Columnist: 'Reform'-Minded Conservatives Will Rise After ‘Loony’ GOP Nominee Gets Trounced in 2016

Damon Linker, who opines for the newsmagazine The Week, thinks the so-called reform conservatives have a chance to pull the Republican party back towards the center, but predicts it won’t happen until after the GOP base -- currently “gripped by a form of political psychosis, doing furious battle with ideological phantoms of its own creation” -- nominates for president a “genuine right-wing radical” who's crushed at the polls a la Barry Goldwater. “Only that kind of blowout,” wrote Linker, “will exorcize the demons that have taken hold of the Republican soul in recent years.”

From Linker’s piece last Wednesday (emphasis added):


[Reform conservatives] hope to coax the Republican Party away from its recent addiction to ideological extremism, tactical brinksmanship, and a do-nothing/know-nothing approach to governing…

…I wish them the best of luck.

But they are bound to fail. At least in the near term.


The base of the Republican Party doesn't particularly care about policy — unless the policy is tax cuts. Or policing the border, kicking out undocumented immigrants, and sending them dirty underwear.

From the moment Barack Obama took the oath of office, the base of the Republican Party has been gripped by a form of political psychosis, doing furious battle with ideological phantoms of its own creation, motivated by racial resentments and status anxieties that were once limited to marginal right-wing groups, but that thanks to tireless efforts of talk radio and Fox News now infect the minds of many millions of voters.

Among the most pernicious and self-destructive of these fantasies is the belief that the GOP lost to Obama in 2008 and 2012 because it nominated "Republicans In Name Only" (RINOs). If only the party had gone with a "true conservative" instead of the professional centrist John McCain and ObamaCare-architect Mitt Romney, the party would have won in a landslide.

There's no empirical basis for rejecting the median voter theorem and supposing, instead, that the number of far-right voters surpasses the number of those in the ideological center. But no matter: A lot of grassroots Republicans believe it, and so a number of Republican politicians (foremost among them Frank Underwood — oh, sorry, I mean Ted Cruz) accordingly treat it as cross between divine revelation and a self-evident truth…

But that doesn't mean reformicon hopes are entirely misplaced. It's just that reform is likely to take quite a bit longer than they seem to expect.

How long? As long as it takes for the party to nominate a genuine right-wing radical — and then watch him go down to defeat in a landslide to rival Goldwater in 1964 (38.5 percent) or McGovern in 1972 (37.5 percent). Only that kind of blowout will exorcize the demons that have taken hold of the Republican soul in recent years.

…The country would benefit immensely from the GOP waking up from its fever dreams. But getting there could be risky. In a two-person race, even a loony candidate has a chance of winning. Hillary Clinton will be a strong contender for the White House in 2016, but with Obama's consistently soft approval ratings, world order falling to pieces on his watch, and the Senate in jeopardy of falling into Republican hands this November, she isn't likely to be a shoo-in.

Still, the best chance for genuine Republican reform will be for the party to nominate a firebrand who gets roundly and unambiguously repudiated by voters. That defeat, coming after two previous ones, just might provoke genuine soul searching, and a dawning awareness that the GOP has gone down a dead end and can only find its way out by a dramatic change of direction. Think of liberals nominating New Democrat Bill Clinton after losing with Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and Michael "Card-Carrying Member of the ACLU" Dukakis…Sometimes a political party needs to get knocked upside the head before it can come back to its collective senses…

Conservatives & Republicans 2016 Presidential The Week Damon Linker