To maximize its appeal to these new Southern voters, the Republican Party adopted an increasingly radical version of conservative thought and expressed it in increasingly harsh rhetoric. As liberals and moderates in the North and upper Midwest began to desert the Party, its Southern supporters became ever more important to it — which led to even more extreme advocacy and another round of desertions and defections. After 50 years, this relentless process of ideological purification has produced a party whose electoral appeal is almost wholly confined to rural and suburban whites, most of whom reside in Southern states. In the 2012 presidential election, the South provided 72 percent of Mitt Romney’s electoral votes. (The Party is still strong in some areas of the West and Midwest, but these sparsely populated states provide little electoral heft. Today’s GOP is essentially a field of kudzu combed now and then by stray tumbleweeds.)
This is the party of Georgia boy Newt Gingrich, who dismissed Kansas Sen. Robert Dole, an old-school Robert Taft Republican, as “a tax collector for the welfare state.” It’s the party of Tennessee’s Martha Blackburn, a House member who hailed the 2013 government shutdown because it would show Americans “they can live with a lot less government than what they thought they needed.” It’s the party of Joe Wilson, the South Carolina congressman who shouted “You lie!” at President Obama during a 2009 speech, and of former Texas governor Rick Perry, who peppers his speeches with references to secession and “states’ rights.” This Republican Party shows little interest in the norms that have defined American politics because it has only contempt for the state those norms are designed to sustain.
Full of scorn for their own government, the ideologues who control today’s GOP feel free to disregard any limitation on their pursuit of conservative purity. The letter to Iran, and the invitation to Netanyahu, merely enact this principle in the realm of foreign affairs. The real concern of the Tea Party isn’t the modern American state, which it despises, but its own hermetic vision of the conservative “cause”– a cause that transcends national boundaries. Its adherents find it easier to cooperate with the leader of Israel’s Likud Party than with their Democratic colleagues in the American Congress. Tom Cotton’s dispatch to Tehran — or something like it — was the inevitable outcome of the process set in motion by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. We should expect more of the same in the future.