After making his stunning announcement that he would not seek reelection in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson is supposed to have blamed it all on Walter Cronkite.
A few months earlier, the legendary CBS News anchor had visited Vietnam and, stepping away from his signature objectivity, pronounced the long-running war in that nation a hopeless stalemate.
“If I’ve lost Cronkite,” LBJ is reported to have said, “I’ve lost Middle America.”
Today, someone over at the Republican National Committee ought to be saying something like, “If we’ve lost Major League Baseball ...” And the Chamber of Commerce. And Main Street. And Wall Street.
The 21st century Republican Party is also stuck in a hopeless stalemate. It has no useful ideas and no discernible platform other than tax cuts, winking at white supremacy and a continued allegiance to a former president who stands accused of fomenting a violent uprising against the United States government.
When a lawyer sees that the facts are against him, he argues the law. When the law is against him, he argues the facts. And when the law and the facts are against him, he pounds the table.
Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee is embarrassingly among the prominent members of the Republican Party who, seeing both the law and the facts against them, are pounding the culture wars.
In alliance with such senators as Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, Lee is devoting his energy and camera time to such inanities as threatening professional baseball with losing its exemption from federal anti-trust laws, attacking social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter, accusing the woman appointed to be head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department of being in favor of civil rights and leaping to the defense of some really old and embarrassing Dr. Seuss books.
Lee has offered original and thoughtful ideas over the years on the separation of powers, the hazards of aiming our intelligence-gathering apparatus at Americans and the need for criminal justice reform. And doesn’t belong in that clown car. But there he is.
All this even as the economy continues its uneven recovery from the pandemic, vaccinations and other health care needs aren’t reaching working-class neighborhoods, violence in the streets — by police and against police — gets worse, immigration law is a generation overdue for reform and climate alarm klaxons blare around the globe.
The Boys of Summer, and the Suits of the Commissioners Office, have evinced Republican ire by moving this season’s All Star Game from Georgia to Colorado, because the former has just passed a law limiting voter turnout and the latter is among many states (including Utah) to have universal vote-by-mail.
The Republicans claim that baseball doesn’t deserve its special status because it has dared to have a political opinion that differs from theirs. The sport’s exemption from anti-trust laws is silly, but the overt reason why Lee and company are now going after it is a direct attack on the First Amendment rights of the owners and players, who have every right to disassociate themselves from any jurisdiction they want.
And it’s not just baseball. A Who’s Who of many of the biggest corporations in American took out an advertisement covering two full pages of both The New York Times and The Washington Post to make a joint statement against the kind of voter-suppression laws passed in Georgia and under consideration in several other states. The list includes old-economy stalwarts such as Goldman Sachs, Ford, General Motors, Wells Fargo and Target, as well as trendier outfits such as Starbucks, Amazon, Google, Netflix and Facebook.
Republicans are facing the break-up of a marriage of convenience that has sustained them since, well, about the time that LBJ stepped down.
The GOP wins elections by getting money from business interests and using that money to appeal to social conservatives worried about losing their guns, about immigration and about too much equality for Blacks, women, LGBT people and non-Christians.
For most of that time, though, Republicans had real policy ideas: low taxes, free trade, a strong defense and an often genuine belief, shared on Main Street as well as Wall Street, that economic freedom provides the greatest opportunities for all.
Now, the curtain is down and all Lee and his friends have to offer is a keen desire to return to the 19th century. A place neither the poor nor the rich want to go.
Some Republicans still think their party should have ideas and propose solutions. Utah’s other senator, Mitt Romney, is among a few who have fully formed counter-proposals to Democratic ideas about a higher minimum wage, financial aid to families, saving Social Security and Medicare and an infrastructure plan. Those ideas are smaller — one might even call them timid — but they are ideas worthy of discussion.
If most Republicans in Congress are too busy fighting the culture wars to engage those real issues, then Romney and company should start looking for, or starting, a party that will. They’d be doing a service not only to their own political futures, but also to the whole of the nation.