Frank Rich is a gifted writer, and I agree with the general gist of his column on Palinism. But the headline is all wrong. Palin didn’t break the Republican Party. It’s pretty plain that something pathological has dwelt within the Right for a very long time. The difficulty in diagnosing it has been that almost none of us were alive and conscious in the 1920’s, the last time before the Bush Era that the GOP controlled all three branches of government.
The 1930’s brought a deep and abiding minority status for the Republican Party, all of which they spent nursing one form of paranoid grievance or another. In the 1930’s it was red-baiting, foaming about the New Deal, and apologizing for fascism. In the 1940’s, after the war, it was an unhealthy obsession with the Red Menace of Russia and China. In the 1950’s it was all about communist infiltration of the government, Hollywood, and the armed services. From the 1960’s on, it has been about countering the counterculture and fighting the expansion of rights to all our citizens, regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual preference. Their one decent president in all this time wasn’t even much of a Republican. The Democrats would have happily nominated the Supreme Allied Commander in 1952 if Ike had only agreed to run on their ticket. The rest of the GOP’s lineup has been thoroughly corrupt, if not corrupt and incompetent.
Because science has inconveniently declined to back-up any of their fantasies, science has been completely discounted. According to Pew Research only six percent of scientists consider themselves Republicans. Think about that. Sarah Palin didn’t do that. It took decades of work to reach this point even if it wasn’t until the last eight years that we truly saw the national ignorance weaponized by complete Republican control.
Only three percent of blacks voted for McCain, a number similar to what Bush the Younger received. That didn’t happen overnight. A higher percentage of Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than Democrats. But years of bitching about social programs that benefitted a community just emerging from the yoke of Jim Crow drove blacks away from the Party of Lincoln. In this decade it has been bitching about hispanic immigration that has driven Latinos away in droves. There are 535 elected members of Congress (plus a few delegates), but there is only one Republican Jew, no Republican Muslims, no Republican agnostics, no Latino Republicans (other than the four Cubans from Florida), no gay Republicans, and no women in leadership positions.
Republican strategists know that the country is getting less white, less Christian, and less intolerant of gays, but they are powerless to stop the hatred of the Republican base towards racial and religious minorities and gays. Sarah Palin did her best to whip these aggrieved people into a violent frenzy, but she didn’t create them or drive everyone but them away from the Republican Party.
Sarah Palin may own the GOP, but she didn’t break it. As far as I can tell, it’s been been broken since Teddy Roosevelt quit it to found the Bull Moose Progressive Party. They can never be trusted with power. Never.