In 2008, I was in line to hear Barack Obama's Denver acceptance speech when I encountered protestors holding signs: "God Hates Obama." I told them I didn't believe in a God of hate and one of the protestors yelled back, "And God hates you!" It was my introduction to the politics of hate that has characterized the Republican Party for the last five years.
To level set, I suffered through eight years of the Bush presidency. I disagreed with Dubya and found many of his tactics contemptible. But I never hated him. That's true for most of us out here on the Left Coast. We disagree with Republicans but we don't hate them. As a consequence, the venom spewed by the right mystifies us. Why are Republicans so angry?
There are several possible explanations.
They're afraid. The latest Gallup Poll found that only 20 percent of Americans identify as Republicans. When you include leaners, the number increased to 38 percent.
Recently, pollster Stan Greenberg's Democracy Corps published "Inside the GOP" which divided Republicans into three groups: Evangelicals, Tea-Party members, and moderates. Greenberg observed, "Evangelicals are a third of the Republican base" and "Tea Party enthusiasts form just over a fifth of the base Republican voters" [They] are cheered on for the moment by the Evangelicals." Thus, Evangelical Republicans are roughly 12 percent of the electorate and Tea-Party enthusiasts are 8 percent. They're the angry 20 percent.
Greenberg conducted homogenous focus groups of Evangelicals, Tea-Party members, and moderates. He found, "Barack Obama and Obamacare is a racial flashpoint for many Evangelical and Tea Party voters." "They have an acute sense they are white in a country that is becoming increasingly "minority'."
Another explanation is that Republicans believe they hold a losing hand and they are bitter. According to the Greenberg report, "Republicans think [Obama] has won." A common term used to describe him was "liar." While all Republicans see Obama as a champion of big government, Evangelicals and Tea Party supporters believe he is pursuing a socialist agenda. "Running through these reactions to Obama is a sense of him being foreign, non-Christian, Muslim
Sadly, Republican stalwarts don't realize they are being manipulated. The Tea Party wasn't a spontaneous populist uprising. A recent study found that "front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party." A New Yorker article by Jane Mayer detailed the formation of the Koch brothers political empire, "Kochtopus." She wrote that Charles and David Koch "are out to destroy progressivism." One observer called them "the billionaires behind the hate."
Kochtopus has a broad agenda. They are at the epicenter of climate science denial. "The Kochs have given millions of dollars to nonprofit groups that criticize environmental regulation and support lower taxes for industry." They started the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, and helped fund the Heritage foundation. More recently they started the Mercatus Center, "ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington," and launched the Tea Party through groups like "Citizens for a Sound Economy, Freedomworks," and "Americans for Prosperity." (In Texas, they helped launch Ted Cruz through the organization, "Texas Defending the American Dream.")
Angry Republicans are being manipulated by extremists. The Koch brothers are devotees of Robert LeFevre a radical ideologue who favored abolition of the Federal system. What unites the Tea Party activists and the Republican Evangelicals is their desire to bring down the US government. Journalist Deborah Caldwell observed that "Christian Reconstructionism" seeks "to eradicate the US government so that a theocratic Christian nation emerges to enforce biblical laws." The leader of Christian Reconstructionism is Gary North. His close associates include former congressman Ron Paul and Texas pastor Rafael Cruz, the father of Senator Ted Cruz. (There's a clear tie between Senator Cruz and the Koch brothers.)
It doesn't help that Republicans are extraordinarily gullible. They thought Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. They believed Sara Palin was a credible Vice-presidential candidate. Then they thought Barack Obama was a Muslim who had not been born in the United States. Now they deny the reality of global climate change and the damage that would have been caused by not raising the debt ceiling. The list of Republican misbeliefs goes on and on.
Most important, Republicans are being manipulated by whackos. Men whose beliefs are far outside American norms. Fourteen years ago it was Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. Now it's the Koch brothers and Gary North. Charles Koch has been associated with holocaust deniers. Another holocaust denier is Gary North.
Whatever the reason for GOP anger, Republican hate politics aren't going to go away anytime soon. Until there's comprehensive campaign finance reform, Americans are not going to be able to diminish the influence of big political donors -- no matter how radical, no matter how hateful.