George Will this week in Newsweek offers a survey of the decline of mainstream Republicans. Republican candidates already too conservative to be relevant in a newly cautious Washington are being ousted in primary fights by local party activists in Utah, Indiana, Florida, and possibly Kentucky and Colorado. Will can’t decide whether this shift represents the end of the Republican party as a serious political force, or just a new political seriousness among Republicans.
The “higher-octane” conservatives that Will says the Republicans’ current leanings favor are not really conservatives at all, unfortunately, but social reformers who want to use the federal government’s military and police power to overthrow American culture and replace it with a new nation most Americans would scarcely recognize. In the new Republican America, individual freedom and responsibility would be a distant memory, and the police would be called in, as in China, to shut down small or startup businesses that seemed to pose a threat to established big businesses.
If George Will is alarmed by what the social activism trend among Republicans is doing to the Republican party, then there is little hope of pulling the party together in the near term. The idea of overthrowing the government might play well to one half of Republicans, but it is important to remember that the Republican party now holds between one fifth and one fourth of likely voters, not enough to do much on their own. The “new American revolution” rhetoric will not do much to get the other half of the Republican party out to the polls, and is more likely to frighten than rally independent voters. In actual conservative states, such as Kentucky and Indiana, voters approach the idea of change cautiously and independents outnumber Republicans. The “my way or the highway” attitude among the social activist wing of the Republican party virtually guarantees sweeping losses among Republicans in those states.
All this is happening at the same time that long-term demographic trends work against Republicans in every state, to the extent of about 1/2 percent every two years. Half a percent doesn’t seem like much till you look at the number of races decided by a half-percent margin. The members-only approach of the McCain-Palin campaign rallies did nothing to broaden the party’s appeal, and the indifference to public opinion shown by the new wave of Republican candidates will probably not do much better.