The face of today’s Republican Party – at least its public face – is contorted in maniacal rage. Overheated rhetoric has given way to pejorative – even threatening – diatribes against the President, and the party’s leaders openly talk about being “at war” with Democrats. In Texas, a rock-and-roll relic named Ted Nugent is hurling the grossest threats and insults at President Obama while publicly campaigning on behalf of the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Meanwhile, that old war horse, Rush Limbaugh, spews one outrage after another, secure in the knowledge that very deep pockets are supporting him even when his radio program is losing millions from boycotts.
The display of theatrical excessiveness is not restricted to the lunatic fringe. The entire Grand Old Party has become a circus.
Party leaders, for example, have transformed their campaign headquarters into a bizarre stage set. This from the Washington Post:
At the headquarters where Republicans are plotting their takeover of the Senate, camouflage netting hangs from the ceiling and walls. Military surplus sandbags are piled up around operatives’ desks. And an ex-Marine named Ward Baker rattles off statistics that add up to trouble for Democrats.
“Our mentality is that we are at war every day,” said Baker, who as political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee is helping command the 2014 midterm campaigns. “We’re here for one reason: to win the majority. Anything else is a failure.”
Demagogues like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul hog the limelight with extremist proclamations and irresponsible grandstanding, while more restrained party leaders are brushed aside. Incredibly, Cruz was named “statesman of the year” by Sarasota, Florida, Republicans.
How, I ask myself, can anyone expect to be entrusted with the reins of government when they behave in such outlandish ways?
And then I remember the saying, usually attributed to P,T. Barnum, that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
In the clatter and clamor of a society like this, name recognition seems to be everything. A homicidal clod who escaped the chair after shooting a black teenager to death in Florida is now a “celebrity” and was recently featured in a pay-per-view boxing promotion. Serial killers can peddle their stories for millions. Rogues and con artists get elected and re-elected with disheartening regularity.
In view of all this, it occurs to me that the Republicans might be smarter than they seem. After all, they’re getting hours of free air time with their grotesque behavior. They know the media can’t resist the allure of free entertainment programming, however distasteful the content might be.
And they’re betting that the American public will be so distracted by the ongoing circus that they will be duped into voting against their own best interests. With no palatable policies to offer, the party cannot depend on substantive discussion to contest the midterm elections. They’re obliged to resort to stagecraft and trickery, like the snake oil salesmen of old.
I can only hope that the American public is more sophisticated today. We will find out in November.