Republican Evolution

Dana Milbank has an explanation for that recent Pew poll showing a sharp decline in the number of Republicans who accept evolution. Ironically, he suggests that the Grand Old Party is continuing to…well, evolve…into an ever more conservative and religious party.

A survey out this week shows just how far and how fast the GOP has gone toward becoming a collection of older, white, evangelical Christians defined as much by religion as by politics. …..Forget climate-change skepticism: Republicans have turned, suddenly and sharply, against Darwin.

How to explain this most unexpected mutation? Given the stability of views on evolution (Gallup polling has found responses essentially the same over the past quarter-century), it’s unlikely that large numbers of Republicans actually changed their beliefs. More likely is that the type of people willing to identify themselves as Republicans increasingly tend to be a narrow group of conservatives who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible — or partisans who regard evolution as a political question rather than one of science.

Milbank mines the data to describe the current GOP:   86 percent white, and growing steadily older (the number of self-described Republicans ages 50 to 64 and 65 and older climbed seven points and two points, respectively).  The ideological gap between the parties has grown, but–despite the GOP’s desperate efforts to paint all Democrats as leftists moving toward socialism–the data shows that the widening gap is instead a product of Republican movement to the right.

The Republican Party is achieving the seemingly impossible feat of becoming even more theological. Democrats and independents haven’t moved much in their views, while Republicans took a sharp turn toward fundamentalism.

How much farther right can the GOP go? When I left what was then still a reasonably sane albeit ideologically transformed party in 2000, I was convinced that–as the song says–they’d gone about as far as they could go. I was clearly wrong.

The question now is, ironically, Darwinian. As Milbank notes:

As a matter of political Darwinism, the Republicans’ mutation is not likely to help the GOP’s survival. As the country overall becomes more racially diverse and more secular, Republicans are resolutely white and increasingly devout. If current trends persist, it will be only a couple of decades before they join the dodo and the saber-toothed tiger.

The disappearance of what used to be a major political party composed mostly of grown-ups has already occurred, and the country is the worse for it.  We need two sensible political parties. Watching whatever it is that the GOP has become self-destruct may make some partisan Democrats happy, but most Americans recognize it for the sad and dangerous state of affairs that it is.