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.)
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.