GILROY, Calif. — You can smell it as soon as you drive into town. Gilroy calls itself the “Garlic Capital of the World,” due to its big garlic crop and its top-of-the line Gilroy Garlic Festival, which features authentic garlic ice cream. At first you can’t pinpoint what the smell is; but it’s a strong smell, but not a totally unpleasant one. Then there is the city’s wonderful people, Mediterranean climate, graceful hillsides and touristy shops selling items such as pickled garlic that make it all a delight.
How different from the smell in Washington, D.C., where the House Republicans — despite the spin by Fox News, conservative talk shows and conservative websites — engineered a government shutdown and seem on a path to stage-managing the nation’s first default on its debt, an event that could wreak havoc with the American and international economies. It’s part of a process of the far-right faction of the GOP increasingly dominating the rest of the party and decimating the Republican Party’s image as it takes actions and issues threats that analysts and cartoonists liken to taking Uncle Sam hostage.
Watching the GOP evolve the past few years has been like watching a political version of “Breaking Bad.”
The current trajectory of the once-upon-a-time, serious solution-oriented Republican Party once led by serious “adult” leaders, is clear. President Obama may have a bully pulpit, but the Tea Party-Talk Radio Political Culture-Conservative Media faction now dominating the GOP is transforming the party into the Bully Party. Educators who teach anti-bullying programs ask students to stand up to bullies, report bullying and above all, not to allow it if they see it happen to others so bullying can be nipped in the bud.
You can now see a parade of prominent Republicans associated with George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan watching the GOP’s evolution into a brinksmanship-loving, anti-compassionate conservatism party and expressing their dismay. They seem to be joining other Americans in concluding that the GOP’s now dominant political wing desperately needs a political shrink. NOT more national or party empowerment.
The Daily Beast’s Executive Editor John Avlon, a quintessential centrist and CNN analyst who once worked for New York Mayor Giuliani, writes that the shutdown “is a manufactured crisis encouraged by extreme ideologues who aren’t interested in governing as much as grandstanding.”
Avlon further writes: “There is the sense that maybe the stark stupidity of this conflict will break the hyper-partisan fever consuming our nation’s capital.
Republicans are realizing that the angry conservative populist forces they empowered to achieve power have turned on them and are now actively restricting their ability to be taken seriously as a governing force. When President Obama sees negotiating with Iran as a more reasonable option than negotiating with Republicans over the debt ceiling, we are through the looking glass.”
Perhaps the sound of shattering political glass will work. Several polls now show the GOP taking a bigger hit than Obama or the Democrats for a government shutdown. Quinnipiac University’s poll is utterly devastating. Republicans scored their lowest ever in the Quinnipiac poll: 74 percent disapprove and 17 percent approve. Also: 72 percent disapprove of shutting down the government to defund Obamacare. Even-worse: in a “generic” House race poll for 2014, voters now prefer a Democrat 43 to 33 percent — which Quinnipiac says is the highest margin on this question.
This suggests that if Republicans stay their present course, Tea Partiers will likely hold their gerrymandered seats, but other more vulnerable Republicans could be axed by angry voters. Which again brings to mind Gilroy:
The highlight of Gilroy’s gold-standard festival is when you go through “Gourmet Alley” and have your plate filled with dishes heavy in garlic. The festival often provides free breath mints. The problem for the GOP is that no matter what happens now in the shutdown or debt limit battles, for many voters in 2014 and 2016, even if the Republican Party consumes a Costco-sized crate of mints, it won’t make the lingering smell of its extreme-right’s political breath go away.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/joegandelman