Communism, Crime, and the Republican Eclipse

Like a football has-been, is the GOP no longer relevant?

If you're a football fan, you've seen it happen. A coach bursts into prominence by using offensive or defensive innovations to produce victory after victory, championship after championship. For a long time, he's regarded as one of the best. And then, something happens.

First it's an upset loss here and there. Then it's a decline to mere respectability or mediocrity. The coach fires assistants, widens his search for players and tries new schemes. But nothing helps. Soon, the onetime genius is a has-been, out of ideas and out of work.

But it doesn't happen only in football. It also happens in politics. For a long time, the Republican Party had a proven formula for presidential elections, winning seven out of 10 times from 1968 through 2004. But after two straight losses, it suddenly looks badly out of touch with the electorate.

One explanation is that Republican candidates have done so much to hurt themselves—insulting women with obtuse remarks about abortion, alienating Latinos by demonizing illegal immigrants, and fighting same-sex marriage despite the public's shift in favor of it.

Beverly & Pack / / CC BYBeverly & Pack / / CC BYBut the bigger problem is that some major factors that once propelled the GOP to victory no longer exist and the party has failed to replace them. Remember Kodak? It was the leader in the film business—only to find that even the best film is obsolete in the digital era.

A generation ago, what was the biggest motivation for electing Republican presidents? The military threat and ideological challenge of world communism. Americans might not have been willing to buy a used car from Richard Nixon, but they trusted him more than Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern to resist the red tide.

Ronald Reagan won in 1980 partly because the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and were seen as surpassing us in military power. Jimmy Carter, whom he defeated, said he was surprised that Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had lied to him, which would not have surprised Reagan.

Carter had signed a controversial nuclear arms control agreement. Reagan embarked on a military buildup to bankrupt the Soviets, while providing covert aid to the Afghans fighting against them. Whatever voters thought of the Republican Party, they never thought it was soft on communism. They were not always sure about Democrats.

Nixon also made the most of another fear—of crime and violence. In 1968, he ran as the candidate of "law and order" against a backdrop of rising street crime and urban riots. In the 1970s, the joke was, "A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged."

In 1988, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis hurt himself by opposing the death penalty. The Illinois Republican State Central Committee put out a brochure saying, "All the murderers and rapists and drug pushers and child molesters in Massachusetts vote for Michael Dukakis"—who proceeded to lose the presidential election to George H.W. Bush.

Communism and crime were potent issues that worked for the GOP because they elicited well-grounded anxieties and seemed susceptible to tough-minded solutions. But the Soviet Union is defunct, and Vladimir Putin is mainly a nuisance. The long twilight struggle that shaped the world and the U.S. political environment is ancient history.

Besides being safer from foreign enemies, we're safer from domestic ones. Crime has plummeted over the past two decades. The murder rate is lower than it was in 1960.

Faced with these dangers, the voting public was generally drawn to the Republican promise of toughness and resolve, which Democrats often failed to convey. But as the threats subsided, they left the GOP without a major element of its identity.

Conservatives have labored to make use of other perils. In the 1990s, we were warned of a new Cold War—with China. Since 2001, al-Qaida has become the prime foreign threat. Illegal immigration has been treated as a danger to domestic safety and security.

But the realities have never lived up to the hype. China is too important as a trade partner to fill in for the Soviet Union. The Bush administration's bungling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq trashed the GOP's street cred in security matters. Undocumented foreigners, it turns out, are not very scary.

Republicans had a great formula that produced a long run of success. But any football coach can tell you: When the game changes, it doesn't matter what used to work.

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  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Jimmy Carter was a Republican coach?

  • John Galt||

    Are you sure that's Carter? Presidents both Republican and Democrat usually won't let Carter stand near them in any photo.

  • BarryD||

    ...which is weird.

    If I were President, I'd want to be photographed next to Jimmy Carter.

    If I were a chubby President, I'd want to be photographed next to Chris Christie.

    If I were a smart President, I'd want my picture with Joe Biden.

    It never hurts to remind the electorate, "Compared to what?"

  • John Galt||

    All perhaps true, nonetheless, in most group photos (at least those I've seen) Carter is standing off by himself like an unwanted red-haired step child.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    I hated Carter when he was POTUS, but now I think he's kinda cool. H 4 H, trying to keep people from going to war, doing some good stuff in the ME. Best ex-prez in a long time.

  • mgd||

    Jimmy Carter:ex-presidents::Michelle Obama:first ladies

    But H4H, yes--good stuff.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    "doing some good stuff in the ME."

    Kissing Islamic Fundamentalist ass while scapegoating TEH JOOS for all of the world's ills is not, and will never be "good stuff".

