We serve a congregation filled with government employees and contractors, many of them directly and personally affected by the shutdown. We also serve in what is said to be one of the most deeply Republican counties in the state -- although a party leader has confessed to some concern that the Democrats are gaining ground recently. We can only imagine that this trend is about to accelerate.
Because who, being in their right mind and not obsessed by ideology, would ever vote for a Republican again?
The GOP has long been perceived to be running out of time, as its core constituency of old, white men gradually loses its hegemony in American culture. Periodic efforts to broaden its base have been half-hearted and unsuccessful.
Now, Republicans in the House have allowed themselves to be driven by their extreme fringe -- driven, that is, right over a cliff. A month before an election, the party and its leaders have made themselves immensely unpopular. Their poll numbers have never been lower, while the President's are up ever so slightly. Although it appears that the extremists themselves are largely safe from re-election challenges, it is hard to imagine that the party will not lose some of its clout next month, and more in the Novembers to come.
Losing favor with the electorate is bad. What may be worse for Republicans is the possibility of losing favor with their sugar daddies in the world of business. A recent BusinessWeek article described the growing distance between the fiery ideologues and the practical minds of the business world:
If Republican lawmakers were as responsive to business concerns as they once were, the chance of a prolonged shutdown would be slim. But that’s no longer the case. “Republicans are not the party of business anymore,” says Robert Shapiro, chairman of the economic advisory firm Sonecon. “They’re the party of antigovernment.”A Times article yesterday revealed just how angry the business lobby is about the shutdown. They are losing money, and lots of it, with no end in sight. This is, to put it cynically, not the government they paid for.
And they do put it cynically. Here's the money quote:
“We ask them to carry our water all the time,” said one corporate sector lobbyist, who demanded anonymity in order to speak frankly about the relationship with Republicans. “But we don’t necessarily support them 100 percent of the time. And what has happened is the rise of an ideological wing that is now willing to stand up to business interests.”It is hard to know whom to hate more in a situation like this one: the corporate fat cats or their Congressional water-boys, who chose the wrong time to show a rebellious streak.
In a sense, America's corporate oligarchs are a little like the House of Saud. They have sponsored the raving of ideological extremists (Tea Party, Wahabists, whatever) as a way to distract the masses from their own corruption -- and now they have to face the fact that these radicals may actually believe their own nutty rhetoric. Worse, they are willing to act on their belief in ways that threaten to bring down their masters' cushy palaces -- along with the rest of a the country.
The GOP is divided against itself, and in danger of losing its connection to both mainstream voters and corporate money. Meanwhile, its core constituency continues to dwindle. How long can this go on?
The New Republic is fantasizing when it offers up a headline about "the death throes of the Republican Party." Outright collapse, represented by a prolonged period of political impotence, seems as unlikely as Karl Rove's dream of a "durable Republican majority" ever did. For better or worse, America is deeply in love with its two-party system, even if it does not love the parties themselves. Voters will simply switch back and forth until they arrive at the balance that they want. These two parties have dominated the landscape for 150 years, and it is hard to imagine they they will stop dominating it any time soon.
Of course, somebody might have said that about the dinosaurs.