Fighting contraception. Stopping domestic violence protections. Extending tax cuts for the wealthy, while hiking taxes on the middle class. Welcoming white supremacists to a conference, but banning gay conservatives. The GOP has followed its extremist fringe off the deep end, leaving the rest of us back in the reality-based world, and befuddled. Their strategists warned them not to do this, but it appears that to the GOP, unhinged fringe issues are like catnip.
It wasn't a surprise to see Republican luminaries, including Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell flock to major conservative conference last week that also included a panel session featuring a white supremacist. But it was ironic that this same event, the Conservative Political Action Conference, banned a group of gay conservatives from participating, accusing them of alienating so-called "family values" groups like the Family Research Council (FRC).
The banned group, GOProud, is hardly radical, even by right-wing standards -- it split from the Log Cabin Republicans because it thought the older group was too concerned with gay rights. Beyond pushing the much feared "The Gay Agenda," now just being gay excludes you from the biggest conservative conference of the year. Being a white supremacist gets you on a panel.
This year, CPAC banned the gays to gain back the FRC -- and white supremacists came as a bonus. The leaders of the GOP -- including a few aspiring leaders of the free world -- came along for the ride.
But CPAC was just the beginning of what has been a surreal week for a major political party. On Friday, President Obama announced a compromise with Catholic leaders who objected to religious institutions being included in the contraception coverage mandate for employee insurance. The compromise, which spared Catholic institutions from providing contraception coverage while ensuring that female employees would still have access to it, was not enough for the Catholic bishops and GOP leaders. Instead, they announced that they wanted a rule that would allow any employer to renounce any insurance coverage for any procedure they find morally objectionable.
Anyone who has ever had health insurance knows that that's an extreme position -- allowing employers to pick and choose what procedures they'll provide insurance for? -- but it's one that Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and the leaders of the House and Senate GOP jumped right on.
And attacking contraception is just the beginning. Republicans in the Senate are blocking a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it includes protections for LGBT people and undocumented immigrants. The Virginia House just passed a bill that would require women seeking abortions to undergo an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound without their consent, and another that would put access to birth control at risk. The latter, a so-called "personhood" bill, is so extreme a similar measure was rejected by Mississippi voters by double digits last year -- yes, that Mississippi. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is widely considered to be a top candidate for the GOP vice presidential nomination, has said he will sign the forced ultrasound bill and may sign the "personhood" measure.
Finally, on another issue important to millions of American families -- middle class tax cuts -- the GOP gave in and joined the rest of us in reality. While Republicans had been making rumblings about repeating their disastrous stunt in December where they threatened to raise payroll taxes on working Americans because the cost would be offset by a miniscule tax on the very rich, they ultimately gave in -- while leaving lower-profile but equally important issues of extending unemployment benefits and fixing Medicare payments for doctors in the lurch.
Where is the mainstream of the GOP? And why aren't they speaking up? 99 percent of American women who have ever been sexually active have used birth control. 59 percent of Americans think all employers should have to provide comprehensive health insurance to their employees -- including to women. Sixty-six percent think the wealthiest should pay a bit more to help all Americans get by in a bad economy. As of last year, 56 percent said gay and lesbian relationships are "morally acceptable" -- and although I haven't seen polling, I'd bet that the "morally acceptable" number for white supremacists is significantly lower.
Polls are polls and politicians shouldn't govern by them, but shouldn't they notice when they're falling off the deep end? The GOP, in pursuing the agenda of the most extreme factions of its base, has left moderates within its own party and American common sense behind. This isn't just bad for them politically -- in the long run, it's bad for the country. There are plenty of serious issues that demand our attention -- jobs, housing, the energy crisis, crumbling infrastructure. But instead of tackling these, the GOP seems determined to fixate on a parade of dangerous nonsense.