Is the Republican Party becoming a cult?

by Jamie Lutton

 On Monday, July 23, the NYT's had a cover story with this headline:

As bad as the regional Democrats are at fixing the  economic woes of California, the Republicans are in no shape to step in and take over in the next election cycle. .

They have lost too many voters in the last few years.

“It’s no longer a statewide party,” said Allan Hoffenblum, who worked for 30 years as a Republican consultant in California. “They are down to 30 percent, which makes it impossible to win a statewide election. You just can’t get enough crossover voters.”

“They have alienated large swaths of voters,” he said. “They have become too doctrinaire on the social issues. It’s become a cult.”
“The institution of the California Republican Party, I would argue, has effectively collapsed,” said Steve Schmidt, a Republican consultant who was a senior adviser to Mr. Schwarzenegger. “It doesn’t do any of the things that a political party should do. It doesn’t register voters. It doesn’t recruit candidates. It doesn’t raise money. The Republican Party in the state institutionally has become a small ideological club that is basically in the business of hunting out heretics.”

“When you look at the population growth, the actual party is shrinking,” Mr. Schmidt said. “It’s becoming more white. It’s becoming older. “

There are several reasons given for the decline of the Republican party in California.  What seems to be the leading cause, however, is the 'business of hunting out heretics'.  20 years ago, a Republican in office could be Pro-choice, have a conciliatory attitude toward the immigration problems. He or she could be be against the inflation of the military budget. Many of them were sympathetic to gay causes, such as gay marriage. It was acceptable to challenge the Republican Party, and stand alone, when voting.  The 'big tent' was a reality, not a hollow shell.

But no longer. The rise of the 'Tea Party' faction in the Republican party has shifted party to the right, in an effort to hand onto conservative voters, in the last few years.

Office holders who do not exactly toe the Party line are called RINOS, Republicans In Name Only, and replaced in the primaries by candidates who will toe the line. Usually, nowadays, they are candidates anointed by the Tea Party. Many good men and women have retired or have been driven out of the Republican Party, for not being 'conservative' enough.

And the national Republican party is still strongly apposing gay marriage, even though important Republicans like Dick Cheney, who has a gay daughter who recently got married, and Laura Bush have come out in favor of it.
They have pounded the drum of calling gay marriage 'immoral and wrong' and stoutly resisting it. State by state, when there is  a referendum supporting gay marriage, it is Republican money that apposes it.  This, too, is at least partly the influence of the Tea Party wing of the Republicans. While the Tea Party is on record wanting government to be smaller, they want to government to also interfere in the right of citizens to marry who they please.

But the national party, in particular with the drive to the right in the national campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, has alienated the average voter in California.

As another expert put it in the New York Times story, “The national party is becoming a party of very enthusiastic social conservatives driven by Southerners,” said Bill Whalen, a fellow with the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “It’s a problem if you’re an independent voter in California. If you think about the Republican Party, what national figure comes to mind? George W. Bush or Newt Gingrich.”

The average voter in California is more interested in hearing  working plans for the economy, and job creation, not tirades about illegal immigration, same sex marriage, and birth control.
Many of them are second generation Hispanics, children of immigrants, the ad hominem attacks on 'immigrants' make them uneasy. They fear being  personally swept up in hunts for illegals, such as what is happening in Arizona.
And California, home of the both the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and the city of San Francisco, is the home to the largest gay population in the country.  The face of the Republican party is the face of intolerance, even hate, to this community.

Even though California is struggling with cities going bankrupt, and a 11% unemployment rate,  the average voter is not interested in voting in Republicans, because of this focus.  The voters, perhaps rightly, see the Republicans as overly focused on trivial or even hostile positions, not understanding the lives and stuggles  of ordinary Californian citizens. . 

California is very like the rest of the country, just a little ahead in social trends.  Their population profile is thought to mirror what the rest of the country will look like, in ten or twenty years.

 The Republican Party may have taken hemlock for being the party of 'no', and not addressing our dire economic problems in the midst of the worst crisis in 80 years.

As California goes, goes the country?