Since last week's election, we're hearing a lot about the "war within the GOP". Oversimplifying a bit, it's described as the battle between the "Romney lost because he's not a true conservative" contingent and the "He lost because our shrinking base of angry white geezers forced him into adopting positions that mainstream voters reject" folks.
It's clear to most of us in the reality-based community which side has a better grip on the truth, but of course that's no guarantee that the sensible heads will prevail.
But a few things in the post-mortem analysis have pointed out an entirely separate schism that I think may be an even more important key to the future of the Republic party.
It started for me when I heard David Frum say that "Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex." Interesting notion. And it could explain why the conservative media were telling their true believers that Romney was poised to win, right up until he didn't. Keep hope alive, and you can keep the viewers and listeners tuning in, and more importantly, voting with their dollars.
But in saying it was all about "entertainment", Frum seemed to be admitting that the pillars of right-wing media cared more about cultivating an audience than they did about actually winning elections. After hearing Frum, Joe Scarborough commented "That's not an electoral strategy, that's a business strategy."
Then on Saturday's edition of his show "UP", Chris Hayes amplified the point further in his brilliant monologue about the GOP's grim prospects. The whole thing is well worth watching or reading the transcript, but here's the key excerpt (emphasis added):
The beating heart of modern conservatism is its visceral appeal to anxieties and fears of white Christians. … Once you understand this then you can see that the Republican party’s problems are deeper than, say, Republican opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, or even the far less controversial DREAM Act. That policy opposition is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. The deeper issue is that for conservative politicians and networks and websites there is simply too much to be gained by feeding the sense of persecution and siege that many white Christians feel down to their toes.Then last night on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Steve Kornacki put a bow around it with this analysis (the whole video is great; Kornacki starts about 10:25 in):
The problem is, in today's Republican universe, there are powerful incentives for opinion shapers like Limbaugh not to win elections. Rush Limbaugh did not need Mitt Romney to win in order to have influence, to have clout, and to make money, in fact, he might have more influence, more clout, more prominence, and make more money if Mitt Romney loses. And he is feeding information, creating talking points, and creating sort of the agenda for the party base. And there's this beautiful built-in excuse: it's like a "heads I win, tails you lose" thing for a guy like Limbaugh. You can run an election like this, and Romney can lose, and it can be "Well, Romney wasn't conservative enough." OR you can look at one of those races…where clearly they nominated the most conservative candidate and they still lost, then the excuse is "Well, the sellouts in the party establishment abandoned the pure conservative candidate." So either way you can feed the sense of conservative victimhood, and a guy like Limbaugh can always pit himself against the party establishment, and he…doesn't need to tell the base something that's going to win an election, he needs to tell the base something that's going to make them feel good and make them feel like they're fighting against the powerful, arrogant establishment.So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The conservative base is powered by their resentment and sense of victimhood. The conservative media gain a lot of influence and make a ton of money nurturing and feeding that sense. The victimhood is enhanced when they lose elections. Ergo, the "leaders" of the conservative movement actually have an incentive to lose elections.
Circling back to the start of this post, we can see another reason the conservative media kept telling the true believers they were about to score a great victory: losing hurts even more, and makes you feel even more victimized, if you were convinced you were going to win.
So it appears that the most important split in the Republican party isn't between the base and the moderates—it's between the party (that wants to win elections) and their media stars (who actually do better when they lose). In the contest between ideology and filthy lucre, lucre always wins (if you're a Republican).
The pundits don't seem to be too sanguine about this situation improving. Frum kind of wistfully hopes that the desire to win will infect and unite the whole movement, and Hayes says nothing's going to change until "the movement's leaders show some genuine leadership and stop cultivating their base's worst instincts."
Any bets on that happening anytime soon?