Rightward Drift

The contest has begun to determine who will be the Republican candidate to square off against President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential elections. For months now, individuals have been announcing their intention to run, or to form “exploratory committees” to determine whether or not they should run. At present, the field — though not complete — includes three former governors (Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman) a former senator (Rick Santorum), the former speaker of the House of Representatives (Newt Gingrich), two current members of Congress (Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul) and a businessman (Herman Cain). At this point, Romney, who also ran for president in 2008, holds a lead over the current field. Given the fact, however, that he was a moderate Republican governor (who, during his term in office, passed a healthcare reform bill sharing some features with the legislation passed by President Obama), and is a Mormon, makes some conservatives and rightwing evangelical Christians uncomfortable.

The rest of the group, though large and diverse in background, is flawed, with most polls showing that the Republican faithful appear dissatisfied with the choices before them, still hoping for a “star” to come forward to claim the party’s leadership role. With most of the more moderate and experienced Republicans having opted out of this election, the “star” of the moment is Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. Even with this incomplete field of candidates, it was interesting to tune into CNN’s Republican presidential debate last week. What came through quite clearly was how far to the right the Republican Party has drifted, a fact that will not change even in the unlikely case that a “star” emerges to rescue the party — since Perry, for example, is merely a taller, more Texan, and charismatic version of the rest of the current field of candidates.

This rightward drift came into sharp focus in responses to two questions asked during the debate. At one point in the debate, an audience member, a long time Republican leader in New Hampshire, after making clear that he was a moderate, non-ideological, mainstream Republican, asked the candidates for assurance that they would “have a balanced approach to governing, to solve our serious problems”. Either ignoring the question or choosing to deliberately slight the questioner, each of the candidates who responded focussed on burnishing their ideological credentials and paying homage to the Tea Party. This, of course, can become a problem for today’s Republican Party. There is no question that the Tea Party and its fervid opposition to the president and his agenda energised Republicans, helping them regain control of Congress in 2010. Emboldened by their success, the Tea Party has continued to flex its muscles, threatening to be the “kingmakers” in the Republican primaries. Hence, the candidates are loathed to distance themselves from this movement. But while the presidential primaries, like mid-term Congressional contests, are notoriously low turnout elections, drawing support from the “fired up” party faithful, presidential elections are a different story. In these contests, more moderate and independent voters often determine the outcome and if the New Hampshire questioner is any indication of the mood of this group, they are frightened by the Tea Party and looking for non-ideological problem-solving approaches to governance. It may very well be that in the process of ingratiating themselves with the groups they need to win the primaries, Republicans will damage their ability to compete in the November 2012 election.

Another disturbing example of this Republican drift toward extremism came in response to a question about whether or not the candidates would be comfortable having a Muslim American serve in their administration. The question first went to Cain who had on a previous occasion indicated that he would “not be comfortable with a Muslim”. In response, he elaborated on his views, saying his concern with Muslims was prompted by the concern that they “are the ones trying to kill us” and strangely inserting that he did “not believe in Sharia law”. He then went on to insist that he would single out Muslims for a pledge of loyalty to the US before considering them for government service.

Gingrich chimed in adding that he believed that a loyalty oath for Muslims seeking to work in government was a good idea because, despite its being unpopular, “we did this in dealing with Nazis and… with the communists… we have got to have the guts to stand up and say no.” While Bachmann, Pawlenty, and Santorum were not asked to respond to this question, they have all been on the record making equally shameful comments about Muslims and raising fears about Sharia law.

Only Romney, already on the defensive over his Mormon faith, offered a constructive comment. After paying lip-service to the anti-Sharia law mindset, saying that “we’re not going to have Sharia law applied in US courts” he went on to add that “we recognise that people of all faiths are welcome in this country. Our nation was founded on a principal of religious tolerance”.

What was especially disturbing about this particular exchange was the silence of Republican leaders in the days that followed the debate. Their refusal to condemn these displays of bigotry and intolerance only adds to the concern that the party is courting extremist currents and, as a result, has continued on a dangerous rightward drift.

James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute.


More articles by:
Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Can We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring