Washington Watch: The Republican Party at war

Republicans are trying to reach out to Hispanics, who voted more than 70 percent Democratic last year, but that didn’t stop one of their senior House members from calling them “wetbacks.”

Republicans (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Timing is everything in politics. Republicans are trying to reach out to Hispanics, who voted more than 70 percent Democratic last year, but that didn’t stop one of their senior House members from calling them “wetbacks.” Speaker John Boehner moved quickly last week to staunch the bleeding caused by Rep. Don Young (R Alaska), who needed two attempts before he could come up with an apology.
It’s a setback for a party trying to embrace immigration reform as a path out of its problems with minority voters who were stung by Mitt Romney’s “self deportation” solution. The hard-right base opposes pathways to citizenship such as amnesty and many see immigrants as an invading horde of criminals who steal jobs, get free health care, pay no taxes and flood our schools.
That wing has repeatedly demonstrated the power to intimidate the GOP mainstream, and is expected to do the same on the policy changes party leaders consider critical to reversing the GOP’s sharp decline among Latino and other minority voters.
It reminds me of something Ronald Reagan once said about his party: “Sometimes our right hand doesn’t know what our far right hand is doing.” A Gallup poll released Monday said one thing Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree on is that the GOP is inflexible.
Another recent poll showed the children of baby boomers are more liberal than their parents on questions of immigration, gun control, gay rights, abortion and the role of government.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said the GOP has to “stop being the stupid party.”
Shortly afterward the Republican National Committee came out with its “autopsy” of the death of its hopes for victory in 2012, and it came to the brain-dead conclusion that the road to resurrection requires better salesmen, not better ideas. That brought joy to the hearts of many Democrats.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) wants to rebrand the party by taking off some of the sharp edges in the hope of making its policies more palatable. He told a conservative think tank that the new message should be about “creating the conditions for health, happiness and prosperity” instead of tax deductions, spending freezes and fiscal cliffs. It sounds like old wine in a new decanter.
He said, “Loopholes are no more defensible than wasteful spending,” but continues opposing Democratic efforts to close tax loopholes favoring the rich; instead Cantor & Co. are focusing on cutting Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, health care, transportation, scientific research and education.
Whatever the rationale, slashing the social safety net while protecting the privileged is a big reason why Jews and many other Americans will continue to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The Republican campaign focus on Israel has less to do with the survival and security of the Jewish state than with the paucity of party appeal to Jewish voters. It works well with wealthy Jewish contributors, but not with voters. I have no doubt that if Mitt Romney took the identical positions he did on Israel last year, but ran as a Democrat he would have been as viciously attacked by the same Republicans who tried – unsuccessfully – to tar Barack Obama as a mortal danger to the Jewish state.
The GOP wants to be a bigtent party, but so far it is a tent for mostly middle class white Christian guys. The party’s representation in Congress includes one African- American (Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who was appointed), one non-Christian (Cantor); no uncloseted gays or lesbians. Democrats count 12 Jewish senators, 21 representatives; one Buddhist senator, and one Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim each in the House. There are six openly gay or lesbian House members and one senator on the Democratic side.
While most Americans support same-sex marriage, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has been a rare Republican willing to take that position publicly.
Many are said to privately agree, but to fear retaliation from the party’s far right.
Groups like the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund have indicated they will mount primary challenges targeting Republican incumbents they don’t consider conservative enough, as they did last year.
Such a threat is believed to be the main reason Sen. Saxbe Chambliss (R-Georgia) decided not to run again this year; among the first to jump into that race is Rep. Paul Broun, who has called the theory of evolution “lies straight from the pit of hell.” Radical conservative candidates in the past two elections, notably in Nevada, Delaware, Indiana and Missouri, not only lost Senate seats Republicans expected to win, but had a ripple effect across the country by helping Democrats portray the GOP as a bunch of lunatic extremists.
A big problem facing the GOP today is the chasm between the establishment and the insurgents. The tea party movement is the tail that wags the Republican dog.
The mainstream GOP is intimidated by radical conservative ideologues who are keeping the party out of step with the majority of Americans on issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and immigration.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush said many people see the GOP as “anti-immigrant, antiwoman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker.”
GOP parochialism may be a result of the party’s “proximity problem,” Charles Blow wrote this week in The New York Times. “Too many House Republican districts are isolated in naturally homogeneous areas or gerrymandered ghettos, so elected officials there rarely hear – or see – the great and growing diversity of this country.”
While the GOP establishment argues that changing times require changing policies such as a more libertarian approach on social issues, staunch religious and cultural conservatives like previous presidential contenders Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Gary Bauer argue that Republicans lost the White House because their candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, were not conservative enough and the path to power requires moving farther right.
That may help keep the social and cultural conservative base voting Republican, but it will also keep Jews solidly in the Democratic camp. And it may keep the White House in Democratic hands for years to come.
©2013 Douglas M. Bloomfield [email protected] www.thejewishweek.com/blog s/douglas–bloomfield