As recently as 2009 David Frum could write, “Americans have long associated Democrats with urban machines, Republicans with personal integrity and fiscal responsibility,” iron-spined people who could be trusted to “cast an austere eye on the depredations of Democratic legislatures.” So much for that. The GOP has become the Party of Radical Dispositions.
The GOP’s descent began with Bush 43’s impulsive bellicosity. But for most of the “W” administration the problem was incompetence, not intemperance. It would take the loss of power to send Republicans over the edge. More specifically, it would take the Tea Party. That faction’s hysterics set the tone for a devolution of the party that is ongoing.
The trend accelerated when House leaders boarded the Wingnut Kamikaze plane. Revisionist histories of 2011 tell a tale of Speaker Boehner repelling insane insurgents. In reality “Leadership” pursued brinksmanship with gusto. Paul Ryan, now portrayed as an exemplar of Republican statesmanship, mused that a “technical default” wouldn’t be so bad if it enabled his budget. Contrary to then-UK business secretary Vince Cable, “the greatest threat to the world financial system” was not “a handful of right-wing nutters in the American Congress;” virtually every House Republican had their finger on the button.
Just as House Republicans embraced brinksmanship, state-level GOPers employed radical methods from coast to coast. “Mainstream” Republican Scott Walker nuked decades of labor heritage in his state, turning mild Wisconsin into an ideological war zone. Future moderate darling (there’s a pattern here) John Kasich likewise busted public-sector unions in a way that was so disruptive that he was moved to retract. Of course, nowhere was the transformational radicalism of state Republicans on greater display than in the 2013 North Carolina long session. Then and there, the NCGOP overturned so many settled practices that Thom Tillis smugly called it a “conservative revolution.”
This year, the GOP’s temperamental meltdown is total. The second-most globally notorious Republican, Pat McCrory, has ensured his own infamy through efforts to socially engineer his state in reverse. And the presidential candidate McCrory supports is said to have probed the option of nuclear war. If Trump’s greatest asset is his temperament, it’s because the prevailing Republican instinct is to disrupt, overturn, and uproot institutions that have proven their value over decades.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.