The self-destruction of the #GOP

The only certainty in this year’s GOP nomination battle has been uncertainty (that, and “Whoa nelly, has this been a ride or what?”) Republican primary voters have hopped from Bachmann to Perry to Cain to Gingrich and now seem to be settling into a confused Gingrich/Romney/Paul split. Part of this is because the entire race, so far, has been a farce (though Paul’s recent ascendency leaves one to hope it’s not entirely a farce), but I think another part is the increasing heated and intense Republican litmus test being applied by those within the “conservative movement.”

I’ve noted here previously that “We’re All RINOs Now,” citing Dan Drezner and David Frum. As I wrote there, using Drezner’s language, the Republican Party has turned into a “cargo cult,” moving farther to the right on several points, especially on LGBT issues, and I think it’s beginning to place itself outside of the “Overton Window,” the selection of policies considered politically acceptable by the public. Gay bashing, abortion banning, and putting a greater emphasis on religious morals in government may appeal to a segment of the conservative movement, but compared to the general populace, that is gradually disappearing.

This narrative is quite popular among the left, who want to paint the Republican Party as more and more radical and opposed to the general beliefs of the American population, but as I pointed out, a lot of people you would consider conservative feel the same way. One explanation is to place the blame at the feet of talk show pundits like Hannity, Limbaugh, and O’Reilly. I think, however, there is a much better explanation to be had.

While reading Tod Kelly’s parody post that the Republican Party is really Highlander (that might actually make me watch the damn debates), I found an interesting link in the comments to a 2007 post over at LessWrong about the “evaporative cooling theory of group beliefs:”

I was looking at a Java applet which demonstrates the use of evaporative cooling to form a Bose-Einstein condensate, when it occurred to me that another force entirely might operate to increase fanaticism.  Evaporative cooling sets up a potential energy barrier around a collection of hot atoms.  Thermal energy is essentially statistical in nature - not all atoms are moving at the exact same speed.  The kinetic energy of any given atom varies as the atoms collide with each other.  If you set up a potential energy barrier that’s just a little higher than the average thermal energy, the workings of chance will give an occasional atom a kinetic energy high enough to escape the trap.  When an unusually fast atom escapes, it takes with an unusually large amount of kinetic energy, and the average energy decreases.  The group becomes substantially cooler than the potential energy barrier around it.  Playing with the Java applet may make this clearer.

In Festinger’s classic “When Prophecy Fails”, one of the cult members walked out the door immediately after the flying saucer failed to land.  Who gets fed up and leaves first? An average cult member?  Or a relatively more skeptical member, who previously might have been acting as a voice of moderation, a brake on the more fanatic members?

After the members with the highest kinetic energy escape, the remaining discussions will be between the extreme fanatics on one end and the slightly less extreme fanatics on the other end, with the group consensus somewhere in the “middle”.

Basically, the more moderate people will leave, and eventually, the “middle” will go further and further to the extreme. We’ve seen this lately with the saber-rattling against Iran; the tax reform plans which, while a good start, aren’t really thought out that well; and the strong rhetoric against welfare and social spending which is again, a good starting point, but I don’t realy think they’ve thought through the implications, and lack a good transition plan, which I think hurts the call for less government intervention more than it helps.

This idea is born out by the constant figures of the number of political independents rising. Both parties have lost a considerable number of voters in the past few years, and I suspect a lot of it is because the GOP has just gone off the deep end. Unfortunately, as more moderates are alienated and leave, the GOP is just going to go deeper and deeper.

There is, of course, one hope left: Ron Paul. If Paul can win Iowa and New Hampshire, and miracles beyond miracles get the nomination, he might be able to restore enough faith in the party for more moderates and sensible people to rejoin and put it back on track. However, it could also backfire, and even if he does win the nomination (or hell, even the general!) it might just put the hardcore types into more of a frenzy.

I think we’re seeing the GOP blow itself apart in a frantic scramble to prove who is “truly” conservative. This comes at the worst possible time, as the forces of socialism, corporatism (which, regrettably, are also well represented in the GOP), and modern “liberalism” are on the march. Hopefully, those who left the GOP will band together and form a new party or movement that focuses solely on fiscal and regulatory issues and brings our country back under control.

Then again, maybe I’m crying all for nothing; as Cato’s David Boaz explained to the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin last January about GOProud’s little controversy at CPAC, the conservative “status quo” is always changing: “Twenty years from now, conservatives will deny they were ever anti-gay, just as they now have no memory of ever supporting discrimination against African-Americans or women.”

Maybe they’ll get over this and move forward. Or maybe not.

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