What has happened to the Republican Party, affectionately known as the GOP (Grand Old Party)? Is it even a political party, any more, or a religion?
A political party usually has a set of policy goals, or ideals, it wishes to achieve. Maybe lowering taxes, improving the environment, going to war (or more rarely, going to peace), providing jobs, etc. These policies attract voters. Or repel them. But in any case, the goal of a political party is to get something done.
Through out our history politicians have known that they cannot achieve everything they aspire to. Doesn’t stop them from aspiring, but it leads them to the common sense notion of “compromise”. The idea that my group cannot get our way all the time because there are other groups that think differently. Other groups that want other things. Other groups that have other ideas. Good politicians, at the national and international level, have always sought to find some reasonable common ground. They can do that because party principles are just that. Ideals. Goals. Hopes for what the future will look like.
Religions are quite different. Religious leaders have a direct pipeline to the will of god. Be it Jesus. Or Buddha. Or Allah. Or Jehovah. The list of gods is endless. Because they have the actual word of god there can be no compromise. Religious tenets are not ideals or goals…they are inflexible laws. Written in stone. Commandments. So religions, by their very nature, cannot accept the idea of compromise. How can you compromise with the will of god?
So the GOP problem. In the 1970s and 1980s the GOP made a conscious effort to attract religious leaders into the party apparatus. Not just as individual citizens who may have similar beliefs, but as organizations sanctioned by the will of god. We see the slow development of a political party into a religious organization. And once you invite your unemployed uncle in for a weekend it is sometimes very difficult to throw him out. That is the problem the GOP faces today. They did bring the problem in themselves, but it is now a problem for all reasonable folks.
The Tea Party wing of the GOP is, in effect, a religious organization. More accurately called the “Tea Religion”. And the god to which they bow is the sacred cow of cash. And the sacred mantra they chant is the mantra of “No Taxes”. Not as a tactic or a point of debate. Not as an idea to be discussed, thought about, considered and acted on. No. That is what a political party would do. The mantra is sacred. It cannot be discussed. Deviation from the religious doctrine is heresy.
We have seen this over and over as solid, old fashioned fiscal conservatives are challenged within the GOP primaries by younger religious ideologues. There can be no deviation from the doctrine. There is no room to compromise or even discuss the issue. You are either 100% in favor of the religion or you are a heretic. No compromise. No middle ground. And we know what happens to heretics.
We have always had minor political parties to the far right and far left. The Know Nothings, the Green Party, the Liberal Party, the Bull Moose and the Libertarians come to mind. But those organizations act like political parties, not religions. The Tea Religion is different. Not in that it has a narrow ideology, but in its power within the GOP. So the GOP will need to decide.
Will the GOP turn out the Tea Religion and return to a more traditional path? Will it split into two groups, the religious ideologues and the pragmatic conservatives? Or will the conservatives give up and allow the ideologues to take over, maybe dropping out and becoming independents?
Time will tell. But I suspect that the Tea Religion will not go away. We have always had their ilk in our midst. But I also suspect that they will continue to be marginalized. Most Americans do not want religious fundamentalists, even those whose god is “Cash”, to control our society. They understand that compromise is the only way to govern effectively.