Wingnut Watch: Ideology Versus Electability
Up until now, the right-wing conquest of the Republican Party that reached critical mass immediately after Barack Obama’s election in 2008 has not involved a lot of soul-searching questions about the relative value of ideology and “electability.” Indeed, it’s been an article of faith on the right—for some dating all the way back to Phyllis Schlafly’s 1964 book A Choice Not An Echo—that insufficient ideological rigor was precisely the reason for the GOP’s electoral problems. And nothing much has happened since the beginning of 2009, when the GOP made the unusual decision to move away from the political center after two straight electoral debacles, to disabuse them of the idea that they would be rewarded at the ballot box for fully indulging their ideological appetites and thrilling the conservative activist base.
That may be about to change. The House Republicans’ rejection of a two-month stopgap agreement to preserve a payroll tax cut and extend unemployment benefits has finally earned the Tea Party Movement full blame for gridlock and dysfunction in Congress (an institution whose approval rating dropped to 11 percent last week according to Gallup). Opinion surveys indicate that the deeply satisfying sabotage game (i.e., deliberately screwing up the operations of the federal government and then benefitting from public disgruntlement with the competence of said federal government) conservatives have been playing may be coming to an end as Republicans become more firmly identified with unpopular positions on spending, taxes, and the willingness to cooperate across party lines. Even the president’s approval ratings are looking better by comparison.
In other words, Republicans are at long last having to choose between ideology and popularity—or to put it another way, between the “base” and the general electorate—and the current behavior of House Republicans indicates it’s no real contest: ideology comes first.
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