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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Introducing the Grand New Party

Published: August 24, 2012
Section: Opinions

The Grand Old Party’s allowed itself to be replaced. Although never all that grand, until now it at least managed to be quite old. Old men with old ideas keeping a tight grip on the party from the old, trustworthy headquarters—such was the old Republican brand.

The new brand has been made by new faces, not just to the nation but to the old guard of GOP elites. Todd Akin is a congressman, but he isn’t one of the congressmen who anyone was ever supposed to hear about, let alone become a household name and a face of the party in one of their highest-stakes campaigns ever. Democrats didn’t nominate Dennis Kucinich to be president, not even close. And Martha Coakley, may her career rest in peace, at least only embarrassed her team in a controlled, localized fashion—and in any case, Massachusetts has enough liberals to forget her and still bleed blue.

But Akin, who dismissed criticism of his extreme no-exception, anti-abortion rights views, has currently taken the wind right out of his party’s sails for entire, national news cycles. The abortion debate and other social issues are now front and center, exactly where Mitt Romney wanted economic issues to be. And even with the GOP circular firing squad trying to get him to drop out, he’s thrown what should have been a relatively simple romp to Senate majority status into jeopardy.

That Akin has allowed Claire McCaskill, the most endangered species in Washington, even a breath of a chance—and she’s now probably favored—is pathetic, from a Republican perspective. Republicans cannot afford these type of disastrous missteps when they have so much riding on this campaign. And Akin isn’t the first of his kind: this new, even more dangerous GOP that is costing the party more than just news cycles.

The Grand New Party is now the party of Sarah I-Can’t-Name-Any-Newspapers Palin. Far-right candidates from outside even the Republican party base mainstream are hurting one of the nation’s two major parties at a critical decision point for the nation, whether one lives in a red or blue state.
The GOP was supposed to capture the Senate in 2010 too—Majority Leader Harry Reid himself was the McCaskill of that year, a predicted sure thing to go down to any Republican nominee. But he didn’t have to face a typical Republican: Even a Republican tidal wave couldn’t lift the boat of Sharron Angle in Nevada.

Reid is still the senior U.S. senator from Nevada; similarly, Christine O’Donnell became the 2010 Republican nominee in Delaware, what was supposed to be a prime Republican pickup. But this seat also went blue due to a nomination of a simply too-extreme candidate. O’Donnell is most remembered for having to defend herself after a video came to light depicting her reminiscing about performing witchcraft rituals. As a political neophyte, she beat for the nomination a sitting congressman whose approval rating was through the roof even among Democrats. Bottom line: GOP primary voters in Delaware threw away another sure red seat.

So Harry Reid is not just still a senator, but the leader of the still-Democratic majority.

How have the new faces of the GOP come to prevail over the elites (if not in electoral politics)? Even the old guard hasn’t been able to control those wacky Republican primary voters.

And Republicans haven’t learned their lesson at all in 2012. There’s not only Akin, whose tone-deaf extremism has showered good luck on Democrats beyond their wildest dreams. WWF wrestling owner and personality Linda McMahon just secured her nomination in Connecticut for a second time. She’s won the nomination over a well-credentialed, more moderate former GOP congressman largely by funding her own campaign with the profits of her and her husband Vince McMahon’s wrestling-entertainment empire. If the Republicans can’t stop these wild, errant nominees, Senate elections could reach the same level of inevitability and authenticity as Monday Night Smackdown.

The new Akin/McMahon/Palinesque-dominated GOP is embarrassing their presidential nominee and embarrassing the nation. The old elephant guard is certainly not my type of party, but we could at least respect the likes of Dick Lugar, the old-style independent John McCain, and politicians like the elder Governor George Romney.

The Republicans hardly need these terrible primary decisions, these politically suicidal comments, and from sitting congressmen no less. Unemployment is still depressingly high and the economic recovery is sluggish at best—and Romney, Ryan-announcement bounce aside, is still heavily trailing the president in critical swing states.

The Democrats couldn’t have planned the atrocious Akin story any better—at least the GOP is finally helping our old country. But I don’t think in the way they planned.