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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/25/13

The GOP Crackup: How Obama is Unraveling Reagan Republicanism

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Soon after President Obama's second inaugural address, John Boehner  said  the White House would try "to annihilate the Republican Party" and "shove us into the dustbin of history."

Actually, the GOP is doing a pretty good job annihilating itself. As Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal put it, Republicans need to "stop being the stupid party."

The GOP crackup was probably inevitable. Inconsistencies and tensions within the GOP have been growing for years -- ever since Ronald Reagan put together the coalition that became the modern Republican Party.

All President Obama has done is finally found ways to exploit these inconsistencies.

Republican libertarians have never got along with social conservatives, who want to impose their own morality on everyone else.

Shrink-the-government fanatics in the GOP have never seen eye-to-eye with deficit hawks, who don't mind raising taxes as long as the extra revenues help reduce the size of the deficit.

The GOP's big business and Wall Street wing has never been comfortable with the nativists and racists in the Party who want to exclude immigrants and prevent minorities from getting ahead.

And right-wing populists have never got along with big business and Wall Street, which love government as long as it gives them subsidies, tax benefits, and bailouts.

Ronald Reagan papered over these differences with a happy anti-big-government nationalism. His patriotic imagery inspired the nativists and social conservatives. He gave big business and Wall Street massive military spending. And his anti-government rhetoric delighted the Party's libertarians and right-wing populists.

But Reagan's coalition remained fragile. It depended fundamentally on creating a common enemy: communists and terrorists abroad, liberals and people of color at home.

On the surface Reagan's GOP celebrated Norman Rockwell's traditional, white middle-class, small-town America. Below the surface it stoked fires of fear and hate of "others" who threatened this idealized portrait.

In his first term Barack Obama seemed the perfect foil: A black man, a big-spending liberal, perhaps (they hissed) not even an American.

Republicans accused him of being insufficiently patriotic. Right-wing TV and radio snarled he secretly wanted to take over America, suspend our rights. Mitch McConnell declared that unseating him was his party's first priority.

But it didn't work. The 2012 Republican primaries exposed all the cracks and fissures in the GOP coalition.

The Party offered up a Star Wars barroom of oddball characters, each representing a different faction -- Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich, Cain, Santorum. Each rose on the strength of supporters and then promptly fell when the rest of the Party got a good look.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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