Three of the GOP's rising stars—House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida—have all recently tried to guide their party in new directions. But each ignored the biggest problem looming over nearly every major issue the GOP is trying to come to grips with: the fact that they've become the anti-science party.
Jindal has been the most blunt.
"We need to stop being the stupid party. It's time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults," he said last month. He reiterated that position last night after President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in an interview with NBC News anchor Brian Williams, but then tried to pivot to a new frame. "Tonight you heard the president double down... on taking more money out of the economy to grow the government economy, not the private sector economy," Jindal told Williams. "We have seen Wall Street greed. Now we're seeing government greed."
Cantor recently gave a major address on domestic issues in an effort to reframe the party's stances on several key fronts. But he mostly read from a tired, old script that, among other things, attacks social and political scientists and tilts towards big pharmaceutical companies that have argued for almost 30 years that regulation is keeping billion-dollar drugs off the market.
Washington should be "cutting unnecessary red tape in order to speed up the availability of life saving drugs and treatments, and reprioritizing existing federal research spending," Cantor said. "Funds currently spent by the government on social science—including on politics of all things—would be better spent helping find cures to diseases." The problem is that the entire social and political science budget at the National Science Foundation, which is what Cantor is attacking here, is tiny in comparison to what big pharmaceutical companies spend on marketing costs for prescription drugs, and most people intuitively understand this.
Rubio, meanwhile, defended the GOP Tuesday after Obama's address. But rather than try to broaden his party's dismal stance on immigration, he joined the anti-science wing of his party by denying what has become abundantly clear now to three quarters of the country—that climate change is real, and already impacting the U.S. In a recent interview with BuzzFeed prior to the address, Rubio questioned whether there was "significant scientific consensus" about climate change.
The problem here is that the scientific community isn't split. A recent review of every peer-reviewed scientific study published on climate change science in the last two decades (13,950) by James Powell, the former president of three prestigious American universities, found just 24 of them questioned whether climate change was real, and was caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The remaining 13,926 said climate change is happening and we're making it worse. That's a scientific consensus. Only conspiracy nuts who think the entire scientific community is one, big, powerful cabal don't understand a scientific consensus when they see one.
A major reason that Jindal, Cantor, and Rubio are all trying to tack in new directions is a simple but inescapable fact: they're confronted with a Tea Party movement that has embraced three recent anti-science stances that run counter to medical, environmental and social science.
There's the Todd Akin principle: that taking a pro-life stance means you also must believe that gynecological science isn't well-established or that medical science is somehow still evolving on the these sorts of questions. Recently, the co-chair of the House Republican Doctors Caucus, Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia, decided to defend the Akin principle at a local Chamber of Commerce breakfast in his district.
"(Akin) said that in a situation of rape, of a legitimate rape, a woman's body has a way of shutting down so the pregnancy would not occur. He's partly right on that. It is true," Gingrey said, according to a report in the Marietta Daily Journal. "We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, 'Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don't be so tense and uptight, because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.'"
The problem here is that it isn't true. Two medical societies quickly refuted Gingrey. "While chronic stress, for example from extreme exposure to famine or war, may decrease a woman's ability to conceive, there is no scientific evidence that adrenaline, experienced in an acute stress situation, has an impact on ovulation," said the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. And from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine: "There isn't any proof that stress causes infertility."
And then there is pejorative term "anchor babies" that has inflamed the immigration reform debate. Two years ago, GOP senators Lindsey Graham, Jon Kyl, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, and Mitch McConnell called for hearings on whether the 14th Amendment should be re-written to stop the automatic right of "birthright citizenship" because of the fear that illegal immigrants were having babies on American soil as a path to citizenship for the extended family.
Graham has said he'd like to amend the 14th Amendment—which passed to assure citizenship for the babies of freed slaves after the American Civil War—in order to make it clear that babies born in the U.S. don't receive automatic citizenship. "People come here to have babies. They come here to drop a child. It's called 'drop and leave,'" Graham told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren in 2010.
The problem here is that social science and economic surveys indicate something else entirely: people come to the U.S. illegally for jobs, not to have "anchor babies." Pew Hispanic Center reports clearly show that immigration patterns match the rise and fall of the American economy. "All the data suggests that people come here to work," Pew senior demographer Jeffrey Passel told PolitiFact. "If people came here to have babies, the flows would be pretty constant, and they are not." What's more, Passel said, the numbers of illegal men significantly outnumber the numbers of illegal women of child-bearing age.
And Princeton University social science researcher Douglas Massey conducted 159 extended, in-depth interviews with Latin American immigrants for a book and asked about their reasons for coming to the U.S. "No one ever mentioned having kids in the U.S.," Massey told PolitiFact. "I've been surveying Mexican immigrants to the U.S. for 30 years... and (they) are motivated by economic problems at home."
Despite all this, the notion of "anchor babies" spreads like a virus across the immigration debate and poisons the well for any sort of serious discussion. Democracy functions when both national parties hold true to evidence, facts and science, and then debate action or consequences from there.
The Tea Party wing of the GOP has been at the plate to take ferocious swings at three bedrock principles of medical, environmental and social science undergirding the abortion, climate and immigration debates. And they whiffed, mostly out of willful ignorance. So the logical question is this: whatever happened to three strikes and you're out?