Bold Prediction: Republican party will split
Why do I think this? Two things are prompting me. The first is the special election in New York's 23rd congressional district:
A three-way Congressional race in upstate New York has become the stage for a national political battle between establishment Republicans and grassroots conservatives. The outcome could foretell the GOP's near future as it struggles to find itself. The National Republican Committee and party leaders such as as Newt Gingrich have officially endorsed Dede Scozzafava, a moderate Republican. But bloggers, grassroots organizers, and now party luminaries such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have lined up behind Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party nominee.When you have many prominent national Republicans spurning their own party's nominee and endorsing a candidate further to the right, you have a recipe for a major schism. I guess Reagan's 11th commandment, "Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican." is not binding on the current right wing grassroots, as much as they idolize him.
The second sign of GOP schism that I've noticed is that fact that Newt Gingrich, once the standard-bearer for right-wing movement conservatives, is now being denounced as not conservative enough by various right-wing pundits. When Newt Gingrich is too cozy with liberals for your taste, I think you have little choice but to go off and form your own little club outside the current GOP.
It seems the right-wing base would prefer and ideologically purer party, electoral consequences (outside certain geographic regions) be damned. I'd really hate to be a Republican strategist these days. Yes, they may very well pick up some seats in the 2010 midterms. But the basic problem seems to be that for much of the country, anyone right-wing enough to make it through a Republican primary is way too right-wing to win a general election.
I see a several possible scenarios unfolding over the next several years:
- With the current GOP coalition split between the old GOP party and the new conservative party (whatever that turns out to be), the Democrats increase their majorities in congress and hold on to the presidency. National politics becomes even more a one-party affair than it currently is. This would be good for progressives in the short term, but without a meaningful opposition holding them to task, the Democratic party would get flabby and self-serving pretty quickly (or rather, get more flabby and self-serving)/
- The GOP scrambles rightward to keep the right-wingers from breaking off. This leads to a gradual erosion of GOP power as demographics and changing social mores make them less and less appealing. Results similar to #1, above, but an intact GOP maintains a hold rural areas and the Deep South, at least for a while. This is the strategy they seem to be currently pursuing.
- The right flank of the GOP breaks off and forms its own party or takes over the Conservative Party. The GOP moderates use this opportunity to move left, and recapture many independents and conservative Democrats. If the three parties balance out at something like 45% Democrat, 30% Republican, 25% (right-wing), this would actually give the Republicans a lot of power: they could be the swing votes in Congress that the Democrats and right-wing fight over. The center of political gravity might shift, depending on how the alliances played out.
- The GOP abandons its right flank and remakes itself to be more appealing, modeling itself on the British Conservative Party. The right-wing is left howling in the political wilderness (possibly leading to an increase in right-wing domestic terrorism). A political equilibrium between Democrats and Republicans gradually re-asserts itself, but this equilibrium is a good deal further to the left than the current equilibrium. The emergence of a reasonable conservative party in America is Andrew Sullivan's fondest wish, but he doesn't see signs of it happening yet.
- Some GOP evil genius figures out how to make American-style right-wing politics appealing to non-whites. The GOP comes surging back. At some point, this will probably happen, but my guess is it will be at least a few decades before the link between right-wing politics and white superiority has faded enough for large enough numbers of non-whites to feel comfortable joining a right-wing coalition. But who knows?