Riding a Dinosaur Off Into the Sunset

It’s conventional wisdom that when you’ve got to make an announcement but don’t want people to pay too much attention, you release it on a Friday afternoon. And when you’ve got some news that you really want to bury, you release it on Christmas Day. That’s just what the Republican party did last month, with this quiet announcement that the party establishment, in tandem with the Chamber of Commerce, is launching a $50 million political offensive – not against Democrats, but against other Republicans. In the words of strategist Scott Reed:

Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates… That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.

He’s clearly thinking of “losers” like Ken Cuccinelli, Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin, and many others who made the fatal mistake of saying out loud what all Republican politicians believe. In fact, the Republicans would control the Senate now, if they hadn’t squandered so many pickup opportunities in the last two cycles by nominating incompetents. Electoral defeat, like hanging, concentrates the mind wonderfully.

I’ve written about how the Republicans are locked in an ideological downward spiral, clinging more and more tightly to a slice of white religious men as that demographic becomes a smaller and smaller part of the country as a whole. Clearly there are at least some conservatives who see the same trend and are trying to pull out of it, by purging the party of extremist religious zealots and replacing them with candidates who present a more moderate image. (Whether these candidates actually are more moderate, or just better at seeming that way, is another question entirely.)

But the problem they’re certain to face is that the party rank-and-file aren’t going to cooperate. In fact, they’re pulling stubbornly in the other direction, if we can judge by a Pew poll from December which found that the Republican Party is becoming even more creationist:

In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap.

Two things to notice here: first, an absolute majority of Republicans now reject evolution; second, this wasn’t the case as recently as four or five years ago. Judging by a Gallup poll from June 2012 that reported similar results, it seems as though this shift must have happened within just a two- or three-year period – an incredibly short window to realign the ideology of a major political party.

It’s not the case that Americans in general are becoming more creationist. According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who say that human beings have evolved is about 60%, and that number hasn’t budged. Rather, what we’re seeing is an ideological purification. Moderate, pro-science Republicans are either quitting the party or being driven out, becoming independents or Democrats. This leaves behind a hard core of religious fundamentalists – especially white evangelicals, now more than ever the backbone of the GOP – who are aggressively, fervently anti-science, the kind of people who pay money to see Ken Ham’s Creation Museum and its Flintstones-esque dioramas that show Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden with dinosaurs.

That’s why I don’t expect that $50 million to make much of a long-term difference. It doesn’t matter how much you spend if your audience isn’t willing to be persuaded, and increasingly, it seems that the face of the party is people like Robert Knight, a pundit who’s just thrilled by these survey results. Rather than seeing it as evidence of the widening chasm between the Republican base and the rest of the country, he cheers the GOP on and argues that they should be even more creationist to guarantee electoral success. If the logic here escapes you (“1. More Republicans Believe in Creationism; 2. ???; 3: Huge Conservative Victory!”), well, then you’re probably the kind of pedantic rationalist who insists on knowing how two of every species could fit on a single wooden boat.

Image: Sue the tyrannosaur, on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. Photo by the author.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Sneezeguard

    It’s a shame, I used to be an independent, and there were Republicans I liked as well as Democrats. But in this era of strict party identity, even when I like a Republican candidate for congress running in my area I can’t vote for them, because I know they’ll just caucus with a bunch of people I can’t stand who are going to push agendas in congress I can’t agree with.
    I really wish I could vote for the candidate rather than the party, but they’re the ones who aren’t letting me do it.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    I am still an independent, and share most of the observations you make, except for the feelings of regret. I have been saying for quite a few years now that any self-respecting, intelligent, non-sociopathic person ought to leave the Republican party.
    My own congressperson, a conservative Republican, is not considered a Tea partier, but he votes the Tea party line pretty much all of the time because he is afraid of being “primaried.” I think he is going down in the next election, and I will be proud to participate in making that happen.

  • http://fractalheretic.blogspot.com/ Fractal Heretic

    I always say, “don’t judge a group by its fanatics.” But the problem with the GOP is that their fanatics are the ones leading the pack.

  • Elizabeth

    My mom and I disagree on a lot of things – politics being one of the most divisive. I’ve told her that even though I don’t always agree with the Democratic side, and I’m very disappointed with Obama, I will *never* vote Republican until this nonsense stops.
    The religious and cultural stance they take is simply abhorrent, and I’ll take disappointing Democrats any day of the week.

  • David Cortesi

    If your analysis is correct, it’s pleasing in a schadenfreude-y way, but it’s bad news if you are a liberal. It would appear that a fair number of people who formerly self-identified as Republicans, in quiet disgust now self-identify as Independent (probably without actually changing their voter registration party choice). But when election time comes, what candidates will they vote for?

    If the strategists among Democrats agree with you, they will see this cloud of right-leaning independents as (a) a stealth danger and (b) a major opportunity, and for both reasons they will want to move so as to get them to vote Democrat. How do you do that? By shifting even further to the right. So I predict you will see a lot of Democrat candidates taking center-right positions as the 2014 elections near, in hopes of capturing those apostate Repubs. The whole dialog of U.S. politics will be pulled even further to the right. Thus will the right-fringe win, even as it’s losing!

