Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

After Newtown, guns are one more rift in the GOP

Nicholas Wapshott
Dec 19, 2012 18:02 UTC

When political parties lose after a bitterly fought electoral battle, they prefer to lick their wounds in private. The glare of publicity is not helpful in exploring what went wrong and charting a fresh course. The Republicans, however, find their election postmortem taking place in the full public gaze. When it comes to the most urgent issue confronting the nation, the fiscal cliff, they face an invidious choice. They must decide by Dec. 31 whether to persist in the stance they adopted at the election, saving the ultra-rich from higher taxation, or to raise taxes on all Americans. If they hold firm, they will be blamed for levying $1,200 a year on every middle-class family. That is not good news for the party of low taxation.

If their fiscal cliff dilemma were not bad enough, since the slaughter of the schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, Republicans are set to defend a challenge to the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. Concerned, angry Americans are asking why lawmakers have failed to protect them and their children from arbitrary execution. The Republican leadership must now choose whether to join the president in finding a way to avoid similar massacres or face the electoral consequences. If they get that pivotal decision wrong, they risk being cast as coldhearted villains, out of touch with the moderate voters they need to win back the White House and the Senate.

Little wonder that Republicans backed by the National Rifle Association have made themselves scarce. Finding a Republican legislator to appear on camera to defend the status quo is as hard as finding someone to argue that hard drug dealers perform a valuable public service. NBC’s Meet the Press contacted all 31 NRA-backed senators for comment, and every last one kept his head below the barricade.

Failure to control guns is an overwhelmingly Republican issue. Of the 10 senators awarded an A-plus rating by the NRA, just one is a Democrat, Max Baucus of Montana. Of the 32 the NRA gives an A grade, six are Democrats: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia. So far all six A-grade Democrats have acknowledged that the Newtown massacre demands a rethink on gun laws. By contrast, all the A and A-plus Republicans except Roy Blunt and Kelly Ayotte have kept schtum.

The deep Republican fissures ‑ between conservatives and libertarians, between movement conservatives and pragmatists, between the religious right and secularists, between fiscal hawks and economic moderates ‑ are not easy to pinpoint because of the hold the Tea Party and pressure groups like the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity have over the party and its leadership. Those who once learned to bargain in the corridors and lobbies of Capitol Hill to further the conservative cause are now obliged to keep their thoughts to themselves, mouth the mantra of conformity, and sign Grover Norquist’s no-tax-increases pledge or defend themselves in a hostile primary. Those who did not heed the threats include big beasts of the party Richard Lugar, Arlen Specter, Robert F. Bennett and Olympia Snowe. The Tea Party types who took their place – Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and Ken Buck – were all rejected by voters in November.

Is conservativism going extinct?

Nicholas Wapshott
Dec 12, 2012 17:40 UTC

There was so much cacophony at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this summer that some unscripted remarks were not given the prominence they deserved. One of the most prescient, in light of Mitt Romney’s defeat, was this from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham: “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Graham’s bleak demographic assessment of the conservative future was confirmed by David Bositis, of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, whose harsh verdict was that the “Republican Party base is white, aging and dying off.”

Has the GOP really become a redoubt for “angry white guys”? Will Republicans put themselves out of business by not appealing fast enough to young voters? To put it at its most stark: Are conservatives going extinct? Graham’s view was echoed this past weekend by the Republican sage George Will. Pondering whether the Supreme Court will declare gay marriage legal, he said, “There is something like an emerging consensus. Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying. It’s old people.”

The problem with many aging Americans is that their reactionary views are out of sync with those of women, people of color, immigrants and gays who make up the Democrats’ election winning “rainbow coalition.” As the 2012 results show, when it comes to social issues ‑ women’s rights, such as equal pay; women’s health, including contraception and abortion; the rights of racial minorities, including basic elements of democracy such as access to the ballot; immigration, both legal and illegal, and equal rights for children of illegals; gay rights and homosexual marriage ‑ the Republicans fiercely defend the status quo. And the older the Republicans, the more reactionary they tend to be.

Conservative media eat their own

Nicholas Wapshott
Nov 12, 2012 18:41 UTC

In the civil war that broke out between Republicans the minute the election was called for President Obama, media conservatives have turned on media conservatives. But none have shown more recklessness than Andrew Sullivan, chief American columnist for Murdoch’s Sunday Times in London, who on “Real Time With Bill Maher” cheerfully chewed off the hand that feeds him. “The Republican Party has to say, ‘We have no part of Fox News,’ ” Sullivan declared.

Attacking Murdoch’s grip on the post-defeat Republican debate through the strict party line dictated by Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, the clearly agitated Sullivan said, “The media-industrial complex on the right is so lucrative they don’t want to lose it. And it is now controlling a political party. That has to be severed. Fox News has to be demonized and cut off.”

Sullivan is no leftie. An avowed Reagan and Thatcher fan who moved to Washington  from Britain and became a U.S. citizen to more closely involve himself in conservative thinking, he is the moderate right’s equivalent to that other naturalized Brit, the late Christopher Hitchens. [r2] Sullivan is smart, eloquent and has championed individual rights and attacked social conservatives, not least because he is openly gay.

The strange disappearance of Paul Ryan

Nicholas Wapshott
Oct 24, 2012 14:52 UTC

Whatever happened to Paul Ryan? Before he was made Romney’s running mate in early August, he was billed by commentators as a free-thinking firebrand who would invigorate the campaign with his keen intellect and forensic argumentative skills. Evidence for Ryan’s game-changing capacity was based on his sweeping but failed budget reform measures, the “Roadmap for America’s Future” and “The Path to Prosperity,” on his reputation as the Republicans’ most gifted intellectual, and on his boast that his political inspirations were Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and Friedrich Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom.”

Dan Balz summed up Ryan’s appeal in the Washington Post. He would “energize a conservative base that has been slow to warm to Romney” and “make the case for economic prescriptions that include sharp cuts in spending along with tax cuts and entitlement reform more passionately than anyone else.” By picking Ryan, Balz argued, Romney would sharpen the race by drawing “bright lines with the president.” For months Romney had coasted along on the assumption Obama would lose simply because unemployment is high and the economy is in the tank, but by midsummer the president remained firmly ahead. “We can’t just win by default, by beating up on Obama,” Ryan confided to Balz. What was needed was for voters to be offered a clear choice: Romney’s highway or Obama’s byway.

Stephen F. Hayes and William Kristol, of the Weekly Standard, urged Romney on. “Go bold, Mitt!” they yelled. “Pick Paul Ryan, the Republican party’s intellectual leader, the man who’s laid out the core of the post-Obama policy agenda . . .” The National Review’s Rich Lowry agreed. “It’s been a cardinal rule of Republican politics that it’s OK to talk about balancing the budget, so long as no one talks about touching the entitlements that drive the long-term debt,” he wrote. “Romney needs to make the case for his program, and perhaps no one is better suited to contribute to this effort than Ryan.” When Romney picked Ryan on Aug. 11, the Wall Street Journal celebrated. “Nearly everyone had expected Mitt Romney, the cautious technocrat and political calculator, to make the ‘safe’ pick,” its editorial board wrote. “In choosing Mr. Ryan, the Governor showed both a political daring as a candidate and a seriousness about governing if he wins.”

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