I’ve told the story a number of times about how I got my start writing political speeches at a pretty tender age, and I’m not going to repeat it again, except to say that I’ve been feeling a tad of deja vu as I hear Rick and other wishful thinking liberal pundits proclaim the death of the Grand Old Party. One thing that seems almost hard to fathom now is that the last time the Democrats proclaimed the death of the Republican Party was in 1978. Jimmy Carter really seemed on top of his game then. Everything was rosy. The Republicans, the party of Nixon and the war crimes of the Vietnam War had been vanquished. Carter, a true Southern Evangelical, seemed to represent the golden age of liberation theology, the notion that human goodness was an unshakable Democratic virtue. That Labor and God were marching hand in hand in 1978 was a heady and common belief, shared by Tip O’Neill, Ted Kennedy and Democrats elsewhere. The Republicans were bankrupt and, ha ha ha, the only thing that they had to offer in 1980 was….Ronald Reagan! But the Democrats missed a major, and I mean major, warning sign. In 1978, Mike Dukakis went down to defeat, losing, of all things, to Ed King. Ed who? I wasn’t involved in the Dukakis campaign in 1978, but I was present at the presidential campaign ten years later. At the time, I was working with the party hacks who were generating presidential biographies for the campaign (as if journalists for Boston papers could ever be considered impartial) and in 1987 there were two grand themes of Mike Dukakis’ resurrection. First, the reform impulse failed to recognize an inherent conservatism even in Bay State voters, in which economics frequently was more important that social issues and, second, that Dukakis and his campaign simply erred in recognizing that the 1976 election had, in large part, purged the Republican Party of its Nixonian flavor.
And now the Democrats are doing the same thing. Two things are strikingly clear to me. First, Romney is probably more like Gerald Ford than any candidate we’ve seen in years. By that, I mean that he represents an anti-Bush, just as Ford was an anti-Nixon. Second, the fact that the anti matter candidate got the party nod reflects a substantial break from the prior president, meaning that Romney was important because he wasn’t a Southern evangelical. His candidacy really broke the back of Bush conservatism. And its dangerous to listen to Bush conservatives wail about their own shortcomings, when they are slowly being supplanted by Rand Paul and the Tea Party as Republican mainstream. Equally, its pretty clear to me, and I’ve noted this before, that gays, immigrants and Latinos can’t be counted on as permanent Democrats. I’ve written before that self-employed gays, once outside the marriage equality culture war, rapidly assume economic interests on par with other self-employed business people. And there is no reason to believe that Mexicans, once they are allowed to vote, will cast their conservative, self-employed Catholic votes for liberal democrats. And finally, the Republicans are doing a pretty good job of convincing young people that Obama’s policies today equate vast debt for them tomorrow.
This is a slow process, but its a process and a cycle that we’ve seen many times before in the history of the United States. Rick wants to see a weak Republican Party? I see creative destruction. And anyone who believes the contrary would be wise to recall a time when Reagan, Bush Senior and Bush Jr. were all considered to be improbable buffoons, outside the mainstream, not capable of besting Carter, Dukakis and Gore. Politics are fickle. So are Americans. Its wise to remember that.