The GOP's (not so) Big Tent

Is the Republican party tottering toward defeat? Like picky buyers in a down housing market, bloggers are ignoring the fresh paint and focusing only on the cracks in the GOP's foundation: its kiss-off of minority voters, the waning devotion of business, and the threatened walkout by Christian conservatives.

The left blogosphere seethed at the decision of the top four Republican candidates — Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and Thompson — to duck the Sept. 27 debate on minority issues sponsored by PBS at Morgan State University.

"Couldn't Rudy, John, Mitt and Fred muster up the courage to actually show up in a room that had a bunch of black and brown people in it?" asks Zola Jones at Everyday Citizen. "One in every three of us is brown, black or tan. ... So, tell me, what country do those top dog Republican boys think they're living in, anyway?"

Where some see cowardice, others on the right see an astute calculation. "It makes far more sense for the major candidates to devote more time in the primary season to appear in front of groups that represent parts of their own base," Robert A. George argues at Ragged Thots. "There's no reason for Republicans to change their presidential campaigning behavior until they see a change in black voting patterns."

Thomas Edsall at Huffington Post doesn't buy it. Pointing out that George Bush's stronger showing with Hispanic voters provided his margin of victory over John Kerry in 2004, he judges the GOP candidates' embrace of the party's nativists an act of suicide. "In 2000 — the last contested fight for the GOP nomination — it would have been inconceivable that the candidates would have turned down a debate on Univision, the largest Spanish language television network in the country. This year, with the exception of John McCain, they did."

Historian Rick Perlstein argues that what happened at Morgan State is bred in the bone of the modern conservative movement. Barry Goldwater, he reminds us, was the second choice of the movement's leaders to be their presidential candidate. Their favorite was Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, who deployed the National Guard 40 years ago to keep nine black children out of Little Rock Central High School. "The conservative line is unbroken and continuous: racists and their enablers then; racists and their enablers now."

Steve Benen at the Carpetbagger Report sees a relationship between two other recent bad signs for the Republican party: the shift of business support away from the GOP and the Sept. 29 meeting where the politburo of the Christian right threatened to Naderize the Republicans in 2008 if Rudy Giuliani, insufficiently ardent on abortion, wins the nomination.

The GOP, Benen argues, has failed to deliver on the top priorities of either business or social conservatives: fiscal discipline, competent business-like government, or action against abortion, homosexuality, and secularism. "So, what we're left with is a party made up of two disparate coalitions, both of which feel let down, betrayed, and ignored."

Andrew Sullivan, the gay Catholic conservative blogging at The Atlantic, is hoping that the Christianist talk of a third party actually leads to divorce. "If these religious fanatics can be forced out of the party at least temporarily, there's a chance their influence can be restrained for longer."

Many bloggers see the threat as a bluff by a movement whose clout is fading. John Hinderaker at Powerline argues that it's silly to think a third party defection would make a dent in the Republican vote. Ed Morrissey writes that a revolt by the Christian right would hurt them twice over: by electing Hillary Clinton and destroying their power.

Such rational arguments may ignore how much politics is about respect. Why should evangelical Christians abandon the Republican party in 2008? "So they will be taken seriously in 2010," Roci writes at Rocinante's Burden. Or as Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Christian Association, tells Iowa Independent, "I think a lot of our base would rather wander in the wilderness for eight to 12 years than to vote for [Giuliani]. A Clinton presidency wouldn't be a good thing, but it would mobilize the Republican party and would eventually lead to the election of a lot more Republicans."

Perhaps. But when I hear intra-party bickering over political purity, I always remember the Anti-Masons.

Born in western New York's "burned-over district" in the late 1820s during the second awakening of evangelical Protestant zeal, and dedicated to combatting the political and social influence of Freemasonry, the Anti-Masonic Party held America's first presidential nominating convention in 1831. The delegates picked as their standard bearer William Wirt — Virginian, longest-serving U.S. attorney general, and former member and unrepentant defender of the Masons.

Long before America had football coaches and pep talks, it had politicians who knew that winning is the only thing.