The Republican Party’s Slow Motion Suicide
When the Democratic party falls into pieces, there’s a certain political logic to the split: Right vs. Left. But not the GOP. Republicans, Jonathan Chait argues, do it their own way. Or so would seem given the current crack-up.
Oddly enough, the polarizing candidate occupies the center of the remaining presidential field, with one opponent on his right (Ted Cruz) and another on his left (John Kasich). Nor is the party splitting along geographic lines, given that Trump has won states in every region. Instead, the divide runs high-low, splitting conservatism as an idea from conservatism as an instinct.
The policy content of the primary fight has receded almost entirely. …Chait,NYMag
“Visceral loathing” is how Chait describes the attitude of outraged Republicans who have to deal with or compete against the current front-runner. It comes very close to what some of us on the left feel about Hillary Clinton. Her ties to Big Money outstrip those of any other candidate, whether we’re talking Wall Street or the defense industry or, say, pharmaceuticals and health sectors. The Center for Responsive Politics has the numbers.
Don’t forget: pretty much all “sectors” of Big Money contributors want a seat at the pork roast table. They may lean Republican, but they also invest also in Democrats who (they evidently believe) are more likely to win.
Individual Republican voters are less practical. Their votes come from a series of shared fantasies.
Ronald Reagan brought down communism by telling Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall; global warming is fake or overrated; the Bush tax cuts did not cause a deficit problem, etc. …Chait,NYMag
Of course, the result is an America based on fantasies. Fantasies have enormous appeal. But they are not a reliable foundation for building a future you’d want to live in — or even for merely gaining the respect of grown-ups.
The true source of the schism is between Republicans who intellectualize conservative impulses and those who do not. The strongest demographic predictor of Republican support for Trump is education, with college-educated Republicans far less likely to support him than those without degrees. He epitomizes low-brow, reality-show values, making himself a kind of one-man cultural wedge.
But there is more to Trump’s high-low divide than that. The conservative movement has succeeded for decades by channeling racial resentment, nationalism, and authoritarianism into traditional policy proposals that can be justified in white papers on foreign policy, welfare, crime, taxes, and so on. Trump has made a mockery of this whole process, substituting boundless faith in his personality for a policy architecture constructed over generations. Conservative intellectuals understand and care about these ideas. They have articulated serious reasons for, say, restricting immigration levels, but Trump grasps the embarrassing reality that most Republican voters are driven by base animus toward immigrants. The rupture he’s opened does not divide one set of ideas from another. Trump has simply pitted the Republican brain against the Republican brain stem. …Chait,NYMag
Meanwhile, Trump is still out there, embarrassing his Party. Daniel McCarthy writes at American Conservative that “conservative Republicans™ somehow maneuvered themselves into a position of being too hardline for moderates and non-ideologues, but not hardline or ideological enough for the right. Trump, on the other hand, appeals both to the hard right and to voters whose economic interests would, in decades past, have classed them as moderates of the center-left—lunch-pail voters.
What’s even more remarkable is that movement conservatives, who have been given plenty of warning, ever since 2006, that their formula is exhausted, keep doing the same thing over and over again: they’ll dodge right, in a way that right-wingers find unsatisfactory but that moderates find appalling; then they’ll weave back to the center, in a way that doesn’t fool centrists and only angers the right. Immigration—which was another of George W. Bush’s stumbling blocks, lest we forget—has been the issue that symbolized movement-conservative Republicanism’s futility most poignantly. It’s not even clear that most GOP voters agree with Trump’s rhetorical hard-line on immigration—they just like it better than the two-faced talk of the average Republican politician.
Trump has a plethora of weaknesses, as general election polls amply demonstrate. But just look what he’s up against within the Republican Party: that’s why he’s winning. I should have recognized that last summer, but I thought voters would never break their habit of preferring “electable” candidates. It turns out that voters have much more capacity to learn and adapt—even if only by trial and error—than Republican elites do. …McCarthy,AmCon
Cross-posted from Prairie Weather
Caricature by DonkeyHotey via Flickr