MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA—In talking to Republican voters across the state, one thing I’ve found interesting—and alarming—is the degree to which apocalyptic rhetoric is par for the course. “We will not recognize the United States after four more years after Obama,” said John Leach, an avid supporter of Newt Gingrich who attended the candidate's Sunday rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “We are surely moving toward socialism.” he said.
Likewise, at the South Carolina Tea Party convention, attendees were worried that Obama would make irrevocable changes to the country if he won re-election. “He will take the God out of America,” said Carolyn Church, a housekeeper and domestic worker who sees the country’s “Judeo-Christian heritage” as its most important characteristic.
And at Rick Santorum’s town hall at Daniel Island Elementary, attendees were terrified that Obama would impose tyranny if he made it through 2012. “This is the most important election of our lifetimes,” said Susan Sloate, “Obama has made huge strides in destroying the America we know, and if we don’t win this one, there will be no elections in 2016.”
Liberals are prone to their fair share of hyperbole—see the 2004 election—but it’s hard to imagine that progressives coming close to the apocalyptic paranoia of Republican voters. More important, it’s hard to imagine a world where Democratic leaders would encourage it. As it stands, the Republican presidential candidates are happy to frighten voters with the specter of collectivism. “I think he is moving us in the direction of a European social welfare society,” Mitt Romney said at last night’s debate. The former Massachusetts governor has offered versions of this warning to voters around the country.
Not to be outdone, Rick Santorum is happy to attack the Affordable Care Act as an unprecedented assault on Americans' freedoms (Jim Crow did not enter this calculation). “He used fear, to everyone who is dependent on the federal government, he pulled the hook, to make them do what he wants,” said Santorum, in a description of the president’s tactics during the debt ceiling fight, “That’s why Obamacare is so dangerous—it’s an entitlement for every American.”
It’s hard to predict the cumulative effect of this kind of rhetoric. Will Republican voters ignore it as the usual hyperbole of campaigning? Or will they take it to heart, and adopt a “by any means necessary” to the 2012 election?
And what happens if Obama wins re-election? Will conservatives regroup to fight another day, or will they attack the president as an illegitimate usurper. Indeed, in a world where they are convinced that “this is the most important election since 1860” (a line Santorum used last week), is it possible for them to accept the outcome of a fair election where the GOP loses to the president?
Everyone expects that this will be a close and dirty election, but given the attitude of Republican voters, I’m not sure if anyone is prepared for the bitterness of the upcoming fight.