The Furies: How the Republicans are Being Eaten Alive by Their Own Creation

12/21/2011 09:59 am ET | Updated Feb 20, 2012

How's your Greek mythology? Remember the Furies -- the ferocious, all consuming creations who sprang up out of anger and bad deeds? They were named Alecto (The Unceasing), Megaera (The Grudging) and Tisiphone (The Avenging).

Sounds an awful lot like the audience at a Republican presidential debate. What is most striking about the debates is not the various ideas or policies being tossed around. It's the decision by all the candidates that no matter what subject comes up, red meat and blood must be thrown to the assembled masses. They cheer for executions, they boo gay military heroes risking their lives for their country and they cheer the death of the uninsured. It's not enough to be really, really conservative -- a candidate has to be accusatory and furious.

This has now caused a near panic among the Republican establishment -- the big money folks who have managed to control the party for the past decades. Amongst the establishment folks, there's a reasonable variety of social views on issues like abortion, immigration, gun control and the environment. Most are quite polite. It is not a group of shrieking social reactionaries; it's the vanguard of the wealthy and they are united by economic interests and theories that are also part of the Republican catechism.

Those economic policies would never have moved the party into power. Austerity, anti-tax and anti-debt sentiment are powerful political issues but they're not the stuff of mass movements. So, the Republican establishment made a bargain; it would embrace the hard-right, religiously-based social policies, if those folks would embrace economic policies that favored the rich and corporate America. And so moderates like George Bush I and John McCain drank the Kool-Aid, and moderate Republicanism died a sad death.

But, with the astounding Tea Party uprising, the establishment began to lose control to genuine true believers, virulently anti-Obama, whose anger and venom began to define the Republican Party. In the grand tradition of American people-centered grass roots movements, they went to meetings, organized for caucuses, attended the debates, and defined the nominating process.

As the establishment sought acceptable outsiders (Christie) and then settled on the pale and smiley Mitt Romney, the rank-and-file wanted something meaner. As debate crowds cheered for executions, and booed gay soldiers, and cheered dying uninsured, power shifted and the candidates -- Mitt aside -- got it.

So, the Republican glee of last spring -- when Obama looked like an easy mark -- is gone. Some in the Republican establishment are hoping for a deadlocked convention, and a brokered new face. Not likely. Some are hoping that Newt disappears, like previous Anyone-But-Mitt pretenders, not that's not likely. The Furies, having been unleashed, consume their creators.

This isn't, by the way, enough to ensure Obama's re-election. Newt could win, Romney could win, in spite of it all. But having patented the Lee Atwater/Michele Bachmann/Donald Trump style of public discourse, having lived by the Birthers and the red-baiters, the Republicans are stuck. The politics of de-legitimacy, where Obama isn't just wrong, he is The Other... The Outsider... are now delegitimizing their own candidates.

Everything old is new again. Just ask Alecto (The Unceasing), Megaera (The Grudging) and Tisiphone (The Avenging).