The Republican National Committee's post- mortem "Growth and Opportunity" report following their electoral defeat argues that the "federal wing" of the party needs overhaul and repair. One can't fly on only one wing, so obviously the broken wing needs to be repaired; the only question is how to do so.
But this verdict from the national party establishment is getting pushback from local level activists, those who make up the other wing, the one that's presumably OK, who want to stay the course, especially the Tea Party part of that wing, with its feather flying in its cap. (I refuse to call them the conservative part of the party, that's like talking about the wet part of the ocean).
Many Democrats are pleased, if not outright gloating, that no reparative strategy is in sight. They are thus celebrating the failure of the Republican party, and happily predicting its decline if not its pending practical disappearance as a national party.
But what if these Democrats are radically wrong, and the Tea Party activists are more right than they realize? What if the decline of the Republican Party at the national level, primarily in presidential politics, isn't a failure but a success?
How can national failure be a success? Well, why does one want to win at the national level anyway? To pursue one's goals. But what if one's goal is precisely to render the federal government inoperative, and you see yourself accomplishing just that? Then why would you want to seize the reins? If you're committed to making the government dysfunctional, and you think it's working, then why not leave the playing field and let the other side get the blame?
Governmental failure isn't Republican failure, it's Republican strategy. The filibuster is an obvious example: for Democrats it's a frustrating tactic, but for Republicans it's a strategy, if not actually a goal. For them blockage isn't a means to accomplish something else, it's the fulfillment of the goal to accomplish nothing. For the more you convince people that government is inherently incapable of accomplishing anything, or even worse, that government is counter-productive if it ever manages to do what it wants to do, the more the alternative becomes attractive to people. And that alternative is the real Republican agenda: privatization.
Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so does power. When the state is disempowered, corporations are ready to swoop in to capture greater profits. So privatize medical care, social security, education -- vouchers for everything and everyone. Privatize even what everyone used to agree was an absolute core and necessary function of government: defense. Some of the disaster of the Iraq war resulted from privatization of the military to outside contractors, outside of government control, with their bullets and profits left to run rampant. The cost was high in both treasure and lives: local security risks that became security breaches were brought onto U.S. military bases to perform basic support services previously handled by the military itself.
Vacating the national stage allows Republicans to concentrate their fire power on the state level, especially with their massive amounts of Super-PAC funding. That's where they can exert the greatest leverage, and where the Republican social agenda is being enacted; the war on women is the most conspicuous example. With gerry-mandered districts and the pending rollback of the Voting Rights Act they're getting entrenched for the long-term. Sure, they make diversionary runs at the presidency -- one doesn't reveal one's game plan, after all, and it would still be nice to add that eagle feather to one's cap -- but their heart isn't really in it. With a few rogue exceptions you can see that by following the money.
So when Democrats gloat over seeming Republican disarray on the national level, celebrating how the inmates have taken over the asylum and Republicans have just gone crazy, they should think again, and shift more of their attention from the one grand prize to all the smaller ones. Republicans may have gone crazy, but they're crazy like a fox. Fox news, that is.
Harry Brod is Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at the University of Northern Iowa.
His most recent book is Superman Is Jewish?: How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice and the Jewish-American Way (Free Press).