As we get closer to the general election race, the Republican Party is descending into ever deeper confusion over its rhetorical codes and when and how to use them.
This is more than just an awkward pivot from pitching to the base to focusing on the general electorate. It’s a direct result of decades of Republicans fashioning their language to obscure what they really mean—like asserting that “cutting taxes will raise revenues” when the real idea is to shift the tax burden from the rich to the poor. The GOP is so distracted by its multiplicity of phony attack lines that it’s begun to confuse itself.
We’ve all seen how, during the primary debates, the Republican candidates were forced to acquiesce to the notion that, say, booing a soldier on duty in Iraq or shouting down the Golden Rule are, respectively, the patriotic and Christian things to do. But when Perry and Gingrich started attacking Romney from the left as a job-destroying vulture capitalist, they started to seriously step on their own neckties.
And the reason they did is pretty simple: Reactionary movements demand a certain ability to flip meaning around in their members’ minds in order to argue with opponents who, like Obama, are (only too) willing to compromise. However, this technique has come to so dominate the GOP policy discussion that it’s become a universal reflex. Rick and Newt were simply extending the manufacture of false outrage to Mitt, their opponent du jour; tripping over their own laissez-faire principles along the way was secondary to going on the attack.
The mechanistic, automatic opposition to Democrats has similarly made most Republicans live in such a perpetual Opposite Day that they’ve lost the thread of their own arguments–and that means they’re losing control of the political narrative. Consider the mixed messages of just the past week:
Romney on Leno
Romney was attacking—no defending—no attacking—Robamneycare:
LENO: So you would make the law stand for children and people with pre-existing conditions?
ROMNEY: People with pre-existing conditions—as long as they’ve been insured before—they’re going to continue to have insurance.
LENO: Suppose they were never insured?
ROMNEY: Well, if they’re 45 years old, and they show up, and they say, ‘I want insurance because I’ve got a heart disease,’ it’s like, ‘Hey guys, we can’t play the game like that.’ You’ve got to get insurance when you’re well, and if you get ill, then you’re going to be covered.