Gingrich how that strategy worked out for him during the last election.
As a result of what they collectively see as “liberal” media bias, they have now advanced several demands which the host network must agree to else they will not participate in the debate. Forget the absurdities inherent in their demand (which is akin to an interviewee demanding to pick the questions he/she should be asked in order to gain employment), this just goes to show the extent to which the Republican establishment has lost control of the party. Not only do they not know or articulate what the party stands for anymore, they have lost their base voters. If you do not have the pulse of what your base wants or how they will vote, how can you champion or advocate what kind of leader they should support, talk less of that leader winning the election. Now, however, they do not even have control of the one thing they are supposed to be managing in order to have a fighting chance at winning the next election – the presidential nomination process. And all of this started because they do not like Mr. Obama, at least publicly, and wanted to make sure he is a one-time president. Clearly, it’s been one failure after failure of the movement’s quest to achieve its stated goals.
As a progressive, I applaud the mismanagement and the wanton partisanship of the Republican establishment. I also applaud their base voters for veering too far to the right and pulling their leaders along with them. For as long as they continue in their rabid and senseless opposition, they will continue to pave the way for common sense progressive ideas that majority of this nation stands for. History should have been a guide for these wingnuts. But conservatives in general are not good students of history. And as the saying goes, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.