Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The GOP weighs its options

The sun rose this morning in the eastern time zones of the United States and set in the West, regular as clockwork, reliable as the tides. But in the political world in Washington, there’s been evidence of a change in the tidal gravity ruling the Republican Party. The elephant may be morphing into a creature we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.

On Tuesday, Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona whose full-throated defense of the most divisive immigration control law in the country endeared her to the conservative right, vetoes a bill from the legislature, a birther-inspired piece of legislation that would have required every presidential candidate campaigning in the state to show their birth certificates.

“This is a bridge too far,” Brewer said in rebuking her own Republican supporters. “This measure creates significant new problems while failing to do anything constructive for Arizona,” said the governor, who a day earlier vetoed legislation that would have permitted carrying guns on college campuses. The right to bear arms — conservative holy of holies — rejected by one of their own.

In an interview with ABC News, Tea Party darling Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann broke philosophical ranks with the TP crowd she once championed, debunking in fairly conclusive terms the conservative extremist suspicions of President Obama’s place of birth. “That is not the main issue facing the United States right now,” she said.

And in a spirited town hall meeting in Milton, Wisc., earlier this week, GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was pummeled by his own constituents when he attempted to defend his Path to Prosperity budget blueprint. An auditorium crowded with conservative everyday Americans who broke ranks with leadership, soundly rejecting one of their own, in a raucous display of populism.

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This is not the bizzarro world; this is, or what looks like, an unlikely burst of political pragmatism on the part of Republican lawmakers and their rank and file. For a moment, if only for a moment, some highly visible members of the GOP have pivoted toward a startling centrism on matters of public policy and their own identity in the public eye.

This rush to practicality spells the end of two things: If it goes on, it could end the reflexively doctrinaire positions of some in the Republican leadership, as possible presidential hopefuls from the party begin to make the slow but necessary transition toward a wider electability.

And by extension, the new pragmatism of at least some on the political right signals what we’ve known was coming: as a functioning variant of its forebear, the Republican Party, the Tea Party has outlived its usefulness as a means to a political end.

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There are other signs that conservatives are beginning to realize both the futility of their style of politics, and the impracticality of the bedrock precepts of the modern GOP.

Glenn Beck, the right-wing wind machine and publishing industry, was jettisoned from his prime-time show on the Fox News Channel, after hundreds of advertisers jumped ship. He may have a future role at the network, but for now Beck’s lost that bully TV pulpit of a spot in the national conversation.

In a new McClatchy-Marist poll, when Tea Party supporters were asked if Medicare should be cut, 70 percent said no. In other polls, when conservative and independent voters were asked if taxes should be raised on those earning more than $250,000 a year, majorities supported doing just that — consistent with the long-held position by Democrats.

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It’d be a mistake, of course, to think this means the conservatives and extremists who’ve villainized the president and compromised his integrity, his manhood and even his birth have all had a full-on come-to-Jesus moment. There’s no reason to believe they won’t revert to type again. An animal is never so dangerous as when it’s fighting for its life. Sarah Palin remains at large.

But something's up. There are suggestions that now — in a nation undergoing dramatic demographic change, months before the start of another presidential campaign season, with no clear serious frontrunner to get excited about, with identity issues that badly need to be resolved before that campaign season can possibly get under way — the Republicans are exploring their options.

On available evidence, one of those options appears to be a willingness to dial back on the zero-sum-game, all-or-nothing brand of politics that has characterized the party identity for generations — the better to make the Republicans palatable, if not electable, for a wider segment of the American people next year and beyond.

Image credits: Brewer: via Talking Points Memo. Beck: Fox News.

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