Victoria Noble: The GOP's far-right problem

Thursday, October 15, 2015 - 6:55pm

Our GSI gave us two articles to read before a class discussion on the Democratic presidential debate. One, written by the New York Times Editorial Board, titled “The Grown-Ups Take the Stage at the Democratic Debate,” contrasted the debate with the Republican Party’s latest nonsense in Congress and on the campaign trail.

During previous election seasons, I might have complained that the obviously partisan piece was just an example of liberal bias in the media. But when the Republican Party seems so intent on self-inflicted embarrassment, it’s hard to point fingers at anything but the party itself.

Republicans are known for professing their concern that the United States is headed down the wrong path. If the country’s heading down the wrong path, the Republican Party is leading our country down that path.

Most of the Republican Party prioritizes the best interests of the United States. Many Republicans formulate and support great solutions to some of the country’s toughest problems. But the John Kasich- and Bob Corker-type candidates are almost always overshadowed by the Donald Trumps and Ted Cruzes; in other words, the far right.  

Very few Republican leaders are from the far-right wing of the party. The far-right leaders aren’t the chairs of powerful Congressional committees or the authors of any serious legislation. But they are the people who’ve learned to dominate the airwaves and use the media industry’s thirst for popping headlines to their advantage. They’re the Kim Kardashians of the policy world.

The far-right Republican candidates’ statements and policies are probably less realistic than reality TV; the pictures they paint of the world more dramatic. Their stories cast medical researchers as baby killers and refugees as potential terrorists. They oppose support for the “lazy” and unemployed, but also for “corrupt” trade agreements that are expected to create jobs. Some days, we’re teetering on the edge of a fiscal cliff; on others, the country’s moral depravity will end us all.

These far-right leaders are bombastic and inane, but they have an enormous impact on and pose a real threat to the GOP. Just as the commercial success of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" has fueled both the proliferation of reality TV and tabloid coverage of its characters, the far right’s antics have both inspired political converts and earned them the center stage of “Republican” news.

They proclaim their extreme views so loudly that many confuse them for the party’s platform. They have adopted grandstanding and filibustering as primary methods of advancing their viewpoints, and Fox News happily broadcasts their usually conspiratorial and increasingly racist, sexist and homophobic views to the party’s base.

If this continues, the GOP can kiss goodbye not only the next election, but also any credibility it retains. At the moment, Republican politics are entertaining. The debates are fun to watch, and record numbers are tuning in to watch the circus unfold. But few want clowns running the country.

Most Republicans aren’t clowns. But unless they take control of policy debates, the public won’t know that.

It’s possible that the GOP is scared of further infighting splitting the far right from the establishment. But retaking control of the party’s platform and policies isn’t about winning elections or pleasing voters in the short term — though those things could conceivably happen as a happy side effect.

Rather, it’s about limiting gridlock by electing candidates who know how to negotiate and compromise. It’s about restoring efficacy and integrity to government by filling positions with professionals who understand that they are public servants, paid by taxpayers to run the government. How often do you see a group of employees threaten to shut down their own company in order to get their way — and not get fired?

The far right grows increasingly powerful only because their absurdity draws so much attention. To stay credible, the Republican Party needs to prevent future embarrassments like its ongoing inability to select a Speaker of the House, threatened government shutdowns and 10-plus candidate presidential primaries replete with racial hatred and tax code burning.

To do this, the GOP needs to confront its most ridiculous members where they have the greatest advantage — in the media. The GOP needs to garner attention based on the positive actions of its members. The Republicans need to propose meaningful solutions and discredit the more extreme members of their own party, irrespective of the angry responses they’re likely to get in return.

The Republican Party has created an environment where its own name is associated with policies that most of its members don’t support. It’s allowed social issues to dominate at the expense of issues that the party is uniquely equipped to address: advancing U.S. foreign policy interests, restoring balance to the budget, making government operations more efficient and the tax code fairer and easier to understand.

The far right has received its fair share of criticism from the left, in pieces like the one in the New York Times featured in my class discussion. But the Republican Party has failed to address the issues within its own ranks.

It’s time for that to change.  

Victoria Noble can be reached at vjnoble@umich.edu.