National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Republicans Cry,

It’s now less than three weeks before the historic 2006 mid-term elections and there are no signs of a momentum shift. We are now watching a gigantic train wreck unfolding in extra slow motion. As the collision approaches, you can almost hear the Republicans uttering Darth Vader’s infinitely-slow, drawn out “Noooooooooooo!"

Is there a “slaughter rule” in politics?

Of course, I’ll be accused of smugness, overconfidence and risking a fall. But this is not about bravado, it’s about the fact that if there were to be a momentum shift leading into this election, there would be indicators by now. If the earth starts to move differently even just a month before an election, it can be enough to result in a big divergence. But we’re under three weeks now, and not a scintilla of evidence yet that there can be a turnaround.

On the contrary, matters in Iraq only get worse. That’s the single biggest stain on the legacy of the party that’s had a monopoly on power in Washington since 2001. It’s a giant stain. “Out, out damned spot!” this party cries, in futility.

The GOP’s only hope at this 11th hour is that some of its deeply disappointed and disillusioned political base will “come home” at the polls. But it appears far more likely they will stay home.

The antipathy of much of the base of the GOP toward GOP-led Washington now runs very deep. It’s no longer a matter of policy differences. To more and more traditional Republicans, they’re despairing, feeling completely betrayed. Record deficits, scandals, corruption, global chaos, on and on.

An editorial carried in an influential Kansas newspaper last week illustrates the point. In 56 years, wrote Steve Rose, the chairman of the Johnson County Sun, his newspaper has almost never endorsed a Democrat in an election. “I can name on two hands over half a century the number of Democrats we have endorsed for public office,” he wrote. “This year, we will do something different.”

“I always beat up on Democrats in my columns. I have called them leftists, socialists, and every other name in the book, because I thought they were flat out wrong,” he continued. “So, what in the world has happened?”

He then answered:

“The Republican Party has changed, and it has changed monumentally.

“You almost cannot be a victorious traditional Republican candidate with mainstream values in Johnson County or Kansas anymore, because these candidates never get on the ballot in the general election. They lose in low turnout primaries, where the far right shows up to vote in disproportionate numbers.

“To win a Republican primary, the candidate must move to the right.

“What does to-the-right mean?

“It means anti-public education, though claiming to support it.

“It means weak support of our universities, while praising them.

“It means anti-stem cell research.

“It means ridiculing global warming.

“It means gay bashing. Not so much gay marriage, but just bashing gays.

“It means immigrant bashing. I’m talking about the viciousness.

“It means putting religion in public schools. Not just prayer.

“It means mocking evolution and claiming it is not science.

“It means denigrating even abstinence-based sex education.

“Note, I did not say it means ‘anti-abortion,’ because I do not find that position repugnant, at all. I respect that position.

“But everything else adds up to priorities that have nothing to do with the Republican Party I once knew.

“That’s why, in the absence of so-called traditional Republican candidates, the choice comes down to right-wing Republicans or conservative Democrats.

“And now you know why we have been forced to move left.”

This editorial is an eloquent articulation of what millions who normally vote Republican without a second thought now think. Some will mull the issues and vote for the Democrats. Some will pull the lever for Democrats in an angry act of protest. Many will simply abstain altogether and not show up.

The factor of party loyalty has vanished for all these folk. The party betrayed them, not the other way around. Betrayal is never forgiven easily, especially not without a radical change in behavior. The only way to bring that about is by forcing it at the ballot box.