Ever since the days of Barry Goldwater, many liberals have assumed — or naively hoped — that each national defeat would teach Republicans that they had overreached, and pull them back from the extremes. Instead, the opposite has happened: The lesson of every loss, even the routs, has been “we were not conservative enough.”
The Goldwater smackdown in 1964 really did lay the groundwork for the Reagan revolution and the ensuing conservative era. But the loss to Barack Obama in 2008 — and the toppling of establishment conservatives by tea party insurgents in 2010 — has put the extremes in charge. Even someone as conservative and virulently opposed to the Obama agenda as Mitch McConnell has hired a tea party veteran — and Rand Paul adviser — to run his 2014 Senate re-election campaign.
So what happens if Obama beats Mitt Romney and the Republicans again, this time after the likes of McConnell made denying him a second term their main legislative mission over the last four years? The earnest-minded might hope that Republicans view Obama’s re-election as a message to cooperate and a sign that their obstruction failed. The sober-minded might look at the number of ridiculous white men determined to make rape victims carry their attacker’s baby and a primary campaign filled with evolution opponents and assume common sense and basic decency, or at least post-Renaissance thinking, might return on social and cultural issues.