that is going on in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, which occupies some other universe than the one commonly associated with New York, wherein the designated middle of the road Republican fell to a crypto-fascist sort conservative, is meant to signal, at least for liberals, an internecine death struggle within the GOP. The hardliners, along with Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and Fox News, will force the party so far to the right that it will be merely an oddball outpost.
At the same time, the changing color and changing demographics of the US mean, almost inevitably, a vast new Democratic majority. Not to mention that, even as doubts surround the president, every poll shows ever-greater disdain for and fast-dwindling identification with the Republican Party.
The liberals, in theory and after so long, finally have it made.
But I have lived through this before and, counter-intuitively, somehow the stranger the Republicans get, the more out there, insular, obsessive, and even rather fetishistic they become, the more they bounce back.
This is partly about the power of true believers, no matter how wacky. In a sense, the wackier the better—the wackier you are the more you have got to believe. But it is also about showboating and grand gestures and a sense of drama—the Republicans know their media.
What we have is the development of a true, contrary, anti-establishment, anti-party, anti-government, rejectionist rump. And if, by all evidence, the appeal of this rump is limited in the extreme, it is, at the same time, enormously compelling—like a train wreck, sure, but also like a character that upstages all the other more tempered figures. Indeed, as the conservatives once made “liberal” a bad word, they might soon do the same to “moderate.”
On the other side, we have the Democrats, who, at the least sign of success, are always putting on the serene mantel of their own inevitability. Overnight, they create a new establishment around themselves. They become imperious, bureaucratic, boring, and, at the first opportunity, they stop returning phone calls. Unresponsiveness to Democrats represents suaveness.
So the political word divides. On the one side, there are the people who believe that the ideological wars have been won, that they are an indubitable majority, that they have achieved ultimate respectability, and that drama (as in No-drama-Obama) is vulgar. On the other side are rabid petitioners and fervent salesmen who, as a permanent minority, are constantly seeking attention, a need which turns them emotional and quite persuasive (or at least captivating). The former is cool. The latter is hot. Indeed, the former continues to believe in coolness (an old idea about media). The latter understands that for the media the hotter the better.
Anyway, what happens is the conservatives, the weirdo conservatives, make their peculiar, but notable and attention-getting, case, and then some smoother operator comes along and makes it seem not so peculiar after all.
And the Democrats never know what’s hit them.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.