Daniel McCarthy of The American Conservative writes a thoughtful article asking, "Is the GOP still a national party?" He points out the increasing popular vote dominance of Democrats in presidential elections, contrasting this with the GOP landslides of earlier years. Yet the map that goes with it is arresting: County by county, this is a very red nation (admittedly this was from 2004; the Obama "high tide" results are shown, I believe by congressional district, above). But, with a few exceptions such as Phoenix and metros in Texas, the biggest population lives in blue counties. "Republicans," he writes, "are actually closer than Democrats to being the real 47 percent party. (Though it’s more accurate to say the GOP is the 48-49 percent party and the Democrats are the 49-50 percent party.)"
McCarthy points to the dichotomy: GOP ideological purity, discipline and grassroots strength have given it big advantages over Democrats in state legislatures and Congress. But that same base, and the need for Republican presidential candidates to please it, becomes a liability every four years. McCarthy is a conservative in the Russell Kirk mold and is rightly concerned about what passes for conservatism today.
The long knives are already out in the campaign of wealthy Republican financier Willard Milton "Mitt" Romney and one reads about the bloodbath to come in the GOP if Romney goes down. (It ain't over!). But bloodbath to where? The Eisenhower, Ford, Nixon and even Reagan and Bush I Republicans have been read out of the party as RINOS. All militant passion resides with the extreme reactionaries that, when most Americans really grasp what they're about, further marginalize the party.
To be sure, the extreme version of the GOP is highly useful to the oligarchs behind the curtain, but all their money isn't buying the White House and some of their most brazen plays at the state level, such as ALEC, have been exposed. True, as Mencken said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Is it really possible that this party of old white suburbanites will, as morecleanair has predicted, fade away?
Maybe not before taking the country down with it, as in the debt-ceiling showdown. And the Democrats are more disorganized than when Will Rogers made his famous quip. We lack a robust progressive movement in this country. Maybe Hillary Clinton is a shoo-in for 2016, but will that do more than hold the line against the same whacko House of Representatives, the same Fox "News"/talk radio-bred mob ignorance?
If one studies the classics, as educated Americans once did partly because that was a foundation of the republic, then the presidency is a quiet coup of its own away from Caesar with the Congress going the way of the Roman Senate, perhaps even without the resulting civil war and bloodbaths. On the other hand, American party politics offer some grounds for speculation, too.
George Washington wasn't the only one who hated "faction." Right through the administration of the (very underrated) John Quincy Adams, party politics were largely subdued and frowned upon. Jefferson's heirs called themselves Republicans, but most didn't see themselves as a party. This all changed with Andrew Jackson and his ally, Martin Van Buren, the latter being the real architect of the two-party system. So we had Jackson's Democrats against those who disliked Jacksonian policies and they took the name Whigs, which in Britain had been the party opposing "tyranny." Abraham Lincoln was a Whig. But the party only had a run of 20 years or so before it broke upon the rocks of slavery and the modern Republican Party was born.
The conventional wisdom is that party politics are a thing of the past. I don't believe it, even if we're not in an era of Boss Tweed. Even most "independent" voters tilt to one party or the other. But big issues such as slavery break old parties and give birth to new ones. Now we face the militant, dangerous dreamland of the GOP against the disorganization of the Democrats — with only the tilt of the big cities and metros keeping us from full-fledged national Kookocracy. It can't last this way. Can it?