  • Tak Kak||

    This case can be made for Democrats 30 years ago, then Republicans then Democrats again all the way up to the formation of the GOP itself. It's like a pendulum. Nothing new.

  • Irish||

    Don't stand in the way of the narrative Tak Kak! Everyone knows that what is happening now is how things will always be forever.

  • Tak Kak||

    To repeat myself, and emphasize the stupidity of this kind of thinking:

    Between 1861 and 1933 every elected president was Republican, with the exception of Cleveland, Cleveland again and Wilson.

    After 1933 until 1969 every president was Democrat, with the exception of Eisenhower.

    Then Republican again, with the exception of Carter.

    I'd lean towards Bush II being an exception in a current Democratic swing, rather than Clinton.

  • John Galt||

    Who is that on the far right, to Reagan's left?

  • RightNut||

    That is the arch-demon known as Baal.

  • John Galt||

    If Baal translates to "owner/master" one would expect King Obama to hold claim to that title. So that must be Obama's white half in the photo.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Decent observation, except that the GOP is in a better position today than it's been in since 1930.

    They are poised for multi-decade dominance if they could purge the statist assholes that run the national party.

  • Tony||

    The GOP has won the popular vote in a national election exactly once in 24 years.

  • Irish||

    Yeah, VG Zaytsev is full of shit on this. I think the GOP could be in good shape long term if they decreased their reliance on the Christian vote and became less statist. However, they'd lose in the short term if they did that, so it's kind of a Catch-22.

    Tony's full of shit too, since the GOP has also controlled at least one house 14 of the last 20 years and controlled both for a good portion of that. They also have 30 state governors and the vast majority of state legislatures. The only way you can claim 'They've won the popular vote in a national election exactly once in 24 years!' is if you think the presidency is the only national office.

  • Sevo||

    "if you think"
    Nope. Not a chance.

  • Tony||

    It's the only one the whole country votes for. They can thrive in their own localities. Of course even though they won the House the last time around they still got fewer overall votes than Democrats.

    The upshot is that if you consider the will of the country as a whole, it's decidedly anti-Republican. To me this says Republican ideas ought not to dominate at the national level, but tell them that.

  • RightNut||

    You'd have a better argument if we had a multiparty parliamentary system where parties and candidates largely run on a single issue. As it is, we have a two party system, which means their is going to be significant overlap between the parties platforms. Add to that the only thing Obama really ran on was increasing taxes on "the wealthiest Americans", and I don't really thing you can argue that Democrat ideas are ascendant.

    Also, why are you Tony and not T O N Y today?

  • John Galt||

    Poor feller. No matter how hard you struggle it's still "hurr durrr" and not much else.

  • Rasilio||

    I don't think you are understanding the point he was making.

    He was not saying that the Republican party of the recent past could go on a multi decade run of dominance, he was saying that if the Republican Party makes a few necessary changes that they are in a position to make such a run.

    The problem has never been that the majority of the electorate has rejected Republican ideals, the problem is that the majority of the electorate no longer believes that Republican politicians actually hold those ideals, or really even any ideals at all. They have become by their actions the collection of lying valueless crony capitalists that the Democrats have always accused them of being.

    If the Paul wing of the party actually manages to be successful in their coup however and returns them to a true small government freedom based platform they will begin to regularly clean the Democrats clocks.

  • Tony||

    Nobody wants libertarian policies except the maximum 5% of the country who are libertarians.

    Everyone likes the idea of smaller government until they realize that it entails taking away some of their goodies.

    This is some serious delusion.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    You are clearly mistaken, given the popularity of Ron Paul, and the outrageous lengths the repubs went to to keep him off the ticket.

  • Tony||

    The outrageous lengths Republican primary voters went not to vote for him, you mean?

  • Finrod||

    Republicans went to great lengths to keep Ron Paul off the ticket because his loss to Obama would have made the 1964 election look like the 2000 election.

    A Republican candidate that published a newsletter with racist content vs. the first black President running for re-election? Obama would have won 40+ states.

  • ||

    "The problem has never been that the majority of the electorate has rejected Republican ideals, the problem is that the majority of the electorate no longer believes that Republican politicians actually hold those ideals.."

    ^This x 1000

    Fuck you Tony.

  • mtrueman||

    I´ve read the best chance the national GOP has is to use their control of state legislatures in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and a couple more to apportion electoral college votes on a proportional basis rather than the current winner take all system. Doing this might give them the next election, or several of them. It´s basically gaming the ever so gamable system.

  • ||

    "Tony's full of shit..."

    Truer words never spoken on these here H&R pages.

  • JWatts||

    LOL, brainless cherry picking of statistics for partisan purposes there.

