Brian Birdnow

This past week Dana Milbank, the Washington Post chief editorialist and unpaid advisor to the Republican Party, offered his critique of the GOP effort to cleanse itself by drumming the “intolerant” elements out of the Party. Milbank titled his OP-Ed piece on this GOP effort “Republicans Rediscover Tolerance” and, in high dudgeon, he ripped into Congressman Don Young for his tasteless ethnic comments. Milbank also dredged up the ghosts of defeated Republican candidates Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, and raked them over the coals as well, although no one has seen either of these fellows since November. Mr. Milbank claims to see some improvement in conservative Republicanism, circa 2013 as “…Fox News Channel has dropped Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly criticized opponents of same-sex marriage”. He gleefully notes “…even the much feared Rush Limbaugh has come in for criticism on the right.” He concludes by pointing out that MSNBC host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough “…blamed Limbaugh and Fox News Channel for Republicans poor electoral fortunes.” Milbank thus gives the Republicans a nearly passing grade for marginalizing the intolerant and bigoted faction of their Party.

Needless to say, the Republicans haven’t really hired Dana Milbank to critique the GOP, and probably won’t anytime soon. Still, the liberal echo chamber has started to pick up this refrain, and many Republicans, hoping to make sense out of the disappointing loss last November are willing to listen. The problems that this scenario presents are numerous. First of all, if the Republicans accept the media slander that they are the Party of “intolerance” they give the charge legitimacy. Many Townhall columnists including this author have noted in the past that the Republicans spend most of their time fending off the routine defamations and libelous attacks hurled at them by the Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media. When the GOP officeholders and assorted politicos turn their attention to attacking their own Party (which Milbank notes approvingly) they certainly lend a level of credibility to further media attacks on their character. Why should the media refrain from hitting below the belt, so to speak, when the Republicans will do this to their own?

Should the Republicans listen to the likes of Dana Milbank, Eugene Robinson, Kathleen Parker, and others who claim to know what is best for the Grand Old Party? Most of these folks are registered Democrats who not only happily voted for Barack Obama twice, they actually greatly feared a Romney victory. It is easy to gloat in April that you knew your own Party would win all along the previous autumn, but the worry that many of the mainstream columnists and commentators felt in October, particularly after the first debate, was palpable. Milbank, Robinson, Parker et al. do not want a vigorous and competitive Republican Party. They would much prefer a return to the 1960s, when the Democrats routinely won 55-58% of the popular vote, and Republicans were as rare as a 1960 Edsel. The critics would like a return to the bland, unthreatening Bob Dole Republicanism of yesteryear, one that allows the Democrats to build their European style Socialist state with minimal interference, save for the occasional warning about the mounting cost. The green eyeshade GOP accountants would grumble about the expense, but would go along in the end. This is the type of GOP that Dana Milbank and his Washington Post compatriots would welcome.

When discussing electoral results a little perspective is usually in order. The 2012 election is no exception to the rule. The results were disappointing for the Republican Party and for their candidates, and there is no way to sugarcoat this bitter pill. However, if we think back two years to 2010 we remember that the Republicans issued the Democrats a thrashing of epic proportions. The GOP took control of the House of Representatives, winning sixty-three seats, and came back to a very respectable number of forty-seven members of the U.S. Senate. Granted, a number of winnable Senate seats slipped through the Republican fingers in 2010, but the election was a huge GOP win. Milbank and company were not prattling on about the demise of the Republican Party in November 2010. They were busy strategizing on how to package bad economic news so as not to damage their suddenly vulnerable golden boy President. Even with the disappointing results of 2012 now fully digested, the Republican numbers are higher than they were at the beginning of the Obama era, in the wake of the 2008 reverse. The Republican Party has many reasons for good cheer at the moment, and could become quite effective soon, if they find a few good leaders and strategists. The demise of the GOP has been greatly exaggerated.

If the Republicans give up on immigration and same-sex marriage in the hope of prying a few moderate voters away from the Democratic Party they risk losing their conservative base without picking up any of those moderates who would see this step as the exercise in opportunism that it certainly seems to be. The Republicans would be punching their tickets to political exile if they return to the “me-too” Republicanism of the 1960s-70s variety. The GOP jettisoning its principles will not better serve the country. Republican voters and the nation at large deserve, in Phyllis Schlafly’s memorable words, “A Choice, Not An Echo.”


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.

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