Democrats were obliged to expand their base after the 1972 McGovern campaign. The Republican Party now finds itself in the same boat. Who knew? It turns out that Fox Television and hard-right radio, long the bêtes noires of liberals, are more harmful to conservatives. Media personalities have sucked the air out of what was once the big tent of the Republican Party. Stoking divisions, anxieties, and grievances is good for ratings and advertising revenue, but over time, these tactics shrink-wrap a national political party.
Republican office-holders and -seekers have found it necessary, so far, to pay obeisance to this daily drip of poisonous injunctions and warnings. The result has been small-tent policies toward African-Americans, Hispanics, women, gays, lesbians, the environment, immigration law, and other constituencies and causes. In this case, small-tent policies were insufficient, even with official unemployment nearing eight per cent, to elect a well-financed businessman who might have been summoned directly from central casting.
McGovern lost by a landslide, while the popular margin of President Obama’s victory over Governor Romney was narrow. The portents are the same, however. Blaming this election result on the weather or the candidate will prolong small-tent politics. True, Governor Romney was a deeply flawed candidate, but he faithfully trimmed his sails to the dictates of intra-party politics. The policies that resulted were so small-tent that they could not be rescued by voter suppression laws or super-PAC donations.
The Republican Party’s approach to arms control has also come to reflect small-tent politics. Treaty ratification is an ideal playing field for the hard right, because Senate procedures and Constitutional requirements empower minority views. Republican Senate leaders and Presidents were once instrumental in ending nuclear tests, controlling the superpower nuclear competition, and shifting the arms race into reverse gear. Now, careful listeners will be hard-pressed to find a deep, strong voice among the ranks of Republican Senators ready to ratify a treaty ending nuclear testing, thereby confirming a sixteen-year-old practice.
Will part of the Republican rethink of small-tent policies extend to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in a second Obama term? The administration has its work cut out, going door to door on Capitol Hill. It has strong reasons for the Senate’s consent and effective rebuttals to the arguments of bitter-enders. Elders must come to the rescue of this treaty, along with grass-roots campaigns. Statements from Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad that they intend to pursue ratifications in the event of the Senate’s consent could figure prominently in the Senate’s deliberations — if they can be elicited.
President Obama has stated repeatedly that he will try to tackle serious issues and campaign promises not addressed in his first term. The CTBT certainly qualifies. If, at the end of day, sufficient Republican votes are not forthcoming, Democrats can hold off on an up-or-down vote, U.S. national standing will decline as nuclear dangers grow, and the Republican Party will again huddle under its small tent. Blocking a popular, verifiable treaty that ends nuclear testing is one way for Republicans in and out of the Senate to reaffirm their minority status.