The Democrats are supposed to be holding a presidential debate tonight, but a lively intramural argument broke out on the right this morning when conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks declared the House Republican Caucus “ungovernable” — and blamed the situation on radicalization within the GOP:
This was not just the work of the Freedom Caucus or Ted Cruz or one month’s activity. The Republican Party’s capacity for effective self-governance degraded slowly, over the course of a long chain of rhetorical excesses, mental corruptions and philosophical betrayals. Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism. Republicans came to see themselves as insurgents and revolutionaries, and every revolution tends toward anarchy and ends up devouring its own.
Of course, there are liberals have been writing about this polarization trend for years already, and today they’re wondering aloud what took David Brooks so long to see it. At Vox.com, Ezra Klein asks “whether (Brooks) will remember this analysis when the revolutionary words are coming from more establishment mouths” than ‘outsiders’ Donald Trump or Ben Carson — two men whose rise to the top of the Republican nomination polls has put a spotlight on the widening gap between the ‘country club’ elite and the culture warriors in the party grassroots.
Speaking for the latter group, right wing activist and anti-masturbation crusader Ben Shapiro is very, very upset that Brooks has dissed unsophisticated conservatives for constantly invoking Hitler analogies. Predictably, to make his point Shapiro offers yet another Hitler analogy:
Herein lies the problem with Brooks and his buddies: they never see crisis. Perhaps conservatives fall into the trap of worrying about crisis too often. But conservatives should be on war footing given the radicalism and tyranny of Barack Obama and his ever-ascendant left. Brooks seems convinced that everything will be okay, if we just speak nicely. Conservatives wonder what he’s smoking. Brooks and his friends find comparisons to Nazi Germany uncouth, and believe it could never happen here, ever, under any circumstances. Most Germans thought the same thing.
As if to underline the very points Brooks has just made about the radicalization of the conservative movement, Shapiro rejects any compromise with opposing political forces. On most partisanship scales drawn by liberals themselves, President Obama could easily pass for an Eisenhower Republican, but when he acts to circumvent the gridlock created by extremist-Republican intransigence, it’s just further evidence that “the left” — and anyone who would dare to compromise with Obama on anything — can’t be trusted. See how that works?
Conservatives don’t have contempt for politics. They have contempt for the left, and don’t see how useful idiots like Brooks believe that conservatives can compromise with a president who has determined that if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll just do it himself. The question for conservatives isn’t compromise: it’s trust. We don’t trust the left, and we don’t trust Brooks and those who ally with him to protect us from them. Compromise is a strategy, not a principle.
Indeed, Shapiro’s only real political principle is absolute victory; he will settle for nothing less than unconditional surrender. Inverting Clausewitz’s famous dictum, Shapiro sees politics as the continuation of war by other means, with nonbelievers as the enemy and squishes like Brooks as quisling traitors and fellow-travelers who stab conservatism in the back.
That’s also a pretty good summation of how the ‘Freedom Caucus,’ which is currently injecting chaos into the House Republican leadership race, feels about things. Made up of about forty far-right, radical Republicans, the group is not some sort of mysterious new creature, but the predictable outcome of a political movement that has grown ever-more extreme over the last four decades. Brooks recognizes the role that conservative media figures like Rush Limbaugh have played in creating the new GOP, saying that “a thousand small betrayals” of conservative principle have led to the current dysfunction, but nowhere in his op-ed does he recognize that a majority of Republican voters hews closer to Shapiro’s vision of conservatism than his own.
In yearning for a Republican Party willing to govern responsibly, Brooks now represents a minority within conservative ranks. Shapiro presents the new reigning paradigm thusly:
Running a government may have been a craft back when the Democrats weren’t taking a sledgehammer to the machinery. But how exactly does Brooks expect craftsmen to work when Harry Reid is shoving iron rods into the gears of government?
Amazing, isn’t it? Republicans have a majority in both houses of Congress, but somehow the Democratic minority is responsible for everything bad that happens in Washington — and achieves this feat through their mere presence, since they have no actual “iron rods” of any kind to shove into any “gears of government.”
Mentioning his love of ‘hierarchies’ as a bedrock conservative ideal, Brooks reveals his biggest blind-spot. Were he to leave the city center, strike out for the hinterlands, set aside his expectations, and meet real Republican voters for once, he would know that they are nothing like him. They reject his sophistication. They do not read Edmund Burke. Drinking deep from the fever-swamp of conspiracy theories and pseudo-histories, today’s grassroots conservative has more in common with the John Birch Society than the Grand Old Party of David Brooks. The Freedom Caucus is who they elect to office. As an editor-at-large of Breitbart News, Shapiro actually has a better finger on the pulse of today’s conservative than Brooks does, and expresses the new values replacing the old ones that Brooks values so highly. What he calls “incompetence,” they call “freedom,” and he is the very encumbrance from which they are freeing themselves.