South Park Refugees

Republicans can't count on the votes of "Team America"


This column originally appeared in the New York Times on August 29.

I have bad news for the G.O.P. regarding that promising new bloc of voters, the South Park Republicans. It turns out they're not Republicans, at least not anymore.

According to Wikipedia, which would definitely be these voters' encyclopedia of choice, South Park Republicans are young Americans who "hold political beliefs that are, in general, aligned with those that seem to underpin gags and storylines in the popular television cartoon." The encyclopedia summarizes these beliefs with a quotation from one of the show's creators, Matt Stone, which includes a crucial expletive I must elide: "I hate conservatives, but I really … hate liberals."

The term was coined after Stone and his co-creator, Trey Parker, accepted an award in 2001 from People for the American Way at a dinner in Beverly Hills. The audience, warmed up by an evening of lefty rhetoric, was startled to hear Stone and Parker announce they were Republicans.

To those dreaming of a permanent G.O.P. majority, this new bloc was evidence that it was indeed a big-tent party: you could vote with the Christian Coalition while watching a show that set records for profanity. Republicans could embrace two guys who got their break with a video of a martial-arts duel between Santa Claus and Jesus.

Some Republicans were offended by the show's gibes at organized religion, but it seemed like a great recruiting tool because of its merciless mocking of Democrats like Al Gore, who appeared as a monster frightening the schoolchildren of South Park. In Brian Anderson's book last year, "South Park Conservatives," he hailed Stone and Parker for challenging Hollywood's liberal hegemony.

Democrats had "The West Wing," but Republicans had a hip show with a younger audience. Michael Moore could churn out propaganda, but Stone and Parker could counter with "Team America," their movie in which Moore appears as a suicide bomber who can't stop eating hot dogs.

Stone and Parker were never thrilled to be G.O.P. poster boys and said they weren't sure what a South Park Republican was. They were generally reluctant to be pigeonholed ideologically, but last week they clarified it by headlining at a Reason magazine conference in Amsterdam, the libertarian version of Davos. Stone and Parker said that if you had to put a label on them, they were libertarian—and that didn't mean Republican to this crowd.

The G.O.P. used to have a sizable libertarian bloc, but I couldn't see any sign of it at the conference. Stone and Parker said they were rooting for Hillary Clinton in 2008 simply because it would be weird to have her as president. The prevailing sentiment among the rest of the libertarians was that the best outcome this November would be a Democratic majority in the House, because then at least there'd be gridlock.

"We're the long-suffering, battered spouse in a dysfunctional political marriage of convenience," said Nick Gillespie, the editor in chief of Reason. "Most of the libertarians I know have given up on the G.O.P. The odds that we'll stick around for the midterm election are about as good as the odds that Rick Santorum will join the Village People."

Andrew Sullivan, the blogger who coined "South Park Republican," was at the conference with a preview of "The Conservative Soul," his new book on the spiritual corruption of Republicans. He said he now prefers to call himself a South Park conservative, not Republican.

"The Republicans have got to be punished for destroying conservatism," he said, explaining why he's rooting against the party this November. "If it requires an idiotic Democratic House to stop these people from doing what they're doing, then good."

Stone and Parker told me they'd previously seen the G.O.P. as a relief from the big-government liberals, particularly the ones preaching to America from Hollywood. "We see these people lying, cheating, whoring," Stone said. "They're our friends, but seriously, they're not people you want to listen to."

The religious right used to be a better alternative, Parker said. "The Republicans didn't want the government to run your life, because Jesus should. That was really part of their thing: less government, more Jesus. Now it's like, how about more government and Jesus?"

That may sound like a winning ticket to the religious right, and to Republic strategists who've assumed that libertarians have nowhere else to go. But some are ready to switch parties. The rest can always stay home and find something better on TV.