By CHARLES M. BLOW
Published: March 22, 2013
Senator John McCain called the far-right darlings Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Justin Amash wacko birds earlier this month. (McCain later apologized for that burst of honesty and candor.)
Ann Coulter used her Conservative Political Action Conference speech to take a shot at New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, who was not invited to speak this year. Coulter quipped: Even CPAC had to cut back on its speakers this year, by about 300 pounds. What a lovely woman.
Also at CPAC, the half-term ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, took a whack at Karl Rove, challenging him to run for office himself. Buck up or stay in the truck, she said with her usual Shakespearean eloquence. Rove shot back that if he were to run and win, he’d at least finish his term. Ouch.
Donald Trump took to Twitter recently to call the conservative blogger Michelle Malkin a dummy who was born stupid. It’s hard to know whom to side with when two bullies battle.
But all this name-calling, as fun as it is to watch, is just a sideshow. The main show is the underlying agitation.
The Republican Party is experiencing an existential crisis, born of its own misguided incongruity with modern American culture and its insistence on choosing intransigence in a dynamic age of fundamental change. Instead of turning away from obsolescence, it is charging headlong into it, becoming more strident and pushing away more voters whom it could otherwise win.
Andrew Kohut, the founding director of the Pew Research Center, pointed out in The Washington Post on Friday that the party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, and that is in part because the outsize influence of hard-line elements in the party base is doing to the G.O.P. what supporters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern did to the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.
And too many of those hard-liners have a near-allergic reaction to the truth.
A prime example is Michele Bachmann, the person who convened the Tea Party Caucus in Congress and a Republican candidate for president last year.
She burst back on the scene with a string of lies and half-truths that could have drawn a tsk tsk from Tom Sawyer.
PolitiFact rated two of her claims during her CPAC speech last Saturday as pants on fire false. The first was that 70 cents of every dollar that’s supposed to go to the poor actually goes to salaries and pensions of bureaucrats. The second was that scientists could have a cure for Alzheimer’s in 10 years if it were not for a cadre of overzealous regulators, excessive taxation and greedy litigators.
She also said during that speech that President Obama was living a lifestyle that is one of excess in the White House, detailing how many chefs he had, and so on.
The Washington Post gave that claim four Pinocchios, and pointed out that during last year’s G.O.P. presidential race, Bachmann racked up the highest ratio of Four-Pinocchio comments, so just about everything she says needs to be checked and double-checked before it is reported.
And in a speech Thursday on the House floor, she said of the federal health care law:
The American people, especially vulnerable women, vulnerable children, vulnerable senior citizens, now get to pay more and they get less. That’s why we’re here, because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.
Factcheck.org pointed out that her facts didn’t match her hyperbole.
Last year The Washington Post quoted Jim Drinkard, who oversees fact-checking at The Associated Press, as saying, We had to have a self-imposed Michele Bachmann quota in some of those debates.
It’s sad when you are so fact-challenged that you burn out the fact-checkers.
People like Bachmann represent everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. She and her colleagues are hyperbolic, reactionary, ill-informed and ill-intentioned, and they have become synonymous with the Republican brand. We don’t need all politicians to be Mensa-worthy, but we do expect them to be cogent and competent.
When all the dust settles from the current dustup within the party over who holds the mantle and which direction to take, Republicans will still be left with the problem of what to do with people like Bachmann.
And as long as the party has Bachmanns, it has a problem.