The fault, however, lies not in Republicans’ stars but in themselves. Forty years ago the G.O.P. decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash. And everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Mr. Bush as the party’s champion, to the Bush administration’s pervasive incompetence, to the party’s shrinking base, is a consequence of that decision.
If the Bush administration became a byword for policy bungles, for government by the unqualified, well, it was just following the advice of leading conservative think tanks: after the 2000 election the Heritage Foundation specifically urged the new team to “make appointments based on loyalty first and expertise second.”
Contempt for expertise, in turn, rested on contempt for government in general. “Government is not the solution to our problem,” declared Ronald Reagan. “Government is the problem.” So why worry about governing well?
Where did this hostility to government come from? In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political consultant, explained the evolution of the G.O.P.’s “Southern strategy,” which originally focused on opposition to the Voting Rights Act but eventually took a more coded form: “You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.” In other words, government is the problem because it takes your money and gives it to Those People.
Oh, and the racial element isn’t all that abstract, even now: Chip Saltsman, currently a candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, sent committee members a CD including a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro” — and according to some reports, the controversy over his action has actually helped his chances.
So the reign of George W. Bush, the first true Southern Republican president since Reconstruction, was the culmination of a long process. And despite the claims of some on the right that Mr. Bush betrayed conservatism, the truth is that he faithfully carried out both his party’s divisive tactics — long before Sarah Palin, Mr. Bush declared that he visited his ranch to “stay in touch with real Americans” — and its governing philosophy.
That’s why the soon-to-be-gone administration’s failure is bigger than Mr. Bush himself: it represents the end of the line for a political strategy that dominated the scene for more than a generation.
While I think some Republican strategists are hoping gay is the new Magic Negro (so to speak), that strategy presents a real problem for them. Unlike the unholy chimera of racial bigotry and “small government”, there is no dog whistle that assumes gay people are economic ‘free loaders.’
Without the implicit connection between economics and “Those People”, it becomes much harder to make the case for conservative economics (Big Shitpile doesn’t help either). Instead, all the Republicans are left with is hatred–their natural base over the last 40 years–and there’s no fig leaf to cover it.