Monday, December 19, 2016

Democrats have been wondering...

...for eight years now what exactly it would take to "break the fever" in today's extreme Republican Party.

President Obama famously opined that it would happen after he was reelected in 2012:

I believe that if we're successful in this election, when we're successful in this election, that the fever may break, because there's a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn't make much sense because I'm not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again.

And I could see the wisdom in this at the time. I figured that most of the "fever," the blind, unthinking opposition to the president in his first term, was just an effort to make Obama seem a "failed president," a la Jimmy Carter, in order to deny him a second term in 2012. But this turned out to be wrong, of course.

I then concluded, like many others, that it would take an electoral blowout on the order of Barry Goldwater or George McGovern in order to empower the "moderates" to take back the party from the extremists. I figured the GOP would nominate the most conservative candidate in the race -- like a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul -- and go down in flames in 2016. That didn't happen, either, of course. (In fairness, no one saw the rise of Donald Trump coming.) But now he's president and the extremists in the Republican Party are getting their Dream Cabinet.

So the fever is in no danger of breaking, right?

Well, as a former colleague of mine used to say, "Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe maybe."

Maybe -- just maybe -- the most counter-intuitive thing might happen.

Today, conservative Michael Brendan Dougherty writes in The Week, "Conservatives are getting everything they want from Trump. They may regret it." And I think he may be on to something. As he says:

...there are serious political dangers that come from pressing too hard.

What if conservatives, say, pass all of their dream legislation and the public . . . doesn't like it? What if it proves to be unpopular? Then what?

I mean, really, who is clamoring for privatizing Medicare and cutting Social Security benefits? Do you know anyone? And who, really, wants to weaken public schools? (I would argue that the reputation of your local school is the single-most important factor in the value of your home.) Is there really some burning desire among the vaunted White Working Class to reduce taxes on the one percent? Or repeal Dodd-Frank and relieve long-suffering, downtrodden Wall Street? How about clean air and water? Is the American public just fed up and sick of that liberal nonsense? And let me go out on a limb here -- just indulge me for a second: I can't believe that Trump's voters really want to lower wages throughout the country. (Call me eccentric.)

So what if the Republicans overreach, as they seem likely to do? And what if their "reforms" prove to be as unpopular as I think they will? Or just plain don't work very well (same thing, I suppose). Maybe, if the Democrats gain seats in the 2018 midterms and/or win back the White House in 2020 the extremists will finally be discredited and pave the way for whatever "moderates" are left to take over the GOP.

Who knows? We have a ways to go here. But wouldn't it be ironic if by controlling all three branches of government and finally -- finally -- passing an agenda that would make Ayn Rand smile, it ends up breaking the Republican "fever" and setting the stage for a more normal political environment?

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