Given the expectations raised by the Republican punditocracy — that Mitt was headed for a big victory — the jolt of defeat hit especially hard.
Now, what had seemed an orderly retreat has taken on the aspect of a rout, with Beltway Republicans calling for abandonment of fixed positions all along the line.
After Senate candidates Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri bollixed the question of abortion in cases of rape, Republicans are being counseled to downgrade or dump the social issues. As young people seem to support same-sex marriage, why not be good libertarians and get on board?
As Romney got 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, we must stop this talk of border fences, ID cards, employer sanctions and “self-deportation,” and reconsider amnesty and a path to citizenship.
The party is being urged to shed positions dear to loyalists, to win over folks who voted for Obama. And those who urge the ditching of positions dear to the base are rewarded with indulgent media portrayals as Republican leaders who have “grown.”
But there are two problems with this panicky reaction to defeat.
First, while the defections depress and dishearten the faithful, they rarely attract the disbelievers whom the switch is designed to appease. Second, such maneuvers are the indelible mark of the opportunist.
Which bring us to John Boehner’s concessions to Obama to save us from going over the fiscal cliff.
Though a tax increase would violate party principle and a commitment to constituents just a month ago, and though Lord Keynes himself would argue that raising taxes in a limp economy is risky business, Boehner has offered Obama $800 billion in new tax revenues.
Yet, though Boehner is capitulating, the White House has backhanded his offer. The Clinton tax rates on the rich must be restored or no deal, says Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Obama takes a more moderate position. We must raise both rates and revenues.
The purpose here? Rub Republican noses in their capitulation, and force a rupture within their party.
While the administration could reap far more revenue by capping and cutting deductions — “tax expenditures” in the liberal catechism — an increase in tax rates would be such a transparent surrender it would cause a rebellion in the House and demoralize the conservatives.
Why, then, are Republicans still bearing gifts to Obama, with a few even pushing for concessions on tax rates?
They are terrified of the fiscal cliff, and understandably so.
For if we go over, taxes rise on every family, and polls say that by 2 to 1 the people will hold Republicans responsible.
And if we go over the cliff and taxes rise on everyone, the first order of business of Obama in the New Year will be to push a tax cut for the 98 percent of Americans who earn less than $250,000. His second move will be to reverse the damage done to the national defense by the sequester.
By his State of the Union address, Obama would be able to pose as the rescuer of the middle class from the abyss into which the GOP had plunged it — to prevent fat cats from paying a fair share for debt reduction.
And he would be able to pose credibly as a peace-through-strength Democratic president determined to restore deep cuts in defense caused by a congressional sequester.
At the end of the Battle of the Fiscal Cliff, the GOP may be left in the position of the lady who sold her virtue — and didn’t get paid.
By Jan. 31, the GOP may have double-crossed its Tea Party allies by accepting increases in tax revenues and rates, and alienated its strongest supporters, seniors, by demanding and winning freezes and cuts in future Medicare and Social Security benefits.
If Republicans cut a deal on tax hikes to prevent our going over the cliff, they look like collaborators. If they refuse to cut a deal, the Bush tax cuts are history and the GOP will be forced to enact the new “Obama tax cuts.”
The Republican Party seems close to the end of its tether.
Party elites want to go silent on social issues, while the base believes they define who we are. The base wants no part of wars on Syria or Iran being pushed by leading Senate Republicans.
The grass roots see mass immigration as imperiling the national unity and community and advancing national bankruptcy. The elites babble on about an open door.
Now a GOP House elected to hold the line on taxes is offering new tax revenues and perhaps higher tax rates to fund the biggest Big Government in history. The GOP is close to reassuming its role as the tax collector for the welfare state.
Meanwhile, the New Majority coalition is passing on, and the era of Reagan is over for good. The party needs new ideas and leaders other than the ones who brought them to this dead end.