Tag Archives: GOP

Whither The GOP?

Remember when John Edwards ran for President and talked incessantly about “two Americas”? He was talking about divisions between rich and poor, but we now know that–whatever the contribution of economic status to culture war–the real differences that divide us are psychological and tribal.

And the question of the day concerns the tribe that has gone off the rails.

A recent Gallup poll found that sixty-two percent of U.S. adults believe the country needs  a third party. That is an increase from 57% in September. Support for a third party has grown significantly; it was 60% in 2013 and 2015 and 61% in 2017. Furthermore, Republicans’ current level of support for a third party is the highest Gallup has measured for either party–virtually all of the increase is due to the increase among Republican respondents.

Given recent reports of substantial Republican defections in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, that sounds promising–until you dig into the Gallup report.

The survey asked Republicans and Republican-leaning independents what direction they would like to see the party move in the future. A 40% plurality want the party to become more conservative, while 34% want it to stay the same and 24% to become more moderate.

Republican identifiers were twice as likely to say the party should become more conservative than moderate (44% to 21%). And we know that the current use of the term “conservative” is vastly different from its former definition.

Media is currently obsessed with the status and prospects of the GOP. An article in Politico offers advice for a “Reaganesque” revamp.

The thesis is that there are only three possible paths: the one the party is currently on (Splitsville ahead), a full-throated swing to crazy-ville (doubling down on xenophobia and protectionism and recruiting more Marjorie Taylor Greenes), and “imitating Ronald Reagan.” According to the author, Reagan masked the party’s racism with his focus on tax cuts:

The lesson is that while politics based on racism can always get you some votes, it doesn’t quite get you enough. To form a new, stable political coalition, Republicans need a strategy that speaks to people’s hopes and self-interest more than to their fears. Tax cut politics appealed across the board—including to the racists, but not only to them.

To repeat a Reagan-like transformation of the party, Republicans have to offer an alternative vision that is appealing enough to voters to serve as a replacement for the dwindling politics of tax cuts.

The article suggests what some of those policies might be (I’m dubious, but hey…). The problem is, embracing any of them would require dramatically distancing the GOP from Trump–something the polling suggests is highly unlikely. (It’s not just Gallup: a Politico poll fielded after January 6th found Trump’s overall favorability rating at an “abysmal” 34%–but 81% of Republican respondents gave him positive marks.)

Michael Gerson–former speechwriter for George W. Bush– has offered a far more honest–and much less hopeful–analysis.

Gerson acknowledged that the Impeachment vote was a “historic collapse of moral and political leadership. And it was no less tragic for being expected.” And he points to the tribal truth underlying that collapse: Republicans’ widespread belief that the “White, Christian America of its imagination is on the verge of destruction, and that it must be preserved by any means necessary.”

We saw the Indiana iteration of that belief last Thursday. Today’s GOP is the White  grievance party–nothing more.

As Gerson recognizes, this isn’t political philosophy. It’s a warped religious belief. “There can be no compromise in a culture war. There can be no splitting of differences at Armageddon.”

Can the GOP really have a productive debate between people who believe in democracy and those who have lost patience for it? Between those who view politics as a method to secure rough justice in a fallen world, and those who view it as a holy crusade against scheming infidels? Between those who try to serve conservative political ideals and those who engage (in Sasse’s immortal words) in “the weird worship of one dude”?

The greatest need in our politics is a conservatism that opposes authoritarianism. The greatest question: Can such a movement emerge within the framework of the Republican Party?

Gerson says he’s skeptical. Me too.

 

 

History May Not Repeat, But It Rhymes…

The quote with which I titled this post–history may not repeat, but it often rhymes–is attributed to Mark Twain, and it appears to be playing out in America’s increasingly bizarre politics.

It turns out, we’ve been here before, albeit without the extra “supercharging” provided by the Internet. Conspiracy theories and bigotries– and their effect on political life– are evidently as American as apple pie.

Case in point, the 19th Century Know Nothing Party. The parallels are striking.

The precipitous decline of the Know Nothings ought to concern today’s Republicans, because the resentments, conspiracy theories and rejection of reality and evidence that characterize support for Donald Trump all bear a striking resemblance to the resentments and angers that gave rise to the Know Nothings. As the linked article from Politico put it,

Much like QAnon, the Know Nothings started life as a secretive cabal convinced that the country was being controlled by an even more secretive cabal — and much like Trump-era Republicans, their anxieties were rooted in a country that seemed to be changing around them.

In the late 1840s, the United States was being flooded with immigrants, in this case from Ireland. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of poor Irish Catholics led to a rise of political groups in New York, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia convinced that these immigrants could form a fifth column taking direction from the Pope. Under orders from Rome, the theory went, these immigrants would undo American democracy and steal jobs from hard-working native citizens whose economic prospects were hardly secure even in the best of times.

Though these groups had actual names, such as the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, their membership at first was guarded and secretive. Asked about their views and political plans, members would reply only: “I know nothing.” The nickname was born.

The anti-immigration panic of the time coincided with the weakening and subsequent demise of the Whig Party. When the Whigs imploded, the (aptly named) Know Nothings emerged to replace them. Interestingly, the Know Nothings avoided taking sides on slavery–the issue that was genuinely tearing the country apart. Instead, it supported laws against drinking and immigration. (The anti-alcohol focus has been attributed to the stereotype of the mostly-Catholic Irish as big drinkers– a focus that gained impetus from the widespread anti-Catholic bigotry of the day.) The Know Nothings supported a wide variety of anti-immigrant measures, including laws to prevent immigrants from attaining citizenship.

These were not marginal moves. At their height, the Know Nothings, newly christened the Native American Party (long before that connoted the original inhabitants of North America), controlled the state legislatures and governorships of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maine and California. They also held numerous seats in state assemblies throughout the South, and they sent more than 40 representatives to the House and several senators, all adamant. Most of them supported stringent nativist, anti-immigrant legislation; all emerged from conspiratorial clubs that had spread theories about possible Papist aggression and plots against the sovereignty of the United States. (In their grotesque accusations about Catholic priests and nuns strangling babies and holding young women against their will, it’s not hard to see an early version of QAnon’s core obsession with imagined globalist pedophiles.) In 1856, the name was shortened to the American Party and its leaders nominated former president Millard Fillmore as their candidate for president under the slogan “Americans Must Rule America.”

Sound familiar?

The reason so few of us know this history is that the Know Nothing party split and declined almost as quickly as it had achieved its successes. But as the Politico article recognizes, the anti-immigrant nativism that drove its adherents never went away.

The lesson for today’s GOP is that simply being against something–or even against many things–isn’t enough. Without being for something, without being able to articulate a positive vision, growth is limited. Hate, anger and resentment can only take you so far.

Ultimately, successful politics requires addition. It requires a broadening of the base of support. The GOP’s embrace of crazy conspiracies, overt racism and self-evidently preposterous Big Lies has led instead to subtraction, as rational Republicans are increasingly exiting the party.

I think this may be where we pass the popcorn and watch the show…..

 

The Economy And The Parties

Talk about your provocative headlines! The New York Times opinion page recently ran a column titled: “The Economy Does Much Better Under Democrats. Why?”

The column began with an acknowledgement  of the limited control presidents exert over the economy. After all, presidents are at the mercy of numerous global and other realities, as the pandemic is currently illustrating.  Furthermore, economic performance is determined by literally millions of decisions made every day by businesses and consumers, many if not most of which have little relation to government policy.

So why is there an undeniably “stark pattern” showing that the economy has grown significantly faster under Democratic presidents than Republican ones?

It’s true about almost any major indicator: gross domestic product, employment, incomes, productivity, even stock prices. It’s true if you examine only the precise period when a president is in office, or instead assume that a president’s policies affect the economy only after a lag and don’t start his economic clock until months after he takes office. The gap “holds almost regardless of how you define success,” two economics professors at Princeton, Alan Blinder and Mark Watson, write. They describe it as “startlingly large.”

Since 1933, the economy has grown at an annual average rate of 4.6 percent under Democratic presidents and 2.4 percent under Republicans, according to a Times analysis. In more concrete terms: The average income of Americans would be more than double its current level if the economy had somehow grown at the Democratic rate for all of the past nine decades. If anything, that period (which is based on data availability) is too kind to Republicans, because it excludes the portion of the Great Depression that happened on Herbert Hoover’s watch.

If the disparate results are too clear and too large to dismiss, the reasons are far less obvious. (As the King in “The King and I” liked to say, “It’s a puzzlement.”)

The authors of the study considered and discarded several possibilities. They threw out  Congressional control, because the pattern held regardless of which party was running Congress;  deficit spending also couldn’t explain the gap, because–contrary to GOP rhetoric–during the past 40 years, Republican presidents have run up larger deficits than Democrats.

If Congressional partnerships and deficit spending couldn’t account for the differences, what might? The authors concluded that the difference could be explained by the willingness of Democrats–but not Republicans–to respect  that pesky thing we call evidence.

As they note, Democrats have been far more willing to consider the lessons of economic history–to see which policies have been shown to actually strengthen the economy, and to replicate those approaches. Republicans, on the other hand, have “clung to theories that they want to believe — like the supposedly magical power of tax cuts and deregulation.”

In other words, Democrats have been pragmatists; Republicans have been ideologues.

As the authors note, since 1980, Republican economic policy has boiled down to a single measure: large tax cuts, tilted heavily toward the rich. That may work in countries with very high tax rates, but the United States has had very low tax rates for decades.

It may be that Republicans actually believe in their own prescription, despite the repeated failure of tax cuts to provide the promised economic stimulus and/or job creation. Or it may be–as cynics suggest–that the parties are simply playing to their respective bases of support– responding to the interest groups that support and finance them.  Democratic-leaning groups (like labor unions and civil-rights organizations) favor policies aimed at achieving broad-based economic growth; Republicans are pandering to wealthier supporters (those we used to call “country club Republicans), who favor policies that will shift income in their direction.

It will be interesting to see whether Republican ideology shifts as the  GOP becomes increasingly the party of whites without wealth or a college education–and as significant numbers of those suburban “country club” Republicans desert a GOP that is firmly in thrall to bigots and crazy people.

 

The GOP And QAnon

GOP Senator Ben Sasse says all the right things–although his voting history is, shall we say, a bit more complicated. Sasse has a recent essay in the Atlantic in which he challenges his party to choose between conspiracy and reality–between the “delusional QAnon conspiracy theory,” and rationality.

We hear a lot about Qanon, but to understand not just Sasse’s argument but the political moment we inhabit, it’s important to recognize just how insane it is.

Although there are various iterations, the basic “theory” that supporters accept requires them to believe  that a “righteous” Donald Trump (!) is leading a “historic quest” to expose the fact that America’s federal government has been captured and is being controlled by a global network of cannibalistic pedophiles. This “cabal” includes not just the despised “deep state” bureaucrats, but also the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice and at least a dozen senators (including Sasse), along with George Soros and other notable Jews. (The conspiracy borrows heavily from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.) When Mike Pence explained that he couldn’t refuse to accept the certification of electoral votes, QAnon cultists added him to the network, ignoring his four years of sniveling sycophancy,

Millions of Americans actually believe this insanity. Virtually all of them are Republicans.

Writing in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol insurrection, Sasse makes what should be an obvious point: the GOP can be a political party, or a bizarre cult, but not both.

The violence that Americans witnessed—and that might recur in the coming days—is not a protest gone awry or the work of “a few bad apples.” It is the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice. When Trump leaves office, my party faces a choice: We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them. We can be the party of Eisenhower, or the party of the conspiracist Alex Jones. We can applaud Officer Goodman or side with the mob he outwitted. We cannot do both.

As he notes, prior to the assault on the Capitol, GOP leadership figures and consultants told themselves that they could “preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon.”  What they have discovered–one hopes–is that such a strategy is impossible. If the party does not reject conspiracy theories, it will be consumed by them.

Sasse provides a perfect illustration of the fecklessness of Republican leadership:

The newly elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. She once ranted that “there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it.” During her campaign, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had a choice: disavow her campaign and potentially lose a Republican seat, or welcome her into his caucus and try to keep a lid on her ludicrous ideas. McCarthy failed the leadership test and sat on the sidelines. Now in Congress, Greene isn’t going to just back McCarthy as leader and stay quiet. She’s already announced plans to try to impeach Joe Biden on his first full day as president. She’ll keep making fools out of herself, her constituents, and the Republican Party.

In the remainder of the essay, Sasse makes a bow to the obligatory “both sides” equivalence (the Left has crazy people too!), and points a pop-sociology finger at media–all media, not just social media and the Internet; he also blames the collapse of “institutions” and “America’s loss of meaning.” If you click through and read that part of his essay, you can decide for yourselves whether you find it particularly helpful or insightful. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t.)

That said, Sasse is clearly correct when he says the GOP cannot be a “big tent” that includes people like Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse and even Liz Cheney–people we may strongly disagree with but still recognize as serious adults– together with lunatics like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes and Louie Gohmert.

No tent is that big. Sasse is clearly correct when he says that the Republican Party must choose between insanity and reality.

 

Deserving Of Contempt

Today, America will inaugurate an actual President. I have hopes for a resurrection of governing.

Biden’s success will rest to a considerable extent on what happens to today’s totally dysfunctional and arguably treasonous GOP, where signs of schism are growing.

Among those signs are two columns written by longtime Republican conservatives–Michael Gerson and George Will. It bears emphasizing that both of these examples were published on January 4th–before the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Both are representative of the pre-Trump GOP. In other words, sane. (Although in Will’s case, also irritating and supercilious.)

Michael Gerson was a speechwriter for George W. Bush; he is a committed Christian Evangelical. His column in the Washington Post focused on the leaked telephone call between Trump and Georgia’s Secretary of State–the Republican officeholder who oversaw Georgia’s election. As Gerson says, the great virtue of that recording is that it “clarifies the goals of all concerned.”

And those goals, as he points out, were not to expose abuses in the electoral system. 

Trump intended to pressure the elected official of an American political subdivision to falsify the state’s electoral outcome–to “squeeze out” 11,780 additional votes in his favor– in order to overturn his loss in Georgia.

His cynical, delusional justifications are beside the point. He would say anything — invent any lie, allege any conspiracy, defame any opponent, spread any discredited rumor — to perpetuate his power.

Gerson then turned to Trump’s Congressional enablers.

This, in turn, illuminates the motives of his congressional enablers. In light of Trump’s clarifying call, the term “enablers” now seems too weak. When Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and their GOP colleagues try to disrupt and overturn a free and fair election, they are no longer just allies of a subversive; they become instruments of subversion. They not only help a liar; they become liars. They not only empower conspiracy theories; they join a conspiracy against American democracy. They not only excuse institutional arson; they set fire to the Constitution and dance around the flame.

In the remainder of the column, Gerson excoriated this attack on the constitutional order and pointed out that Republican “populism” ( a nicer word for the GOP’s current Nazification)  is diametrically opposed to actual conservatism and other former Republican beliefs: in law and order, in the U.S. constitutional system, in individual liberty and federalism, in judicial restraint. Worse still,

Anti-constitutional Republicans are teaching, in essence, that partisan and ideological victory is more important than democratic self-government. They may try to dress up their betrayal as fighting against socialism, or against the “deep state,” or against multiculturalism, or against antifa, or against secularists, or for white pride, or for a Christian America. But what they are really saying to their supporters is this: Your anger is more important than our republic. 

Gerson writes that these anti-constitutional Republicans are shredding the work of America’s founders, and deserve nothing but contempt.

For his part, George Will writes that Josh Hawley’s announced intent to challenge certification of the Electoral vote is evidence that Hawley’s conscience “compels him to stroke this erogenous zone of the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominating electorate.”

Hawley’s stance quickly elicited panicky emulation from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, another 2024 aspirant. Cruz led 10 other senators and senators-elect in a statement that presents their pandering to what terrifies them (their Trumpkin voters) as a judicious determination to assess the “unprecedented allegations” of voting improprieties, “allegations” exceeding “any in our lifetimes.”..

Never mind. Hawley — has there ever been such a high ratio of ambition to accomplishment? — and Cruz have already nimbly begun to monetize their high-mindedness through fundraising appeals.

Will then enumerates what rational Americans all know–that allegations of election fraud are themselves fraudulent. He concludes that the Hawley-Cruz cohort is in violation their oaths of office; despite swearing to defend the Constitution from enemies “foreign and domestic” they have become the most dangerous of those domestic enemies.

Over the past couple of decades, the Republican Party has slowly but steadily lost membership– it has barely managed to retain power through gerrymandering and vote suppression. Public defections of more high-profile Republicans began with Trump’s election and have continued. But the transformation of those who remain in the GOP–their metamorphosis into Trumpers–has also accelerated.

Sane people–including conservatives like Gerson and Will–can only hope that the abomination that is today’s GOP goes the way of the Whigs. It needs to be replaced by an adult, responsible center-right party that understands the importance of negotiation and compromise.

America needs differing perspectives on policy–it doesn’t need existential battles between a political party and a racist cult.