Will the Right Kill the Republicans? Ask the Whigs.

November 22nd, 2009

I’m as curious as anyone about the long-term effects of hard-right Republicans on the Republican party. Will their zealotry result in the party’s rupture and collapse?

This led me to look at the two significant national parties from America’s history that have collapsed and disappeared: the Federalists and the Whigs.

The Federalists came apart because they advocated a policy of appeasement and peace with the British during the War of 1812. They actually sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace. In the meantime Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans, and America won the war. That left the Federalists discredited and embarassed in the electorate’s eyes, and they never recovered.

This seems to have no parallel with the current situation in the Republican party.

The Whigs, on the other hand, might have some very telling lessons to impart. They split over the issue of slavery, and collapsed when they failed to nominate their own incumbent presidential candidate (Millard Fillmore) for re-election in 1852. The anti-slavery faction became the Republican Party (with the notable participation of Abraham Lincoln), while the pro-slavery/laissez faire adherents grouped into splinter parties or defected to their former rivals, the Democrats.

The parallels? There’s no incumbent presidential Republican, of course, but down the food chain we see far-right Republicans garroting prominent incumbent party stalwarts like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, and New York Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (who, after she was savaged and effectively replaced by the ultra-cons, endorsed the Democratic candidate–who proceeded to win).

Will the Republicans go the way of the Whigs? I’m sure not going to predict it. But the pattern’s in place.

  1. November 22nd, 2009 at 16:47 | #1

    Pass the popcorn!

  2. November 23rd, 2009 at 13:49 | #2

    @Janet We really, really need an English equivalent for “schadenfreude.”

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