There is an unmistakable lull in the world of firebrand conservativism right now in the Montana legislature. When the legislature was last convened in 2011, right-wing bills were getting big crowds of proponents lining up to testify, to rage against the machine, as it were.
This year, not so much. I read in the IR this week that Democrats proposed getting rid of Montana’s so-called anti-sodomy law which criminalizes homosexuality, and that only two people came in to oppose it. A bill to allow the state to require all state workers to submit to drug tests received no support at all from any citizens. A bill requiring the teaching of creationism similarly did not get a single citizen testifying in favor of it. Several other GOP bills have met with similar indifference, with few if any conservative citizens attending the hearings.
This muted expression by the Tea party and the Right Wing presents a marked contrast to the frenzy of conservative activism witnessed in the previous legislature. So what’s going on?
It might be that the Republican grassroots are simply exhausted or demoralized by the 2012 election results, that conservative activists are licking wounds and have retreated. Or it might be simply a continuation of the enthusiasm gap we saw at the polls–the GOP struggled to turnout the base in November and perhaps they are having trouble turning people out for hearings now. After all, it’s not a stretch to say that many right-wing voters have lost faith in the Republican party, believing that the moderates have taken over and betrayed conservative true believers. They aren’t coming to Helena to support the nutjob bills because they don’t trust the less right-wing GOPers to move them forward. This internal rebellion was reflected in the leak of nasty e-mails between House and Senate GOP leaders, and also in the large Libertarian turnout in November ( a record 7%).
And finally, I’ve heard a few insiders claim that the GOP has told it’s supporters to stay home or has deliberately not turned them out, so that the circus atmosphere of 2011 is not repeated, so that the Bat Crap Crazy phenomenon will not present itself for commentary by media and blogs. But I would caution against buying into this. It’s not who you turn out to testify; it’s what you propose that makes you extremist.
At any rate, it’s a far different scene from 2011. A major GOP enthusiasm deficit.