    You could also say that the GOP has only won 2 of the last 6 elections. But obviously the rebuttal is that they've won 5 of the last 9, etc ad infinitum.

  • mtrueman||

    ¨But obviously the rebuttal is that they've won 5 of the last 9, etc ad infinitum.¨

    Yes, but it´s the future we are concerned with, not the past. I think it´s clear that the GOP has reached the point of diminishing marginal returns on its ¨southern strategy¨ - wresting previously democratic states of the south. The GOP might come around to courting the growing Hispanic vote, but at what cost? It could conceivably split the party. There´s not much future in being the party of dispossessed, resentful, working class whites.

  • RightNut||

    And the Democrats have won the popular vote in a national election exactly thrice in 24 years, with the caveat that 2000 was by the slimmest of margins. Your point?

  • Irish||

    Hahahaha. That's a good point. Clinton never got 50% of the vote. His first election, he only won 43 percent of the vote. In fact, in 2000 Al Gore only won 48% of the vote. That means there have only been 3 presidents in 24 years to get 50%+ - George Bush once and Barack Obama twice.

    Suddenly it doesn't seem like such a great statistic, does it Tony?

  • Tony||

    Seems better for Democrats than Republicans.

  • ||

    That's not saying much.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    "Seems better for Democrats than Republicans."

    You're moving your goalposts in a circle, dipshit.

  • ||

    Way to cherry pick data. Let's try this:

    Since the 1980 elections, among Democrats only Obama has gotten more than 50% of the popular vote, while every Republican elected managed to do so at least once.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Better position= on its knees, previous position= bent over with pants down?

  • Oaken45||

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  • John Galt||

    Edna is very clever. Most other people born in 1912 don't understand 'the computer.'

  • JWatts||

    She doesn't understand the computer either. She just makes money 'on' the computer. And sometimes 'on' the kitchen counter, 'on' the washing machine, etc. You know what ever the customer requests. She's very flexible, if you know what i mean. ;) ;)

  • John Galt||

    Ah ha! The old stove top stuffing for cash scheme.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    Shh. Edna's watching her programs.

  • entropy||

    In the 1970s, the joke was, "A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged."

    A libertarian is a conservative who's been mugged by the police.

  • BarryD||

    And an anarchist has been mugged by the police often enough to want to mug them back? ;)

  • Kyfho Myoba||


  • Free Society||

    Never once does Chapman mention how the GOP fails to deliver on it's supposed limited government philosophy. Which isn't surprising since limited government philosophy is the least of Chapman's concerns. To Steve Chapman what matters is maintaining the highest drinking age in the world and getting the Fed to make sub-prime loans even easier to obtain.

  • John Galt||

    Well, to be honest now that I'm not a minor myself, I really don't want a bunch immature children ruining the relaxing atmosphere at my favorite pub.

  • RightNut||

    Their are bars out there that are 23+, specifically to keep college age people out.

  • John Galt||

    What about the very worst of the worst, the 50+ year old "professional college student" crowd?

  • ||

    Also smokers. And drunks. And that noisy chick who is always whining about "the tab"

  • gaoxiaen||

    The best bars have no customers.

  • RightNut||

    Looks like Chapman has been reading Sean Trende's column over at RCP. Trende's been arguing for awhile now that people who claim their is a permanent majority of either party are full of it. Parties, like anything shaped by human opinion, are organic things, and will adapt in order to survive(or win elections).

  • JWatts||

    There's been a noticeable pendulum effect to US presidential elections for at least the last 70 years. I see no convincing evidence that this has changed.

  • Brandon||

    This guy sucks. I'm voting for the other guy.
    This guy sucks too, I'm going back to the first guy.
    This guy sucks, I'm voting for the second guy.
    This guy sucks, now that first guy doesn't seem so bad.
    It's time for a change; back to the second guy!

    The two parties have been trying to out-suck each other for decades.

  • Calvin Coolidge||

    Everyone sucks, it's as if Government service invariably attracts mediocrities who are rewarded for avoiding controversy! I'm voting for the libertarain!

  • Jim176||

    This explains politics in America neatly and succinctly. well done.

  • Brandon||

    Why could Bush not get a suit that fit for this photo? It's not like it was just a candid.

  • Calvin Coolidge||

    As the sitting ("reigning"?) president, he was too busy to change when his retired fishing buddies dropped by the office on a weekday.

  • Jim176||

    The biggest problem with all of this is that the elections are always a choice between dumb and dumber. The republicans do not really believe in small government any more then the democrats do. They just want to spend the money differently. And nobody has the courage to ask the people to truly pay what it costs or drop some expenses to fit what they want to pay.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    I thought it was always a choice between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich.

  • Finrod||

    +1 for the South Park reference.

