Four years ago the Republican Party had just been thumped hard in the 2008 elections. They lost the White House and Democrats had large majorities in both houses of Congress. The voters had roundly rejected George W. Bush's policies and the party that maintained them. Republicans were in desperate need of a makeover, and os something to rally a conservative base that also felt let down by the former president. That's when the GOP began their dual strategy: to complicate, block, and frustrate the new president by any means necessary on Capitol Hill and in state governments, and to whip up their hard core followers by Astro-turfing the Tea Party.
The latter arm of their strategy was a devil's bargain, because they were openly stoking extremism of the kind that had once threatened to derail the conservative movement after World War II. More pragmatic conservatives like William F. Buckley expelled the whacko Birchers in the 1960s, and the charismatic and appealing Ronald Reagan became the face of the movement. Ironically, in light of today's developments, it was the Left that proceeded to tear itself apart over ideological differences. The Right became a disciplined machine well-oiled by corporate money and assisted by the decline of the old Fordist economic model.
After the 2008 election, lots of pundits wondered whether conservatism's thirty-year hegemony over American politics was finally coming to an end. I must admit, I was one of them. To prevent such an outcome, the Republican leadership resorted to the nuclear option of unleashing the formerly hidden whacko wing of the part, now rebranded the "Tea Party" and supposedly reflective of broad popular outrage. Stoked by open racial resentment, its lips dripping with the word "nullification," and dominated by a paranoid, extremist mindset, the new radicals may . These were the types of people that the conservative movement had kept in the closet, so as not to freak out moderate voters, but now they were the Republicans' biggest asset.
While the Tea Party strategy worked in the short term, getting Republicans back into power and giving the party faithful a sense of purpose and momentum, it was not a strategy meant to last forever. Unfortunately for the party leadership, the Tea Partiers, emboldened by their apparent show of force, do not want to go back to the shadows. In 2012, the Tea Party quickly became a liability, with the likes of Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert making the Republicans look like the "stupid party," in the words of Bobby Jindal. It could even be argued that Tea Party candidates like Todd Akin kept the party from regaining the Senate, something that Karl Rove now appears to agree with. His attempt to organize support for establishment candidates has led to brutal internal warfare in the conservative ranks, with the establishment now being threatened by a permanent insurgency.
Of all people, Karl Rove ought to know what happens when you sign a deal with the devil: he always gets his due. Rove's more intelligent and less reckless forbears like Buckley understood that you can't keep political extremists under control. Fanatics of all stripes will stop at nothing to get what they want, which is why they are to be kept from the levers of power. It would be easy for me to gloat at the Right's problems, but by enabling fanaticism, the conservative establishment has been like the sorcerer's apprentice, unleashing dangerous forces beyond its control. For a short-sighted bit of cynical strategy, we all now must suffer.