Another View

April 23, 2009 10:30 a.m.

From TPM Reader JB

Frankly, your “Junta Party” analogy looks to me like analysis designed to support an epithet. Not an epithet with that much potential, either, since the majority of Americans who do not follow foreign affairs closely aren’t likely to know what a junta is.

I know it’s a little boring, but if you’re looking for an analogy for today’s Republican Party, the best one may be the most obvious: the GOP of the early 1930s, which suffered electoral disasters after a long period of electoral success, faced a popular Democratic President who succeeded a violently unpopular Republican one, and was unhealthily dependent on a base concentrated in one area of the country. In a historical irony, this area is now the South, from which the GOP of the 1930s was all but excluded as a legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Of the several things today’s Republican Party has in common with its predecessor, one of the most striking is a leadership vacuum. After the political disasters of the 1930s, the most successful Republican Presidents tended to be outsiders: Eisenhower the career military officer, Nixon the loner, Reagan the actor. All these men, however popular they were with Republican voters, maintained a certain personal distance from the Republican political class. That meant it was always possible to find Republicans willing to speak up against Republican Presidents — and it also meant that the party could quickly find new leaders once dominant Republican Presidents left the scene.

George W. Bush was different. He was completely of the modern GOP as his predecessors weren’t, as a former President’s son, an overtly (indeed somewhat ostentatiously) evangelical, nondenominational Christian, and a Southerner. Perhaps most importantly, Bush lived and breathed every aspect of permanent campaign politics, the foundation of the post-Reagan Republican Party’s success since the elder Bush’s 1988 elevation to the Presidency. There was no distance between Bush and other Republican politicians — the closest thing to an anti-Bush Republican was John McCain, who only maintained that status for a couple of years. Twenty years ago the phrase Republican in Name Only (or RINO) was reserved for Republicans who voted with Democrats on most issues; during the younger Bush’s Presidency it came to mean Republicans who voted with Democrats on any issue.

Now that Bush is gone, there is nothing and nobody else for the Republicans to turn to. They can either try to build a new identity for the party from scratch, or they can remain loyal to what they know, as so many 1930s-era Republicans remained loyal to the legacy left by Coolidge and Hoover. The latter course obviously doesn’t offer much hope for the future (unless President Obama crashes and burns), but at least it promises safety for the present to the majority of Congressional Republicans representing safe Republican constituencies.

It’s hardly necessary to look overseas for political analogies. Americans have been doing politics for a really long time, you know, and there aren’t many things in our politics today that have never been seen here before.

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