Friday, June 11, 2010

Whig Party Shattered (1859)!

What is going on with political parties in our day?
by Charlie Leck

It is a beautiful and sun-shiny Wednesday morning after a dull, chilly, grey and day long rain yesterday. I'm working on Friday's blog. It will require some reading and checking.

I find myself wading through our local newspapers and significant on-line news sources, trying to figure out what the primaries of Tuesday might mean in the longer run, and most particularly about the coming November elections. At the same time, I am reading my text books for the on-line Yale course I am monitoring (Civil War & Reconstruction), and the emphasis right now is on the incredible national elections of the 1856 and 1860. It sounds crazy; that is, juxtaposing these events – antebellum America and Tea Party America – against one another; nevertheless, I am having fun doing it.

As for the primaries on Tuesday, 8 June 2010
I see small glimmerings that the Tea Party may not be as forcefully influential on voters as they hoped, or as I feared, they would be. I see that out of both Arkansas and California. Carly Fiorina won the Republican race in California for the right to go up against Barbara Boxer in the November election for the U.S. Senate seat. Fiorina, a former CEO at Hewlett-Packard, beat two candidates, one of which the Tea Party had been touting.

However, in Nevada, the candidate backed by the Tea Party, Sharron Angle, defeated the two established Republicans who were running against her. Here, if examined closely, one can see how the two traditional Republicans split their supporters and Angle was able to come slipping through the divide. She’ll now have to run against Senator Harry Reid in the general election. That will be a race worth watching and I believe it will be incredibly close. It’s interesting that part of Angle’s platform is a privatization of Social Security. Can you, if you receive Social Security payments, image what would have happened to Social Security over the last ten years – since 9-11 – had the system been privatized? She favors phasing out Social Security and that puts the Senior vote in Nevada very much in Mr. Reid's favor. Ms. Angle also approves of processing nuclear wastes at Yuka Mountain, which is highly unfavorable to Nevada residents of all political stripes. Senator Reid suddenly looks like the moderate centrist candidate in that election.

In South Carolina, Ms. Nikki Haley, a Republican and the Tea Party candidate won in the primary election for the right to run for Governor. Again, she was running against three other Republicans and those votes were badly split and it is difficult to get a reading of the Tea Party’s effectiveness. She’ll now need to prevail in a run-off election before taking on the Democrat in the general election. I remind myself that this is South Carolina and the Republican candidate, whoever it turns out to be, is most likely going to win there. It is difficult to use this state as a measuring stick of the Tea Party’s strength. If their candidate doesn’t win in this run-off it will be an incredible blow to them.

The side-story in this gubernatorial battle in South Carolina is that it is a race to replace Governor Mark Sanford, famous for his extramarital sexcapades. During the campaign, Ms. Haley had to overcome accusations that she has been having a couple of extramarital affairs herself. My, oh my! It is interesting to me that Ms. Haley is of India-American descent and might become, if she is classified as such, the first non-white Governor of the state. This will be an interesting race to watch over the summer months. Haley will have to beat Congressman J. Gresham Barrett in the run-off. The winner of that race will certainly win the general election in November. The runoff will gather attention because Haley is endorsed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

Sometime ago, I and many others were referring to the Tea Party as a divergent, third party movement. It is become clearer that it is really only another wing of the very conservative Republican Party movement. Though she would deny it, Sarah Palin is the Tea Party’s symbolic, if not de facto, leader. I think the movement’s success will very much depend on the coming success of Palin. And, I can’t personally imagine that the GOP is going to be willing to put its future into the hands of a wing-nut from Alaska. Of course, if her candidates win big this November, the Party big-wigs may have no choice in the matter at all. On the other hand, if the Tea Party fails to look good in this election, the Republican slot for President will be wide open once again.

The Tea Party, I believe, would have little influence in American politics if it weren’t for the constant fueling and refueling the crazies in the broadcast media keep giving it. It is like hundreds of millions of dollars in free advertising. This is a certain sign of what American politics has become and who controls it. Does the future of American politics belong to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh?

In the 1850s, the United States saw the collapse of the great Whig Party and the birth of a Republican Party (far different than the modern version) that would take control of the nation and elect Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Back then, what we saw was the creation of a liberal Republican Party and its movement to ally itself with the northern rush to abolish slavery.

The future of the Republican Party
The stakes are high for Republicans. In the last twenty years the Grand Old Party has changed in extraordinary ways. It has become the party that tried to create a home for moderates, true conservatives and radical, right-wing extremists. Can a major political party survive such schizophrenia? It will be one of the interesting developments to watch over the next decade -- and that starts this November.

This comment, for instance, comes from a New York Times article on the current confusion in the Republican Party:

“...Republican leaders will have to answer the question some critics are already asking, which is how they managed to let a promising election season get so mightily out of control.

Gail Collins in a NY Times opinion column suggests that election may be about much more than voter anger this year, and her point is interesting:

We have been entertaining ourselves with theories about how this election year is going to be all about voter anger. Or Washington insiders. Or health care. Or TARP. But, really, it’s going to be about money. Gobs of cash falling on campaigns like tar balls on a beach.

Lots of political candidates have been spending lots of money in the primaries. The two women who won the California primaries for Governor and the U.S. Senate spent over 100 million dollars of their own money on primary elections.

David Brooks, again in the NY Times, opines that red states seem to be getting redder, while the Tea Party is have trouble making progress in the blue states. The Republicans winning primaries in those states appear to be moderates.

Of course, as I can hear many of you saying, there is a whole summer and a good part of the autumn for campaigning yet; and none of us no where this thing is going to go. These questions will effect that…

How big a hit will Obama and the Dems take on the BP oil spill?

What kind of problems will arise in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Will Obama’s army of workers and donors show up in this election?

Will Obama’s campaigning make a difference and will candidates want his help?

What impact will Sarah Palin have? Or the Tea Party, for that matter?

Could the Tea Party methodology of conflict and anger actually hurt Republicans?

Will the economy show some improvement into the autumn?

Stay tuned because it is going to be a very interesting and an extremely important election that will, as did the elections of 1858 and 1860, define America for many decades to come.


This comment came in from South Carolina and it is worth posting here:
"Charlie, Nikki Haley is a Sarah Palin with brains, says one of our good Democrat friends here in Aiken. Even more interesting in SC is the defeat of Congressman Vic Rawl, by a totally unknown man - 32 years old, and unemployed. ...Tony (man who identified N. Haley with S. Palin) thinks the Republicans had a Big part in supplying him (I can't even think of his name right now) with the necessary funds to get in the race - and somehow dug up all of his votes. Crazy indeed.

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