Why Winning a Caucus in Iowa is a Loss Nationally

Iowa 2012: Crazy is as crazy does

You see this statement a lot on the conservative blogosphere, forms and comments, that the Democratic Party won’t let anyone challenge Obama, even though a December CNN poll found that overall 81% of those surveyed thought that the Democratic Party should nominate Obama again. The truth is, this time around at least, there is no viable candidate other than Obama. And those not entirely satisfied with Obama can take heart that by the time his second term is over, Elizabeth Warren will be there.

What all these arm-chair pundits ignore is that their own party has NO viable candidates. Not one. They’re all extremist lunatics who stand condemned by their own rhetoric. And deep down, though they may misrepresent or misunderstand the reasons, they seem to know it. They are always looking for the next “hero” to enter the race, from Perry (who did) to Christie (who didn’t) and for some of them, Sarah Palin, who still hasn’t and probably won’t because she’d have less time to coiffe. They are on a never-ending search for The One who can defeat Obama. But there is nobody who can do that.

Sure, the Christian extremists love Iowa. But the extremism of 2012 is not the extremism of 2010. The Tea Partiers adopted the cry of “taking the country back” and fiscal conservatism and deregulation figured heavily in their narrative. But in 2012, fiscal conservatism and deregulation, while still important buzz-words, have taken a back seat to Christian conservatism and the Tea Party itself has become closely identified with these religious extremists.

The obvious problem for the GOP is that while this may sell to their base, it horrifies liberal and progressives and turns independents off. It even turns off their more moderate elements, few as those are. There is a reason younger people are leaving the conservative religious fold. Even the fiscal conservatism has turned off some Republicans in Congress; what makes anyone think religious conservatism is going to sell?

Pundits have argued that Obama’s blatant partisanship in his ongoing war with Congressional Republicans will turn off independents but it’s difficult to imagine it being a bigger turn off than the specter of theocracy. That’s something the MSM doesn’t like to muse about.  They want America to see viable mainstream candidates instead. Their corporate attention is focused on exploring the “manifest failings” of our first black President and ways in which he might leave himself open to defeat.

It may seem strange to be hearing that the Republican Party in 2012, after winning many upsets in 2010 is not a viable major political party, but by embracing extremism, that is exactly what the Republican Party has accomplished. It has become a party where lunacy sells and the greater the lunacy the greater the sales. Just look at a few quick examples:

Ron Paul is excited about having the support of a pastor who wants to execute homosexuals and Rick Perry wants to predator-drone the Mexican border. Ron Paul says people who are sexually harassed at work should quit and has now gone even further, saying sexual harassment shouldn’t be illegal in the first place (think of how much effect that would have had on Cain’s campaign) as well as claiming that AIDS victims brought it on themselves. Mitt Romney has shown he has no position he is not willing to reverse (and Republicans have noticed, calling him a “liberal leopard”). And we all remember Herman Cain’s alligator-filled moat, Great Wall and electrified fence (he probably wishes he had thought of the predator drones). Gingrich wants to be president but says he doesn’t do foreign policy (he hardly seems alone in this), says he will arrest federal judges who disagree with him, plans to wage war on everyone who isn’t a conservative Christian, and wants to put poor children to work cleaning for their betters. Michele Bachmann’s extreme positions are too well known to need repeating here (a quick run-down) and I won’t even get into the conspiracy theories that actually threaten our entire species.

That Republicans love this stuff is no surprise (probably Freud would too). But this isn’t the kind of stuff that sells people who have all their marbles. There has never in American history been such a collection of kooky, extremist positions in politics – at least not since the Puritans arrived in the New World. That was a truly disturbing bunch but the GOP of today is giving them a run for their money.

It will be interesting to watch this campaign, which since its inception has been about catering to religious extremists, morph into something more broad-based, if that’s even possible. The dimensions of the tent were preset and after spending years excluding everybody but White Evangelicals it’s difficult to imagine successfully attracting anyone else. Look at Rick Perry’s The Response, and how it catered to the dominionists of the New Apostolic Reformation; they weren’t shy about letting America know that their religion and their politics were only for those who followed Jesus in a very specific way (one most Christians would find truly bizarre, which is why most Christians won’t find out if the MSM can help it).

So Republicans have excluded all but extremist Christians. They can already count out the black vote and the Latino vote – and it goes without saying, the gay vote (Gingrich has essentially told gays to not vote for him). Republicans seem to believe their “Israel First” platform guarantees Jewish support but Jewish Americans realize they are Americans – not Israelis – first, and continue to support Obama, who got 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008.

Here is what Republicans don’t understand about democracy: A viable candidate must be able to appeal to more than his or her base. While poll numbers can go up and down, sometimes drastically in a short period of time (as when Obama’s numbers surged 12 points in less than two weeks at the end of December), it is difficult to imagine the ideologically hide-bound Republicans somehow finding a way to appeal to all the various demographics they have spent the past three years offending.

The GOP seems literally to be aiming for Santorum’s fabled “constituency of one.” They have been trapped by their own narrative. If they are the only “real” Americans, who else will vote for them,? And what effect will an extremely distorted Iowa Caucus have on the GOP field? It is certain that the most extreme will win, but the most extreme will be the candidate with the least broad appeal nationally.

So as Tuesday approaches, liberals may rightly discount the Iowa Caucus but Republicans seem to place great store in it, even though the results are skewed. As Gail Collins wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “On Tuesday, there will be a contest to select the preferred candidate of a small group of people who are older, wealthier and whiter than American voters in general, and more politically extreme than the average Iowa Republican.” A strategy centered on catering to such a narrow demographic seems odd from the outside looking in but Republicans could hardly do otherwise at this point. While it seems shocking to say candidates who don’t finish in the top three under such conditions “may be forced to re-evaluate their campaigns,” perhaps we should be happy for the winnowing. At least some of them might shut up.

But let’s face the facts: a party that supports the interests of the 1% while discounting the 99% generally, or only about 25 percent religiously, is setting itself up for trouble even without the extremist religious rhetoric. If the Republicans want a viable candidate, they will have to find somebody who avoids both those pitfalls. The only problem with such a candidate is that no Republican would vote for him. Look at the fate of Jon Huntsman, who by no means liberal, was far too pragmatic for the politico-religious fanatics who make up the base.  In the end, though the Democrats may have nobody but Obama, the Republicans have nobody at all. And that’s no less than they deserve.

Photo from The Guardian

Comments are off for this post