If you've ever been to a county or state political party convention you know how mind-numbing it can be. Grassroots politics often encompasses the most polarizing beliefs and draws the most rabid idealogues. Without realizing it, I witnessed the early percolations of the Tea Party at the Nevada Republican Party Convention more than a decade ago. The whole affair was run by the far right wing of the party, people who were disgusted with moderate and middle of the road Republicans -- it may have been the first time I heard the term RINO (Republican in Name Only). There was no lack of disdain for the moderate tendencies of the state's Republican governor and legislators.
Upon leaving the convention that day, I ran into that moderate Republican governor and one of the more moderate Republican members of the State Legislature. When I asked them if they were heading to the convention they both practically choked at the suggestion and chuckled that they had zero intention of joining the fracas. They may be Republicans but both made clear to me that they had little in common with the folks gathered at the convention. And clearly they would not be joining "the radicals", as they called them. That governor and that State Legislator wouldn't even get invited to the convention today -- the governor was branded a RINO for pushing through a tax increase to preserve education and social service funding, and the State Legislator was easily defeated by a future Tea Party leader in Nevada. Ten years ago the tea partiers were considered the extremists of the party -- the purists who had to be pacified but who did not rule the Republican Party. Today, the moderates are being excommunicated. We saw it in Nevada last week when a moderate who dared cross party lines in a close race has been dethroned from a leadership role he's held in the state senate caucus for more than 25 years. He went against his party for the good of the state and was quickly punished for it.
I'm not a Republican but what I see happening in the party is worrisome. Litmus tests that used to be limited to signature issues like abortion and gun rights have now spread to immigration and education policy. Any Republican who dares not subscribe to a strict tax cut philosophy, support of public school vouchers, opposition to any type of gay marriage equality or support of any plan to deport brown skinned people who aren't carrying their papers can easily find themselves marginalized. Strict ideology used to be reserved for campaigning. Compromise became the rule once the governing began. Not anymore. And it explains why governing is both so ineffective and so difficult. It's not about compromising two viewpoints into one solid policy to benefit everyone. It's about imposing your will on the opposition. And if that's not possible, obstruction at all costs.
Democrats have long struggled to balance the liberal and moderate factions of the party but I don't ever recall one faction taking hold to this extreme and to the exclusion of all others. Ten years ago I told that moderate governor and legislator that they should be more involved in their party if they wanted reasoned and moderate ideology to prevail. Now I wonder if that's even possible.