Op-Ed Columnist: The Strange Impotence of the Republican Party

There’s a simple explanation for this: They can’t. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have the parliamentary skills but not the political authority. Trump has the authority but not the skills. Probably not the desire, either: A tight-lipped numbers nerd like Ryan must be about as congenial to the president as a tax auditor in Mar-a-Lago. Their shotgun political marriage has all the sincerity, and passion, of Charles and Diana.

Still, the G.O.P.’s problems aren’t mainly a matter of personality. They’re a matter of mentality. And they’re part of a pattern that’s world-wide.

We are living in an era of party failure, especially on the right. The Trumpkins sacked the G.O.P. The Brexiters humiliated the Tories over Europe. Marine Le Pen’s fascists have supplanted the Gaullists as the face of the French right. Germany’s own nasty alt-right, the Alternative für Deutschland, humiliated Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in last weekend’s election.

The high-toned explanation for these serial rebukes of the establishment by the base is that the former has failed to address the anxieties and disgruntlements of the latter: immigration and culture shocks; wage stagnation and the stresses of a globalized world.

But globalization, immigration and changing social mores have been with us for a long time without producing awful political outcomes. What’s new is the existence — and metastasis — of the fury factories of the right, from Fox News to Breitbart to Frontpage Mag.

Opinion journalism is meant to influence and inflame, and it does. Especially in an age in which civics is taught poorly (and, increasingly, rarely), people are politically suggestible. Bill O’Reilly is now the right’s historian, Mark Levin its go-to legal expert, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham its moral conscience. These are not ideas guys. They’re anger guys. Their specialty is the communication of rage to an audience prone to histrionics. It can feel awfully good to be awfully mad.

Should it be any wonder that a Republican Party with almost complete control of government has turned so fiercely on itself? Dominant parties often do that when they have little to fear politically from the nominal opposition party.

Should it be any wonder, either, that in the intramural fights the Donald Trumps and Roy Moores of the party are winning? As in economics, so too in G.O.P. politics: Gresham’s law applies. Bad money drives out good. Bad Republicans drive out good ones. When nastiness sells, the worst rise. Political gerrymandering doesn’t help, but that’s a separate column.

The political paradox of 2017 is that a Republican Party that cannot seem to lose also cannot seem to govern. Anger is an excellent emotion for pushing ratings and winning elections and a terrible one for agreeing to compromises and crafting legislation. This won’t end as long as Trump is in the White House. Whether it won’t also be the end of the Republican Party as a functional institution is another question.

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Source: New York Times

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