The Ever-Bolder GOP

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"The Ever-Bolder GOP"

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It seems that Republicans are feeling pretty good about themselves these days:

By citing reservations about the economic recovery package, Gregg reinforced widespread GOP criticism about wasteful spending that has less to do with reviving the economy than rewarding Democratic constituencies. And by noting his differing view on the census, Gregg breathed life into Republican charges of a White House power grab over a critical Commerce Department function.

Both issues are part of an emerging GOP case against Obama and the ruling Democratic Party: Strip away the new face, the lofty rhetoric and the promises of post-partisanship and you’ll find the same big-spending party of old, bent on politicizing government to consolidate its hold on power.

Even with the stimulus package on the verge of passing later this week, the unanimous GOP vote against the bill in the House and the near-unanimous opposition in the Senate revealed a Republican Party surprisingly united in direction and in message for perhaps the first time since losing its congressional majority in 2006.

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This reminds me of what Eve Fairbanks wrote back on February 9 when she observed that they are “completely obsessed with winning the media “cycle” and getting the sexiest, most provocative quotes on TV, an attitude that yields the kind of overblown dreck RNC chair Michael Steele is now spouting.” She traces the origins of this mentality back to the summer’s “drill baby drill” outbursts “which Republicans cite constantly as the moment that will someday be recognized as the beginning of their rebirth, their A.D. 0: They mounted a lot of antics, their brazenly hyperbolic rhetoric ended up all over the news, and a frightened Pelosi backed down.”

At the time, what Republican optimism about the drilling issue reminded me of was Republican optimism about the immigration issue. At one point, conventional wisdom held that taking a moderately pro-immigrant, pro-immigration line was necessary for a political party hoping to appeal to Hispanic voters. But the conservative base didn’t like that idea and scuttled it. These things happen. But then as more and more congressfolks got swept-up in the far-right maw, they became convinced that this bit of base pandering was going to deliver them to electoral nirvana. Then in November 2006, they took it on the chin.

Then you flash forward to 2008. At one point, conventional wisdom held that offshore drilling was a bad issue for its proponents—the only people who really cared about it were the people whose livelihoods and lifestyles would be imperiled by it—which is why even friend of the oilman George W. Bush never previously campaigned on offshore drilling. But the base wanted to drill offshore. So “drill, baby, drill” it was. And this, too, was supposed to be not just base pandering but brilliant politics. Then in November 2008, they took it on the chin.

Now they’ve convinced themselves that lockstep opposition to economic stimulus is the way to go. And the press, which mostly keeps believing that the right is politically brilliant despite two blown elections in a row, is inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. But it seems hard to figure. Here’s some Gallup numbers:

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And more:

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I’ll be the first to tell you that none of this will matter very much if the economy is in the toilet in 2012. But the fact remains that what conservatives are doing is moving in lockstep opposition to a popular initiative backed by a popular congress and a Democratic congressional leadership that, while not particular popular, is still more popular than they are. And if you think back to what serious people thought Republicans’ electoral problems were two months ago, it’s very hard to see how complaining that the stimulus bill was insufficiently weighted to corporate and capital gains tax cuts is expanding the party’s appeal to non-whites or to the younger cohort of voters or demonstrating that it’s an effective custodian of the economic interests of lower middle class traditionalists.

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