Can Republicans survive their own success?

James Poulos is less skeptical than Daniel McCarthy that a return to power will have a corrupting influence on Republicans. McCarthy writes:

[W]e have indeed witnessed various manifestations of an anti-government, populist Right over the past 60 years. But what has happened every time? The Goldwaterites turn into Nixonians. A Reagan disappoints the populist hard right. Anti-Washington sentiment puts in power a Republican Congress which then embarks upon a K Street Project. Every time the GOP has lost power in the past half-century, it has reverted to anti-statist rhetoric. And every time the party resumes power, that rhetoric proves empty. Is there any reason to think this latest iteration will be any different?

James invokes the economic collapse and the rise of the Tea Party movement to make his case that a future Republican government would remain principles, and largely shrugs off the problem of executive power. He does acknowledge that he’d like to take “a giant leap or two away from the cult of the presidency, and a number of hard-earned steps away from the politics of permanent crisis.”

Taking those steps would certainly be a good idea, though I’m not at all sure how we can realistically get from here to there. The presidency has become a symbol of both failure and success in the popular imagination. Americans are over-stuffed on an unhealthy diet of presidential mania by the press. During the Bush years and now during the Obama presidency, the cult of the presidency has become cemented into our collective conscious.

The president is the Alpha and the Omega of American politics, and every new crisis, from oil spills to insubordinate generals, only feeds into this puppet show.

My bet is that far from capitalizing on whatever small government rhetoric exists in the Tea Party movement, the result of a Republican resurgence will be a return to the same-old borrow and spend policies which have defined the Republican party for the past few decades, and especially during the profligate Bush years.

This is partly because of the value we place on the presidency – an office Americans now believe exists to 'get things done', requiring presidents to be far more pro-active than they probably ought to be, and encouraging all legislators to tell us only what we want to hear. It’s also due in part to the dearth of healthy debate on the right. This leads to certain bad habits, like stifling criticism of conservative leaders in both politics and the media.

In an era of intense party loyalty within the GOP, it’s unlikely that pundits or politicians will do much to speak out against another big-spending Republican president or Congress. Maybe some voices within the Tea Parties themselves will continue to speak out against big government – even in its Republican manifestation – but my cynical self suspects that these will quickly be shuffled off to the wings and fringes, far from polite society.

Bay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsObamaPoliticsRepublicansTea Party

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Police Chief Bill Scott on Wednesday said a rebranding and reoganization of the former Gang Task Force amounts to “more than just the name change.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFPD Gang Task Force is ‘no more’: Chief re-envisions investigative unit

New Community Violence Reduction Team adds officers with community-policing experience

Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays attends an event to honor the San Francisco Giants' 2014 World Series victory on Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
Willie Mays turns 90: San Francisco celebrates the greatest Giant

By Al Saracevic Examiner staff writer I couldn’t believe it. Willie Mays… Continue reading

Ja’Mari Oliver, center, 11, a fifth grader at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, is surrounded by his classmates at a protest outside the Safeway at Church and Market streets on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in support of him following an April 26 incident where he was falsely accused by an employee of stealing. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
School community rallies behind Black classmate stopped at Safeway

‘When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us’

A warning notice sits under the windshield wiper of a recreational vehicle belonging to a homeless man named David as it sits parked on De Wolf Street near Alemany Boulevard on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. A proposed SF Municipal Transportation Agency law would make it illegal for overnight parking on the side street for vehicles taller than seven feet or longer than 22 feet. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA to resume ‘poverty tows’ amid calls to make temporary ban permanent

Fines and fees hurt low-income, homeless residents, but officials say they are a necessary tool

Income from Shared Spaces will provide financial resources to the San Francisco Municipal Transporation Agency, according to its director, Jeffrey Tumlin. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA director says Shared Spaces serves transit agency’s financial interest

$10.6 million price tag for program raises concerns among transit agency’s board members

Most Read