Longtime readers will remember how much I enjoy the theater of politics, and its tendency to produce characters whose fortunes rise and fall in an almost Shakespearean fashion: like Macbeth or Othello, these are likable figures who somehow lose themselves, and everything they’ve built, based on one outsized character flaw. In years past, we’ve had Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who made the mistake of trusting George W. Bush; and John McCain, undone by his own impetuousness, and for failing to realize that the Republican Party was no longer a place for statesmen. To that, let’s add another one — though it doesn’t have to happen, a chain of events could be about to unfold that places the Republican Party, writ large, at the center of its own Shakespearean tragedy, where the party will see itself undone by no less of a classical failure than hubris.
Naturally, for my story to come true, Mitt Romney has to lose the primary, and Newt Gingrich has to win. That’s looking like an increasingly plausible outcome — remember, “inevitable” nominees aren’t always so inevitable — but it’s also one that leads directly to the Republican Party’s loss next fall. While that could prompt the kind of soul-searching Doug Mataconis desperately hopes for, I’m not so optimistic. The time for introspection was 2008: is this Republican Party actually capable of arresting and revising its descent into radicalism? I think no. Which leaves us with this plot structure:
- ACT ONE: curtain opens on a series of Republican leaders, assembled after John McCain’s devastating loss. As Mitch McConnell states that his #1 goal is to destroy the President, by any means necessary, the leaders settle around a rationale that manages to explain their loss while completely exculpating everyone in the room: McCain just wasn’t conservative enough! Obviously.
- ACT TWO: the group’s plan to swing the party rightward is off to a roaring start: 2010 midterms, Tea Party ascendant, screaming town halls, “socialism,” you get it.
- ACT THREE: shows the debt ceiling debate, but dramatized, as our cast of heroes from Act One score victory after victory against the President, teeing us up for the primary season.
- ACT FOUR: a newly emboldened Republican Party, cheered but unsurprised by President’s Obama’s low poll numbers — they engineered them, after all — enters the primary season, and tosses around talking points that evidence a severe disconnect from reality to anyone who’s paying attention and has half a mind. Moderate, likable statesmen Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman warn against reading Obama’s perceived weakness as an invitation to excise electability from the nominating calculus, but the base and other candidates are all convinced of their own invincibility. Intoxicated, Republican voters toss aside elitist “liberal” Mitt Romney as the latter day Goldwater, Newt Gingrich himself, cruises to an easy primary win in Iowa, and nets the nomination early. Newt pledges to best Obama in an ever-increasing number of debates, each of his own suggestion. What could go wrong?
- ACT FIVE: the dream starts to collapse as the Supreme Court issues its decision on “ObamaCare” — upholding the individual mandate by a vote of 6 to 3 (opinion by: Kennedy, J.), with a withering concurrence from Justice Scalia, upbraiding the public for politicizing the Court. A now-irrelevant Tea Party disbands. In their first debate, Newt Gingrich, unwilling to shed his haughty exterior, comes off as pompous-but-ignorant next to the cool, collected Obama — just what we saw in that second debate against McCain, four years earlier. Gingrich’s campaign unwinds in a series of embarrassing gaffes, which I leave to your imagination. The closing speech belongs to Rush Limbaugh, who uses Gingrich’s “pro-amnesty” immigration policy to explain that the only reason the Republicans lost was that their nominee just wasn’t conservative enough. Again. Meanwhile, in the background, a Latino man casts his first ballot at a Florida pollsite.
Exeunt, Republican dominance.