A whiff of desperation: Republicans and Bergdahl

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has threatened impeachment. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has forgotten his previous support for bringing U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home in a prisoner exchange. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) may be suffering whiplash — this Memorial Day she was demanding more action to bring Bergdahl home. Now she is outraged that he was rescued.

The Republican Party, just months before a critical midterm election, is determined to proclaim every action President Obama takes as an impeachable offense. The hunger of the GOP base for bloody-minded actions against the White House cannot be satiated, hence the increasing volume of the histrionics.

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Having unleased the dogs of discontent, focusing many GOP voters' anxiety on the supposed decline of America because Obama is in the White House, Republicans find themselves in a speeding spiral of heated rhetoric. The right-wing media — radio, TV and online — amplify this anxiety with disinformation and ahistorical interpretations of events.

In the case of Bergdahl, the America tradition of leaving no soldier behind, a tradition dating to the early days of the Republic, has been morphed into a dark conspiracy. In the gossamer strings that hold this sinister Obama plot we can see the meme of the president as a serial lawbreaker and, a favorite trope of the right-wing — Muslims!

"Give us our country back," a theme of many of the anti-Obama groups, is the signature line for a Republican Party incapable of winning national majorities, reduced to fanning xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny and other social pathologies that attract their ever-more-traumatized voting base.

Today's GOP bears no resemblance to the Republicans of the Reagan Era. To Dwight Eisenhower, this current crop of conservatives would be John Birch radicals, not real Republicans. Theodore Roosevelt would swoon.

This rampant radicalism emanating from mainstream Republicans seems necessary to shield themselves from the right-wing of their own party. Koch money and the cultivation of a rabid grassroots that demands ever more extremism is creating havoc for mainstream Republicans. Like a Texas bull rider, they seem to be holding on for dear life.

The proximity of the midterm elections — elections that Republicans cannot afford to lose — may help explain some of this transparently hypocritical behavior of being against bringing home Bergdahl before they were for it. While Republicans and their financial benefactors have already proclaimed victory in November, discussing committee assignments in the Senate and planning legislation they will pass, there are several data points that are making them nervous.

For start, Obama is considerably more popular than congressional Republicans. Majorities of Americans support Democratic policies over Republicans' promise to repeal the last five years. And certain polls give the Democrats a slight edge in holding the Senate — something completely unexpected just a few months ago.

Moreover, the Republican rejection of immigration reform injects significant uncertainty. While Latinos have historically been inert in midterm elections, new polling shows that the failure of immigration reform will be hung on the GOP like an iron neck-brace. Will turnout models based on midterm elections of years past prove to be correct this year? Republicans have poked the Hispanic bear — what will be the response at the ballot box?

Which brings us back to Bergdahl. This over-the-top, dishonest and borderline unpatriotic objection to rescuing an American POW seems almost desperate. As ObamaCare becomes an ever-less-relevant issue for November, the search is on for the next fabricated scandal to motivate the angry GOP base.

From the farcical Benghazi investigation, to now screaming loudly against bringing an American POW home, the Republican Party seems to manifest insecurity and lack of confidence. Fighting a civil war across the country between conservatives and extremists, the ranks are divided and a reunification before November is a tall order. This is yet more uncertainty.

One wonders what President Reagan would say. Having enlisted the help of an enemy of the United States, Iran, to help rescue American hostages in Lebanon, would Reagan today be also branded a scoundrel by these new Republicans? Maybe.

Espuelas, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a political analyst on television, radio and in print. He is the host and managing editor of “The Fernando Espuelas Show,” a daily political talk show syndicated nationally by the Univision America Network. Contact him at contact@espuelas.com and via Twitter @EspuelasVox.

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