It's a very interesting question and he provides some theories.
"One is that it's demand-driven. Essentially, there's a very good market that responds strongly to The Crazy. They'll donate for it, they'll buy products of it, they'll listen to or watch shows about it. It's not a huge market, but it's big enough that it creates seriously goofy incentives for Republican politicians and other party leaders -- there's a lot of money in being Rush Limbaugh, so much so that third-rate talentless hacks can make a very good living as pale imitations of what he does."
However, I think this leaves out the fact that there are people who sincerely believe these crazy ideas. I don't think Rush Limbaugh, in particular, is at all insincere.
"A second theory is more elite-driven, and is based more or less on the concept of "learning" -- that people tend to copy those things that they perceive of as having worked. Alas for the Republicans, the two big winners over a half-century were...Richard Nixon and Newt Gingrich. So if you emulate those two, you're going to wind up with a much worse type of politics than if you emulate, oh, FDR."
Conspicuously, he left out Reagan. Not an oversight he explains:
"But wait -- isn't there also Ronald Reagan? Yup, there is. But for a variety of reasons, Reagan's pragmatism hasn't been much of a model for the GOP. The big thing that they took from Reagan, alas, was that detailed policy knowledge was a net-negative: thus George W. Bush. There is an impulse to find a Reagan -- thus the movement to draft Fred Thompson in 2008 -- but that's about it. Instead, they've invented an ideologue Reagan who never compromised his pure conservative principles, something that Reagan made easy to do because his particular political (and personal) genius was precisely an ability to constantly believe in his own purity regardless of what he had actually done."
See, now here I disagree totally. Reagan was not a pragmatist. I certainly don't buy that Nixon was more ideological-to the contrary. Nixon was pragmatic, indeed, he was an out and out huge cynic. He was much more "pragmatic" than Reagan, and if it's true that by their fruits ye shall know them, then Nixon was much more pragmatic. There are books that go as far as trying to claim him as a liberal.
Consider his term: going to China, detente with the Soviets, "I am now a Keynesian in economics", wage-price controls, the Philadelphia Plan-ie, affirmative action-Keynesian stimulus before the 1972 election, the start of the modern EPA, lowering the voting age to 18....
Of course, libearls who come to be Nixon fans-there are many
are perhaps committing the error of ignoring history-the political current of the time. In fact I would say that Nixon, Reagan, and Gingrich are all on the same page but in different political environments. Nixon still lived in the post-New Deal era which was very liberal in many ways, with the current rise of the student movements of the 60s.
He did actually propose a healthcare plan to the Left of ObamaCare, however, does that mean he was more liberal than Obama? More like, his was a more liberal age.
As to Reagan, he singlehandely ushered in a more conservative age and consensus that seems to finally now have come to an end. Rome wasn't built in a day. This is what Obama was up against as well. He came in cognizant of the fact that since Reagan's election in 1980 the country had moved to the Right. Obama came in hoping to be a transformational President-in exactly the same mode as Reagan had been but the other way to a more liberal direction.
Gingrich came in with all the victories of the Reagan-Bush years-the huge tax cuts for the rich, the gutting of the unions, cuts in discretionary spending-so his demands got more radical. The GOP got much of what it wanted in the 90s-chief among them is the neutering of TANF.
Next they hoped for the big game-gutting Social Security and Medicare. However this is where the GOP hit the wall. In 2004, the late William F. Buckley, the founder of the modern conservative movement, wrote a triumphant book "Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?" after Bush's re-election.
He spoke to soon. The dream started to walk but now it's flat on it's back.
As to when the GOP got this way, I'd say, in reality, they've always been this way. Not when Abraham Lincoln was President, of course. Then they were a force for positive good in the country.
You could see American political history-kind of like Kevin Phillips sees it
as divided into discrete political cycles. Today we often here that Americans prefer divided government-or at least so we've heard for a long time. I suspect that at this point Americans have had it up to you know where with divided government. However, at the time of Gingrich, this was a popular meme you heard a lot.
Most of history doesn't show this. Divided government has been a fact of life only with the rise of Nixon. The GOP revolution that Nixon begun was incomplete as the Dems maintained control of Congress. By the time the GOP figured out how to win Congress in 1994 the period of GOP Presidential dominance that Nixon augured in was over.
So while in the recent past, we're used to divided-and increasingly dysfunctional government-until now; I'm hopeful that with Obama's re-election we're actually starting the long road back to functionality-most of history has had one dominant majority party and a minority party with more of a regional presence. Clearly this is what the GOP is in danger of becoming.
It's what the Democrats were between Lincoln's election in 1860 and FDR's in 1932. They only had power in the segregationist South and certain urban centers with large immigrant populations-the Irish, Catholics, Italians, Jews, Poles, etc. In reality the northern and southern Democrats were more or less different parties but they had managed to hold together for many years-only with the post 1994 GOP liquidation of the South has it totally come undone.
From 1800 to 1860 the Democrats dominated holding the White House 56 out of 60 years. Starting in 1860 the GOP had the White House 56 of the next 72 years. With the rise of FDR, the Dems held it the next 28 out of 36 years. So as you can see, one party has usually been dominant in different eras.
The party that has dominated has been the party that's been "right" at least in the minds of most Americans. It was the fruit of political and ideological victory. The Dems dominated after 1800 as the Federalists who hoped to take the country down a different less democratic and republican path were annihilated.
The Dems lost the country after being on the wrong side in the Civil War. Then the GOP got the Depression wrong and were in the wilderness. What's interesting about the Republicans after Nixon is they became competitive again, although they were still on the wrong side of public opinion. Fundamentally, the party never accepted the New Deal expansion of government and they still haven't.
This makes the parity they've achieved over the last 44 years-starting with Nixon-very impressive, actually. When most people disagree with you, yet you win roughly half of the time.
So this is how the GOP got this way: they've been this way since the Depression: on the wrong side of public opinion. We're still living in the Post-New Deal era and they're still fighting it. They've been enormously successful relative to the fact that the American people don't agree with them.
Nixon pioneered the policy. His whole idea was that the GOP can never win on the Economic Issue, so neutralize it and make elections about the Social Issue. However, demographic, social, and political shifts in the electorate make the Social Issue a loser now. Notice how the GOP avoids any national fight over abortion, gay marriage, etc.
So now they're stuck campaigning on the Economic Issue-which was always a loser for them. Hence, their bad losses November 6, and why they are in for some real problems going forward.