The Pied Piper Problem

Ken AshfordRepublicansLeave a Comment

Anonymous Liberal has a coined a great term to describe the great problem facing the Republican Party:

For last decade and half, the Republican party has pursued an intentional strategy of insulating its base from reality. The goal has been to create a permanent block of loyal Republican voters who will dutifully internalize whatever the party’s leaders tell them.

To accomplish this, the Republican political machine has engaged in a relentless and systematic assault on all of the institutions in our society that have traditionally served as arbiters of truth. They have attacked the press, the judiciary, academia, and even science itself. And they’ve been remarkably successful; we’ve now reached a point where much of the Republican base simply refuses to believe anything that doesn’t come from a trusted partisan outlet.

Any unpleasant news reports can be dismissed as the product of liberal media bias. Any inconvenient studies can be explained away as the work of godless academic elitists. And any adverse court rulings can be chalked up to liberal judicial activism. In short, if it didn’t come from the mouth of Rush Limbaugh or the President himself, it’s automatically suspect.

I’m sure the architects of this strategy thought it was ingenious. It would create a loyal and reliable base of voters who were, for all intents and purposes, impervious to reality and who would simply accept whatever the party’s leaders told them.

This strategy has an inherent vulnerability, though. Call it the Pied Piper problem. If you train a bunch of people to follow the Leader reflexively, they’re likely to follow him right out of town (or right off a cliff).

This is the problem now confronting all sane members of the Republican party. For years now, they’ve been telling the American people–among other things–that everything in Iraq is going fine, that the liberal media is just refusing to report the good news, and that any criticism of the war or the President’s war policy gives aid and comfort to the enemy. The vast majority of the American people have long since tuned this message out, but not the Republican base. President Bush may only have a 28% approval rating, but those 28% represent the true-believers. And those are the voters who are going to decide who the next Republican presidential nominee will be.

That puts Republicans in a terrible bind. If they acknowledge reality, which they’ll need to do in order to have any hope of winning independent and moderate voters, they may well be branded as traitors by their base, who still firmly support the Leader and his Glorious War.

As an example of this, A.L. points to "The Pledge" — an online petition by conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt.  The Pledge, which you can "sign" here, states:

If the United States Senate passes a resolution, non-binding or otherwise, that criticizes the commitment of additional troops to Iraq that General Petraeus has asked for and that the president has pledged, and if the Senate does so after the testimony of General Petraeus on January 23 that such a resolution will be an encouragement to the enemy, I will not contribute to any Republican senator who voted for the resolution. Further, if any Republican senator who votes for such a resolution is a candidate for re-election in 2008, I will not contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee unless the Chairman of that Committee, Senator Ensign, commits in writing that none of the funds of the NRSC will go to support the re-election of any senator supporting the non-binding resolution.

This is clearly hardball, and it exmplifies the bind that the GOP finds itself.  Most of the country, including many conservatives and moderates, actually support the anti-surge non-binding resolution.  The pledge represents a throwing down of the gauntlet by the far far right Bush loyalists — it says "If you don’t support the President now, you will not have get money from us for your re-election".

Of course, I think this will only serve to excommunicate the far far right from the political landscape altogether, which is why I welcome it:

At this point, Bush is the Pied Piper and he’s leading the Republican faithful far away from where the saner voices in the party are comfortable being (and from where the rest of the electorate is). The problem with insulating your base from reality is that there’s no easy way to bring them back down to earth. You risk creating an unbridgeable chasm between your base and the rest of the electorate. If the Old Guard in the Republican party can’t figure out a way to bring the Pied Piper back to Hamelin, they’re going to remain in the political wilderness for a long time to come.

As of this morning, less than 6500 people have signed the "pledge".