It used to be said of Democrats that the more their candidates lost, the more the faithful loved them. Adlai Stevenson and George McGovern were all enshrined in the pantheon of beloved political victims. As Eugene McCarthy put it when he placed Stevenson in nomination in 1960, "Do not reject this man who made us proud to be Democrats. Do not leave this prophet without honor in his own party." This was for a candidate that never cleared triple figures in the Electoral College.
Now Republicans have fallen into the same pattern of, if not glorifying their defeated candidate, vilifying their opponent. Not so much among the political leadership but their many media stars who like host feed off the carcass of defeat. Rush Limbaugh et al are such powers in the GOP that they often bloviate without reason or plan. It is almost as if they feed off of the Democratic victory so much that whether their candidate wins or not is merely an afterthought. Like Democrats of the 1950s and the 1980s they have drifted comfortably into the culture of defeat. Better to posture than win.
In another era the GOP was interested in winning, not sustaining an image of heroic futility. For instance in 1977-1979, instead of opposing Jimmy Carter, they supported his more conservative proposals more than democrats. They were seen as both principled and responsible. In the end their patience paid off: the economy tanked and he found himself fighting his own party. By 1980 Ronald Reagan won an historic landslide. However, had Republicans vilified Carter - as they have Bill Clinton and President Obama - they may have managed to unite the Democrats around the Georgian.
Politicians would argue with Izard Putnam's warning at Bunker Hill: "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes." Launching attacks not based on a "feel good" emotion is wise. But radio commentators and Internet pundits care only about ratings and this has nothing to do with winning or losing. Losing creates more angry listeners which only the commentator satiates. The complications of governing are ignored and the language of attack is glorified. William Kristal was right when he argued that Obama's tax plan threatened as many Democrats as Republicans. Like a shrewd poker player, Kristal is willing to win a hand down the line rather than firing up the base.
The irony is that conservative pundits are acting like Democrats a generation ago. So convinced that their world view was correct, they laughed at Reagan's 1984 slogan "morning again in America." For liberals Reagan's world was a perversely laundered universe, even prepared for nuclear war. Remember their jibes of "Ronnie Raygun" or the depiction of him as the cruel tyrant that counted ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches. Well, 58 percent of Americans did not think so when they re-elected "The Gipper."
Some Republicans risk falling into the same trap. Mitt Romney's bent approach toward Obama was the nice guy that failed approach. Problem was, the GOP turned on and off more times than a neon sign, going from poor thing to scoundrel in their depiction of Obama. No message was the result, so weak that it was blown off course partially by a hurricane. Unlike Reagan's, it was based more on negative messages and in the end it confused many voters.
Perhaps Republicans would be wise to heed serious voices: Kristal, George Will and others who know how to win. If the current direction is sustained they will become a group of local parties without a central theme except beat the other party. This is the Democratic party of the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s and 1980s, not those of the years of victory. Republicans could learn from their own proud history, not from publicity and profit for bent celebrities.