More on the GOP Death Watch
The recent Republican Congressional belly-flop over Department of Homeland Security funding reminded me of this 2013 gem from John Judis in The New Republic on the GOP Death Watch.
There is a growing fear among Washington Republicans that the party, which has lost two national elections in a row, is headed for history’s dustbin. And I believe that they are right to worry…The party’s leadership has begun to lose control of its members in Congress. The party’s base has become increasingly shrill and is almost as dissatisfied with the Republican leadership in Washington as it is with President Obama. New conservative groups have echoed, and taken advantage of, this sentiment by targeting Republicans identified with the leadership for defeat. And a growing group of Republican politicians, who owe their election to these groups, has carried the battle into the halls of Congress. That is spelling doom for the Republican coalition that has kept the party afloat for the last two decades.
American party coalitions are heterogeneous, but they endure as long as the different groups find more agreement with each other than with the opposition. After Republicans won back the Congress in 1994, they developed a political strategy to hold their coalition together…The strategy was based on creating an alliance between business, which had sometimes divided its loyalties between Republicans and Democrats, and the array of social and economic interest groups that had begun backing Republicans.
In weekly meeting held on Wednesdays at the office of his Americans for Tax Reform, (activist Grover) Norquist put forth the idea that business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), but also including the specialized trade associations, should back socially conservative Republican candidates, while right-to-life or gun rights organizations should back tax cuts and deregulation. What would bind the different parts together was a common opposition to raising taxes, which Norquist framed in a pledge he demanded that Republican candidates make. Business could provide the money, and the single-issue and evangelical groups the grassroots energy to win elections.
Under pressure from grassroots radicals and the new outsider groups, the old Republican coalition is beginning to shatter. The single-issue and evangelical groups have been superseded by right-wing populist groups, which are generally identified with the Tea Party, although there is no single Tea Party organization. These groups can’t easily be co-opted by the party’s Washington leadership. And the business groups in Washington, who funded the party over the last two decades, have grown disillusioned with a party that appears to be increasingly held hostage by its radical base and by outsider groups.
What Washington business lobbyists say on-the-record about the House Republicans and about Tea Party activists pales before what they are willing to say if their names aren’t used. One former Republican staffer says of the anti-establishment groups, “They want to go in and fuck shit up. These non-corporate non-establishmentarian guys—that is exactly what they are doing. And the problem with that is obvious. What next? What happens after you fuck shit up?” Other lobbyists I talked to cited John Calhoun, Dixiecrats and Richard Hofstadter’s essay on “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” to explain the rise of the populist right. It’s the kind of reference you’d expect to read in a New Republic article, but not necessarily in a conversation with a business lobbyist.
One could argue, of course, that the Republican Party will readapt to its rightwing base and eventually create a new majority of “true fiscal conservatives” who will disdain compromise. But there is reason to believe that Chocola and the Club for Growth will never achieve their objective. Rightwing populism, like its predecessor, Christian conservatism, is intense in its commitment, but ultimately limited in its appeal. Tea Party Republicans and the outsider groups probably had their greatest impact when they were still emerging phenomena in the 2010 elections. But when the Republican Party becomes identified with the radical right, it will begin to lose ground even in districts that Republicans and polling experts now regard as safe. That happened earlier with the Christian Coalition, which enjoyed immense influence within the Republican Party until the Republican Party began to be identified with it.
The worst thing to happen to the newer, more radical Republican party is that they gained majorities in both houses of Congress. They will now be expected to deliver on the promises made to their base as well as demonstrate to the electorate at large that they are capable of governing. As governing requires compromises which the base will not tolerate, accomplishing both goals appears to be impossible. Specifically, frequent use of economically destructive brinkmanship will lose the business groups who know a bad investment when they see one.
Cross-posted from The Sensible Center