To state the blindingly obvious, this has been a bad week for Republicans. Never mind the decisive defeat in the electoral college. Yes, the Tea Party cost the GOP seats in the Senate. But even worse, years of redistricting by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country produced zero gain in the House, which is humiliation indeed.
As one would expect in what is essentially an infantile if dangerous game of “our team/their team”, the recriminations are ugly and the gloating clamorous. “The Romney Campaign was a Consultant Con Job” shouts a headline over at RedState. “Mitt Romney is already slithering into the mists of history,” exults Frank Rich at New York Magazine. All pretty typical fare for the morning after.
And all beside the point. In my opinion, the light at the end of the tunnel that turned out to be an oncoming train for Republicans, was set in motion by none other than the Supreme Court, in its decision Citizens United.
To be sure, probably no one predicted what would happen. The Court’s decision was supposed to set business corporations and trade groups free to pour as much money as they liked into the electoral process. What actually happened, on the GOP side, was that a relative handful of men, extremely rich and extremely ideological, thought to become king-makers.
It was pure indulgence. Becoming a financial powerhouse through oil or retail or an inheritance, might let you indulge yourself and buy a baseball team. That doesn’t mean you know anything about baseball, and if you long ago stopped wondering why no one on your payroll or in your social circle ever questions your opinions, you are in a very strategic position for your money and half-baked ideas to lead the team on to disaster.
At least in a season of baseball there are 160 opportunities for the world to see the results of your leadership. Plenty of time for you to be a little humbled and make adjustments before the All-Star break.
You don’t get an All-Star break in politics. You get to drive over the cliff in full and glorious denial, with Karl Rove screaming from the back that Ohio can still be won.
Since everyone in this particular game seems to have names like Karl and Sheldon, David and Robert and Edward, I’m going to resort to an old-fashioned metaphor: What happens now will separate the men from the boys. Many of these guys will go home to avoid further embarrassment. But for a few, this is not over.
A few will see clearly that the GOP needs leaders — opinion leaders and political leaders — who can move the Republican base away from its apocalyptic fixation on the unelectable, even if this means abandoning some of the more fervently conservative true believers. And they will know they need allies. Not ideologues with cultural axes to grind, but very serious people with very quantifiable goals. Goals they will invest in.
Because this is a serious business. Much more serious than visions of end times. Politics in a democracy is the art of marrying public ideology to private agendas. The agendas are still with us. The ideology will change. A party that loses with 48% of the vote is still an asset, needing some changes to the roster, clear thinking over the off-season, and a lot of hard work come spring.
Wait for next season.