Based on the most touted (and doubted) finding from the '04 election, what keeps the GOP in power are the "values" voters--aka fundamentalist Christians. Using a purely political filter, one might imagine that values voters would abandon their party if an event or series of events revealed that politicians violated their trust on the "values" issue. One can imagine no better test of this thesis than having the party cover for a gay sexual predator--who continued his hunt for adolescent flesh--merely to stay in power. And yet:
Most of the evangelical Christians interviewed said that so far they saw Mr. FoleyÂs behavior as a matter of personal morality, not institutional dysfunction. All said the question of broader responsibility had quickly devolved into a storm of partisan charges and countercharges. And all insisted the episode would have little impact on their intentions to vote.Belief in the GOP is not a matter of political alignment, it's literally a matter of faith. And if the Foley scandal doesn't shake "values" voters, nothing will. What's more, even mentioning the scandal seems to have drawn the ire of GOP voters, who have apparently concluded that faithless Dems are the cause of the scandal by their relentless politicization:
But all also noted that the swift Democratic efforts to broaden the scandal to Mr. Hastert and other Republicans had added more than a whiff of partisanship to the stink of the scandal.The GOP have managed to cast politics in a tribal mode. It doesn't actually matter what the leaders of one's team do--proof is in the loyalty. Each scandal--tax cuts for the wealthy, the Iraq invasion, Mission Accomplished, Abu Ghraib, Abramoff, Schiavo, Katrina, Foley, et. al.--become opportunities to demonstrate the faith of one's conviction. It's very easy to cast this as a purely religious phenomenon; faith in the GOP being an extension of faith in God. But I think there's also a strongly cultural issue to it.
In college football, it doesn't actually matter how a team does--the fans still support it. I went to an Oregon State Beavers game over the weekend and watched 42,000 fans cheer as their poor team made mistake after mistake. But hey, you don't jump ship just because the team sucks. Matter of fact, since it's your team, the fact that it sucks is an even greater motivator to support it. I'll show you.
Culturally, the GOP has appealed to the underdog sense within rural, suburban, and--notably--Christian communities. You're the runts nobody likes, you're the fools who believe in god. Don't expect the "elites" to respect you. A vote for the GOP is a vote for true America, a rejection of your university-educated, Hollyweird-loving, Prius-driving elitist tormentors.
Never mind that such a group never existed, this is powerful stuff. It is so powerful that each failure actually becomes a mark of pride. Each misstep a forgivable lapse by the underdog. Each attempt by the Dems to win your heart a condescending lie to try to win back the power with which to oppress you.
It means that the Dems have no cards to play. It doesn't matter how carefully they craft a policy on Iraq, how well their health care solutions are designed, or how authentic their own downtrodden histories and Christian faith are. The only thing we can hope for is that in the privacy of their own living rooms--and voting booths--the GOP tribal loyalists will secretly begin to doubt. (And of course, they won't tell the New York Times about this doubt.) The Dems' only real hope is the continued greed, stupidity, corruption, and arrogance of the GOP leadership.
Is that moment now? Maybe.