  • gaoxiaen||

    We've been getting stuck with dumbest.

  • ||

    The only platform left for the Republicans to run on is by a promise to export all minorities back to their racial homelands, that promise will impress millions of voters but not enough to beat an opponent that hands out freebies.

  • Gordilocks||

    So everyone except the Natives have to leave?

  • Firstname||

    The GOP is not the only irrelevant political party. Both red and blue are extremely out of touch with the average American on many issues including social issues, defense, law enforcement and several others according to many recent polls. It is time to start electing those who represent the best interests of ALL Americans and not what their party or a few wealthy donors would like. I will never vote Republican or Democrat until they stop taking bribes and work for us again.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    Team Blue has been waiting since 2000 to bust out this, "Republicans lost the Presidential election; THEY'RE IRRELEVANT AND THE PEOPLE NO LONGER WANT THEM AROUND!" chestnut. The narrative will change when they get trounced in the years leading up to the next election, same backlash that Bush eventually received will come round to bite Obama and the cosmic cycle will begin anew.

  • BeBraveUSA||

    Neither Republicans nor Democrats are in it for the people. They are both in the business of controlling we serfs. The political class is one in and of itself; Self serving and not the least bit interested in our Liberty.
    Time for a 3rd Party of the people and For the People based on the constitution and not an ideology.

  • ||

    Undocumented foreigners, it turns out, are not very scary.

    Those ones that flew the planes into buildings, creating the latter-day security scare that kept Republicans in office, notwithstanding...

  • gaoxiaen||

    They had documents.

  • Josua||

    No, the problem is that the public, on a national level, is essentially a bunch of uneducated socialists. If you got rid of the Northeast and California, we'd have a completely different federal government and a completely different character of government. The reason the United States is in the condition it is in now, and the reason it will be in the condition it is headed toward in coming years, is that large numbers of Americans (mostly from California in the west and from all of the states in the Northeast) are very much in agreement with the goods being peddled by cronyists and socialists from both parties.

    In the end, people get the government they deserve.

  • NihilistZerO||

    To be fair CA wouldn't be so much of a problem if U could drop just the LA basin. The state would flip RED if you did. The combination of limousine and Hispanic liberals in LA really fucks the rest of us CA'ers. Though the fascist south Orange County fucks annoy as well. They love liberty as long as you don't want to paint your house a different color than the rest of the HOA or park a 20 year old car in master planned Irvine. I've come to the same conclusion many have, the "elite" dogmatists of both parties seek only slightly disimillar versions of a statist nightmare.

  • ||

    My grand daddy told me once " Aint no horse cant be broke. Aint no rider cant be thrown. Some days belong to the horse, some days belong to the rider."

  • Manor45||

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  • gaoxiaen||

    She only works a few hours on the internet at OKCupid and Youporn. But there's a waiting line outside her front door.

  • Flynn Parish||

    Republican = democrat lite.

    If the GOP were serious about winning, they wouldn't have Mitt as a candidate for president 2012. In my opinion, people are still voting the republicans because they think it's a little less bad than the democrats when the socialist screw up the economy majorly.

  • homme nike air max TN||

    First it's an upset loss here and there. Then it's a decline to mere respectability or mediocrity. The coach fires assistants, widens his search for players and tries new schemes. But nothing helps. Soon, the onetime genius is a has-been, out of ideas and out of work.

  • Brazen||

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  • gaoxiaen||

    You're making all this money and you bought a Ford? If it was a Lincoln, I'd believe you.

  • Brazen||

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  • Frank Boone||

    There are so many holes in your attempts at logic I'm almost at a loss on how to point all of them out in the limited space I have available.

    I'll start at the top but believe me when I say that is only the tip of the iceberg that will sink your battleship. Like "insulting women with 'obtuse' remarks about abortion"?? Rally?? Like what? That we're-not just talking about the life of the woman anymore when in her womb resides the most innocent among us that deserves "life and liberty" the same as it's mother?! Reasonable people can make allowances for the rare but often brought up by the idiots, "rape" and especially when the life of the mother is in danger. But if neither of those conditions exist, then abortion is just legalized murder. Please tell me who is obtuse? Me or the unreasonable heartless you as you seem to be the one annoyingly slow to understand we're talking about another human being. When you make excuses fr this wanton murder of the most innocent among us you have to be ignoring that something like 96% of all abortions in the US are a lack of taking responsibility for ones own actions.

    And please point out for me where in the term "illegal alien" it mentions race?? That's right you can't because your statement about republicans is actually a Freudian slip of your own latent racism, assuming illegal aliens are "Latino" :(

    I could go on and on but how can one explain this world to someone that seems to not only be from another planet.


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