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Why the Republican Party Can't Change

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In the wake of the Republicans' election defeat, many commentators have argued that the party must change in significant ways if it is ever to be successful again. Many of their positions have become so radical and nonsensical -- global warming denial, never raising taxes, evolution-bashing, ending Medicare as we know it -- that they have alienated many mainstream voters. And their traditional appeal to white males is becoming less of an advantage as the demographics of the voting population change.

All this would seem to be a powerful impetus for the Republican party to change in basic ways or risk going on a long electoral losing streak.

But in reality, the GOP is going to find it almost impossible to abandon many of these problematic positions. Two factors account for this. First, much of the right-wing core of the party, like the Tea Party, strongly endorses many of these radical policy stands. They hate taxes, distrust science, and think anyone who benefits from a government program is a moocher. These people turn out in high numbers during primaries and it is hard for any Republican candidate to ignore them. Even naturally moderate Republicans, like Romney, have to kowtow to this faction of the party if they want to win nomination for office.

The other major obstacle to change for the Republicans is who they rely on for funding. The people and organizations financing the Republican Party have a vested interest in defending its current political positions. Many of its key supporters are billionaires and millionaires who have far right-wing views. Consider the Koch brothers. They are dyed-in-the-wool libertarian government haters who want to abolish most taxes and reduce government to a bare minimum -- a plan that would eliminate or gut most current federal programs. Anyone who wants their campaign contributions must at least lean in the direction of this extreme anti-state agenda.

The other major funder of the party is big business. These corporations have a strong interest in reducing taxes. They also find it very convenient to demonize government and blame it for all the economic problems we have in this country. And Republican politicians seem happy to go along. In this last election, for instance, several Republican candidates valiantly tried to blame the EPA for our lingering high levels of unemployment. Republicans have to blame government for any economic woes because otherwise the spotlight would turn to the private sector, which is often the real source of these problems.

Poverty level wages, soaring health care costs, increasing economic inequality, growing retirement insecurity -- all these problems afflicting average Americans stem from decisions being made in the private sector. But the last thing that business wants is to be blamed for these problems and to confront movements like Occupy Wall Street. So they must try to make government the scapegoat in order to distract Americans from the real causes of their economic suffering. And of course business will not want to fund Republican candidates who don't go along with this ruse.

The bottom line is that Republican candidates will have to stick to many of their out-of-touch, radical policy positions not because they want to, but because they have to. If they want to win their primaries and have enough money to trounce their opponents, they will need to keep espousing positions that make little sense to many Americans. It is almost enough to make you feel sorry for them -- but not quite.