by Michael Lowrey
Jacob Weisburg, writing in the New York Times:
The current field of Republican presidential candidates invokes Reagan as a patron saint, but the characteristics that made him a successful politician seem lost on them. Instead, they’ve turned his party into a swamp of nativism, ideological extremism and pessimism about the country’s future, in direct opposition to Reagan’s example. And they’ve transformed primary season into a reality show of insults, betrayals and open feuds, defying the so-called 11th Commandment that Reagan espoused: Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.
Once in office, Reagan said that anytime he could get 70 percent of what he wanted from a legislature, he’d take it. Today’s congressional Republicans won’t settle even for 99 percent: Their mentality has shifted away from having policies and governing and toward a kind of bitter-end obstructionism.
The examples of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee underscore the point that a no-hope presidential run has more upside than downside. A career as a right-wing celebrity — a stint on Fox News, speaking fees, book advances — is more profitable than one in the Senate. These incentives have helped to shift the Republican Party from a party of opportunity to a party of opportunists.
The loser could be the party itself. Unless it repudiates the inflammatory rhetoric of the primary, it will lose Reagan’s claim to the center and become more like one of Europe’s chauvinistic right-wing parties. In the 1980s, it was said that the Democrats looked for heretics while the Republicans looked for converts. To watch the spectacle in the 2016 primaries is to see those tendencies reversed.