In "The Joe the Plumberization of the GOP," I argued that conservatives have grown too comfortable with wearing scorn as a badge of honor, content to play sarcastic second fiddle to the dominant culture of academia and Hollywood with second-rate knock-off institutions. A side effect of this has been a tendency to accept conspiracy nuts as a slightly cranky edge case within the broad continuum of conservatism, rather than as a threat to the movement itself.But, while it's all well and good to fete the late WFB, as Ruffini does in his piece, surely this is the inevitable outcome of four decades of identity politics--starting with Nixon and culminating with Palin--which centered on the "silent majority" who lived in places where kids still respect the college dean, etc., right? Wearing coastal scorn as a badge of honor was precisely the point of the identity politics that Nixon constructed. This strategy, though, isn't infinitely iterable and caring only about the "silent majority" only matters when that group is, in fact, a majority, which is becoming less and less of the case.
As far as the nutters go, this often gets overthought and I think the effect that political style has on a movement is underrated. Democrats, for roughly the past three decades, have presented themselves as sober, rational, and dependable as a governing force. I think that this has gone a little too far in general (political movements need to have at least some populism), and at its extreme it lends itself to caricatures of liberals as limp-wristed elites who speak in such elevated terms that they can't connect to people, but we did get Barack Obama so it can't be too bad. But while the left certainly has its crazies, there are few of them with any influence because being seen as a reasonable, sane person is an important part of the left's self-identity and therefore the LaRouchies get no truck in Democratic circles. The right, however, is less concerned with how the damn elites see them, and instead cultivate a hothouse environment of paranoia and dread--presumably to motivate their supporters to be active--and it's not hard to see how this sort of environment breeds loudmouthed conspiracy theorists like prize-winning daisies. After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, correct? Why beat up on Limbaugh and let the Democrats off the hook? Republicans seem to take a "no enemies to the right" point of view these days--one which Ruffini seems to understand and is trying to counteract--but it's difficult to see how the right can rid themselves of conspiracy theorists without a significant change in tone and style, the very things that have brought them decades worth of success. If one Republican after another were to go on television, denounce the birthers and proclaim that the president is an honorable public servant with whom they disagree, I think you'd see a very different dynamic for the nutters on the right. Unfortunately, this is all rather unlikely. Large institutions rarely change course unless they have no choice. If the GOP makes anemic gains in the House in 2010 and handily loses in 2012, Republicans might be ready for something new. But, until then, get ready for the global warming and immigration reform equivalents to "death panels", I suppose.