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The “Pragmatic” Politics of Subtraction

David Frum wants the GOP to become a rump party:

Right now, tea party extremism contaminates the whole Republican brand. It’s a very interesting question whether a tea party bolt from the GOP might not just liberate the party to slide back to the political center — and liberate Republicans from identification with the Sarah Palins and the Ted Cruzes who have done so much harm to their hopes over the past three election cycles.

It is doubtful that such a mass exodus would take place, but it’s bizarre to think that this would help Republican electoral prospects. The remaining rump GOP would be completely “liberated” from the burden of winning. The current Republican coalition is not quite large enough to win presidential elections on a regular basis, but slicing off a fifth or a third of that coalition would ensure that it never wins one again. Even if it lost just 10% of its current level of support, it would be doomed to near-permanent minority status. It’s true that Republicans nominated some weak candidates in 2010 and 2012 and lost races that could have been won, but the harm done to the Republican “brand” predated those elections by many years and had nothing to do with the Palins and Cruzes. Republicans in 2008 were doomed by the Iraq war, the financial crisis, the extraordinary unpopularity of Bush, and a bad nominee of such poor judgment that he thought Palin was an acceptable running mate. For all the mistakes that Tea Partiers have made in the last few years, they weren’t the ones that drove the party into the ditch. Indeed, much of the party’s current toxicity with the public is the legacy of the last era of united Republican government. The Bush era was the political disaster from which Republicans have been recovering. Cruz isn’t helping to get the party out of the deep hole where the Bush administration put it, but driving his supporters out of the party would be even more politically self-destructive than the tactics that Cruz has been employing this year.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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