Why The GOP Can’t Handle The Truth

by Dartagnan –

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 28: Presidential candidates Ohio Governor John Kasich (L-R), Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz (R-TX), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) take the stage at the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at University of Colorados Coors Events Center October 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado. Fourteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the third set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

William Saletan in Slate has it exactly right: for Republicans, Reality Sucks.  The GOP, desperate to divert attention from the fact that its leading Presidential candidates have all the depth and intelligence of second-tier Marvel comic characters, this week seized upon its time-honored strategy of attacking the media. The imaginary offense this time around is the apparent failure of CNBC’s debate moderators to show appropriate respect for each GOP candidate’s innate stupidity.

The watershed moment came, naturally, when the GOP’s most practiced panderer, Ted Cruz, staged an “explosive” whine about the debate questions:

Cruz exploded at the CNBC moderators. “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz fumed. “You look at the questions: ‘Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?’ ‘Ben Carson, can you do math?’ ‘John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?’ ‘Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?’ ‘Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?’ How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?”

What a moment! Except for one minor detail:

[Cruz’s speech] doesn’t even match the debate transcript. To begin with, nobody called Trump a villain. CNBC’s John Harwood asked Trump how he would fulfill his promises to “build a wall and make another country pay for it” (Mexico), “send 11 million people out of the country” (undocumented immigrants), and “cut taxes $10 trillion without increasing the deficit.” Second, nobody asked Carson whether he could do math. CNBC’s Becky Quick asked Carson how he would close the $1 trillion gap between current federal spending and the revenue projected from Carson’s 15 percent flat tax. Third, nobody asked Kasich to insult his colleagues. Kasich volunteered that Trump’s and Carson’s promises were impractical and incoherent. All of these questions were substantive. In fact, Cruz’s speech was a diversion from the query that had been posed to him—namely, why did he oppose this week’s agreement to raise the debt limit?

Saletan patiently explains why the entire premise of this latest Republican bawlfest about the media is a an utterly contrived farce:

By the end of the evening, Cruz, Carson, Trump, Rubio, and several other candidates had declared war on the press. They claimed to speak for the Republican Party, the American people, and the truth. These candidates are deluded. Many of their statements were falsified on the spot. Others were exposed as absurd by their opponents. It’s true that the debate exposed a division within the country. But the division isn’t between the press and the public. It’s between people who listen to evidence—reporters, policy analysts, and many Democrats and Republicans—and an impervious, defiant wing of the GOP.

The whole “controversy” is fake.  The only question we should be asking is “why.” Why does a party that is supposed to have some pretense of representing the American people, one presumptuous enough to vomit up onto a public stage no less than sixteen candidates whom it characterizes as “qualified to lead,” decide it can throw a collective hissy fit at the prospect of those same candidates answering real questions about their plans for all the rest of us?

The GOP’s history of voter suppression provides the most obvious answer (famously phrased by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach): if you have to stop people from voting to win elections, it’s because your ideas suck.

But there’s something deeper going on here than just a clumsy attempt by Republicans to avoid discussion of their miserable, incoherent and hateful policies. Kim Messick, writing for Salon, convincingly lays out the case that the “modern” Republican Party is simply incapable of coping in the “modern world:”

The GOP’s oft-remarked “civil war,” I will argue, is really a conflict over the meaning of conservatism in the modern world, a conflict ultimately driven by demographic shifts in the Party’s electoral base.

Messick argues that the main feature of the Republican Party as it developed as the party of Lincoln from the mid to late 1800’s was its singular support of capital and capitalism, based on the philosophy that American society should evolve as a hierarchy based on achievement and competition, rather than the feudal caste system that characterized the then-“Democratic” South. This embrace of capitalism continued through the turn of the century and all the way into the 1960’s:

This commitment to market society meant that the GOP had to evolve as capitalism evolved. As small producers and merchants gave way to the industrial capitalism of the Gilded Age, and as this, in turn, was augmented by the first forms of full-blown finance capitalism, the Party sought to adapt its policies to the social changes this evolution entailed.

The fierce opposition by many to the New Deal was just one manifestation of the GOP’s embrace of capital as near-religion.  And as capitalism continued to flourish, the GOP’s relationship and philosophy towards capital evolved as well:

This dialectical engagement with history produced a Party that was ideologically flexible and openly engaged in a critical appraisal of modern life. Evidence mattered. It also mattered for responsible politicians to display a sober and prudent respect for evidence.

Then came the 1960’s and the the Democratic Party’s embrace of Civil Rights for African-Americans, much to the displeasure of its southern flank. Suddenly, the formerly “Democratic” South was ripe for the picking by the Republican Party. The Southern Strategy  was developed by the Nixon Administration a means for the GOP to exploit southern racism to its electoral advantage. It worked brilliantly–perhaps too brilliantly:

The Southern Strategy wasn’t an event, however; it was a process. Its continued success depended upon an implacable search for ever-more stringent versions of the GOP’s new Dixie-centric doctrine. As ideology became more important to the Party than history, it did what such movements always do: it embarked on a series of ritual purges intended to secure purity and fealty. The result was a Party whose leaders exhibited a clear tendency toward greater ideological rigidity. Reagan was more conservative than Nixon, just as Gingrich was more conservative than Reagan and Tom DeLay more conservative than Gingrich. Today, Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton (and most other members of the “Freedom Caucus”) are to the right of Reagan, Gingrich and DeLay.

Messick’s point is that this quest for purity naturally forced the GOP to comisserate with its “new” voter base to maintain its continued electoral success. But that base had little or no connection to the institutions that historically made up the GOP. This is the root of the so-called “Tea Party’s” contempt for the GOP establishment. These are people whose beliefs have remained static as the rest of American society has continued to evolve culturally, racially, and in terms of gender equality, all modern innovations that were resisted by essentially retrograde Southern cultural and in particular, religious traditions. The Tea Party is made of people whose ideology does not permit them to even consider the multicultural aspects of modern society as a reality they need to live with:

What matters to them is their ideology, an ideology based on a wholesale rejection of the social changes wrought by modernity. Simply put, they despise the modern vision of a society in which distinctions based on race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, have no place. On their view, these distinctions between persons are etched into the fabric of the world itself by the world’s author, God. To ignore them, to try to build a social world without them, is both hubristic and perverse…

The simple truth is that to the Republican base, we–and by “we” I mean the rest of the country–don’t exist. And on the off chance we do exist, we don’t deserve to, we’re evil, and everything that we say–from proven economic theories, to the existence of rampant racial profiling, to irrefutable evidence of climate change, must be a lie:

The GOP base no longer looks to history for instruction. It doesn’t ask itself how to adapt conservatism to the modern world; it asks how it can adapt the modern world to its version of conservatism.  That world it regards as hopelessly fallen, as so much detritus to be swept away. This is the explanation for the indifference to — if not contempt for — evidence and empiricism that Saletan so clearly perceives. A “fact” about the world ceases to matter when one rejects that world and regards it as little more than a shadow, an unnatural lure contrived by secular-humanist conspirators. Why take an interest in the “evidence” gathered from such a place? What authority could it possibly have?

So this is the game that people like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio–supposedly educated, worldly men who clearly know better–play for the sake of their ambition. Thriving on willful  ignorance is their path to power. Ultimately whether they believe it themselves makes no difference–the chance to play the ignorance card was handed to them by their supporters.  Their voter base can’t handle the truth about the world as it really is, and they don’t want to, so they deny it even exists.  That denial extends to every American outside their narrow little bubble.

The only question is whether Americans–and the American media–will continue to reward them for it.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos