Tag Archives: GOP

Stop The World…But Then What?

Every once in a while, I come across an article or column which doesn’t convey anything particularly new or earth-shattering, but that sets out conventional wisdom in a way that makes a light-bulb come on. I had that “aha” experience when I read an opinion piece in the New York Times titled “Trumpism Has No Heirs.

The author, Jane Coaston, pointed out that–at least for the next two years–the Republican Party is ideally positioned.

As the opposition party, it will not be expected to offer solutions to the country’s myriad problems, much less introduce substantive legislation. It will not be expected to do anything except what it does best — oppose the Democratic administration and the Democratic Party.

Coaston’s observation isn’t new, of course–anyone who can spell “Mitch McConnell” or  has followed national politics even superficially over the past few years will agree that “even when holding power, movement conservatism is fundamentally an opposition movement.”

However, Coaston suggests that this “spirit of opposition” is the GOP’s Achilles’ heel –a weakness that will doom Republican efforts to “move on” from Donald Trump. Over the past few years, “conservatism” has become an empty label; as she notes, although many people  call themselves conservatives, they mostly agree about what conservatism isn’t. There is no consensus on what conservatism in the 21st Century is. And she says that Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency exploited conservatism’s glaring lack of a central motivating vision.

The conservatism that was seemingly agreed upon by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute and National Review was not the conservatism that Mr. Trump sold to the American people.

Mitt Romney campaigned in 2012 on being “severely conservative” and lost. Mr. Trump campaigned on a self-serving redefinition of what it even means to be conservative and won. After all, as Mr. Trump told ABC News in early 2016, “this is called the Republican Party, it’s not called the Conservative Party.”

But what Mr. Trump was for, and what his voters supported, was not the populist nationalism generally associated with “Trumpism.” Populist nationalism has a long history in this country. Paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan, the former Nixon assistant and political commentator, have espoused a blend of America First isolationist foreign policy rhetoric and distrust of perceived culture and political “elites” for decades.

Pundits who see Trumpism as a form of populist nationalism miss the fact that such nationalism doesn’t depend on any one individual. Trumpism does, which is why no one will pick up the “mantle.” There is no mantle, no program or philosophy of governance. Trumpism is simply the “middle finger to perceived enemies and the bulwark against real or imagined progressive assault.”

The central motivating impulse of today’s GOP is grievance and an overwhelming desire to “own the libs.” What Coaston has identified–and what I previously failed to focus on–is the essential weakness of using opposition as an organizing principle over time.

In the short term, of course,  being against something or someone generates energy and turnout. (A significant portion of the 81 million Americans who voted for Joe Biden would have voted for Daffy Duck if Daffy was running against Trump.) But for the longer term, it’s not enough.

At some point, being against everything–having no programs, no coherent political philosophy, no vision–will fail to energize enough voters to keep a party in power. That recognition is behind the formidable assault the GOP is currently mounting against voting rights.

The question is: when does disillusionment kick in? Until 2022, being against everything the Democrats want to accomplish is likely to be seen by the Republican base as a valiant effort to stop the modernity and social change that so deeply threatens them. Only if they are successful in retaking the House or Senate (or both) will citizens recognize that they have nothing positive to offer.

And by then, it might be too late.

 

 

They Aren’t Even Pretending Anymore

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly convinced that a variety of seemingly unrelated political attitudes and allegiances can only be explained by a deep-seated underlying racism. That conclusion doesn’t require us to disregard the complexities that dictate individual world-views and predict their saliency; I don’t mean to imply that individual circumstances are irrelevant–but the racist element is inescapable. History teaches us that previously suppressed bigotries  emerge and find expression when people are insecure,  financially or otherwise.

We are seeing that emergence play out in today’s Republican Party.

In the 1970s and 80s, when I was active in the GOP, I encountered people who expressed racist , anti-Semitic and homophobic opinions, but they were a distinct minority. If others with whom I worked shared those prejudices, they kept them to themselves; furthermore,  a significant number of  Republicans–including then-mayor Bill Hudnut– were vocal proponents of inclusion and anti-discrimination policies.

Maybe acceptance of diversity was easier at the time because most Americans didn’t anticipate the demographic changes that are now seen to threaten continued White Christian dominance–or maybe the current crop of GOP “leaders” is genuinely representative of the Republicans who remain after the “good guys” have mostly headed for the party exits.

Whatever the reason, those who are left in the GOP no longer feel the need to be coy about their White Nationalist beliefs. The recent CPAC meeting was held on a stage modeled on a recognizable Nazi symbol, and ABC’s recent report on the CPAC meeting was titled, “GOP congressman headlines conference where organizers push White Nationalist rhetoric.”

GOP Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona was the surprise keynote speaker at a conference Friday night in Orlando, Florida, where speakers spread white nationalist rhetoric, organizers railed about the U.S. losing its “white demographic core,” and some called for further engagement like the ire that drove the Capitol attack on Jan. 6.

Gosar wasn’t the only “usual suspect” who appeared at the meeting. Others included former Iowa Representative Steve King, whose most notable “achievement” in the House was a long history of explicitly racist comments, and the equally offensive conservative commentator Michelle Malkin.

Gosar’s keynote was followed by a speech by a man named Nick Fuentes, identified as  founder of the America First PAC, who filled his talk with white grievance and anti-immigration rants. He is quoted as telling the crowd that “If [America] loses its white demographic core … then this is not America anymore.”

Fuentes went on to praise the Capitol attack, boasting about it leading to a delay in the certification of the election results.

“While I was there in D.C., outside of the building, and I saw hundreds of thousands of patriots surrounding the U.S. Capitol building and I saw the police retreating . I said to myself: ‘This is awesome,'” Fuentes said to the applause of the crowd….

“To see that Capitol under siege, to see the people of this country rise up and mobilize to D.C. with the pitchforks and the torches — we need a little bit more of that energy in the future,” he said.

The most terrifying part of that description is the sentence recording “the applause of the crowd.” The attendees applauded the perpetrators of the treasonous January 6th insurrection that left five people dead and did thirty million dollars of damage to the nation’s capitol.

The entire event revolved around fidelity to Donald Trump and acceptance of his Big Lie–from the “Golden Calf” Trump statue (which was reportedly made in Mexico…), to Trump’s willingness to make his first post-Presidency appearance at a meeting of far-right, proudly racist extremists.

I find admiration–let alone fidelity–to Donald Trump incomprehensible–but then I consider the effect of tribalism and political polarization. I still remember my long-ago discussion with a party “regular” about a Republican candidate that we all knew to be incompetent and probably corrupt. He didn’t disagree with my evaluation, but he smiled. “He may be a son-of-a-bitch,” he said, “but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.”

Trump may be the antithesis of the “family values” these good “Christians” claim to be about, but he hates and fears the same people they do. He’s their White Nationalist.

 

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.