  • Science Avenger

    That’s a point worth emphasizing and keeping in your back pocket for whenever someone throws the “both sides do it” canard at you. Yes, both parties have idiots and crazy people among them. But its demonstrable that those in the GOP are 1) Higher up the political food chain 2) More numerous, and 3) Crazier and more idiotic.

    Put another way, there is no one in the Democratic party that is crazier, more of an idiot, and higher on the food chain than Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Louis Gohmert, or James Inhofe. Not by a long shot.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I hope you’re wrong, but I have to admit I can’t find any fault in that logic. That said, it’s just barely conceivable that people who’ve been convinced to abandon the GOP over one issue may prove more persuadable on others, if their ideological identity is still in flux.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Well said. And I wish that weren’t the case, because it’s bad for democracy to only have one functioning party. It breeds complacency and corruption. Politicians need a vital opposition to keep them honest, but the Republicans aren’t capable of playing even that role right now.

  • Pofarmer

    Maxine Waters, William Jefferson? I don’t think we want to start playing this game.

  • simeonberesford

    you seem to be naming media seeking opportunists rather than plausible political forces.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    For example: “trickle-down” economics. The idea that letting the super-rich keep more of their money by lowering taxes, and cutting taxes on corporations, will trickle down to create jobs and help the poor. This idea is embraced even by non-Tea Party Republicans. It used to be that you could say this idea was unevidenced.

    But that is no longer the case. We have been doing that experiment for the last ~ 30 years. Taxes have come down, the super-rich are super-richer than ever, many corporations are hauling in record profits. So… where are the jobs this was supposed to create? Trickle-down is no longer unevidenced, it is contrary to the evidence. A reasonable, rational person who is not blinded by ideology ought to be able to agree that trickle-down does not work.

  • Science Avenger

    Of course we do. Maxine Waters was not nominated to be Vice President, and is not a senator. Try again. William Jefferson? Never heard of him. Again, not comparable.

    That’s the key – you can’t allow them to compare their VP candidate to some one-term representative, or some liberal bomb thrower in a dark corner of the net. They have to be of comparable political stature within the party, and their views have to be comparably batshit insane. Give me one thing Maxine Waters has said that compares to the idiocy that comes out of Bachman’s mouth on a daily basis.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    Jefferson was the Congressman from Louisiana who was famously caught with bunches of money in his freezer. He was convicted of multiple corruption charges.

    Your basic point remains correct; Jefferson was a nobody compared to the likes of Palin or Bachman. More importantly, no one stuck by him after his corruption was revealed, and he lost reelection in a heavily Democratic district in a Democratic wave year.

    However, I think we should draw a distinction between being corrupt, which everyone agrees is bad, and being batshit crazy, which reflects the beliefs and attitudes of the voters.

  • smrnda

    I feel like we’re living in the Monty Python sketch where there was the ‘sensible party’ and the ‘silly party.’ One party is at least *sort of* connected to the real world. You’d hope that in a functioning democracy you’d have at least two like that.

  • smrnda

    A normal person looks at 30 years of doing something with no positive results as a sign to try a different tactic. A genuine idiot decides that you need to have MORE tax cuts for the rich, which will finally get the economy booming. I mean, Romney’s effective tax rate was what, 13%? I’m guessing they figure the economy will boom once that hits 0 and minimum wage earners get taxed at 50%.

    In my conversations with some Republicans, I found out that many of them do not understand how to do percentages, averages, or know what mean, median or mode mean. (Sorry for that tongue twister.) It’s not that they don’t even get science, it’s that they don’t get basic mathematics for grade school students.

  • Jason Wexler

    I am more cynical than you, I think an average person looks at thirty years of data regardless of what it says and responds that “I don’t understand, and I don’t care”. The person who sees a sizable collection of data refuting an hypothesis and suggests trying something else is what we call an honest scholar. However I disagree that it take an idiot to see that same data and say “keep trying, we’re not doing enough” one has to be very intelligent to make that kind of argument whether because they are a partisan ideologue or because there is a valid reason to say the “experiment” has been too tepid or otherwise inadequate. To be clear I recognize in the case of supply side economics there is actual data from all-in attempts which show failure as well which places someone like Romney in the category of ideologue.

    To slightly modify my first claim above I would say an average person may take a position on an issue, but only if they are led in one direction or another by someone who has an opinion. Further if they are given both sides it seems par for the course in our society right now that they will move from “don’t know, don’t care” to “well both sides make a convincing argument”.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    Tax cuts for the rich is not a means to an end, it is the end. The stuff about trickle-down and the Laffer curve and whatnot were never anything other than a way to sell a policy that’s detrimental to the vast majority of people. Republicans never cared if they were true or not, so they’re not going to change their minds because of the evidence.

  • Nemo

    How much influence do Bachmann and Palin really have though? Yeah, they have celebrity power within the party, but do they actually make party policy?