Nobody Takes Conservative Wingnuttery at Face Value

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 12:05 PM EDT

Jon Chait calls our attention to Robert Draper's piece in the New York Times Magazine this week about Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC run by Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney. Here's a lovely little excerpt:

Burton and his colleagues spent the early months of 2012 trying out the pitch that Romney was the most far-right presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater. It fell flat. The public did not view Romney as an extremist. For example, when Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed “ending Medicare as we know it” — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.

So there you have it. Voters simply refused to believe that the bare facts about the Ryan plan could possibly be true. Chait is cautious about what this means: "I wouldn’t overread this and assume that the Republicans have found the ultimate wormhole, advocating policies so outlandishly unpopular that opponents can’t persuade voters they’re real."

I agree. Sort of. But I do think that it points to something real: Over the past couple of decades, Republican leaders have become such stone ideologues, and have made outrageous proposals such a standard part of their stump speeches, that a lot of voters just don't take them seriously anymore. They view these things less as actual plans than as statements meant to show group affiliation. As the bar gets raised year after year, Republicans have to say ever more outrageous things to demonstrate that they're real conservatives, but it's still just blather. They don't actually intend to do any of this stuff if they get elected.

Independents might discover — too late — that they're wrong about this. But I suspect that's how they treat a lot of this stuff: as mere rote catechisms, professions of faith not meant to be taken literally.