Tag Archives: republican electoral coalition

Who’s on third?

I’ve touched on this topic before, that what Trump is appealing to is something that fundamentally succeeds under a democratic system better than what most of his competitors in the Republican primary are offering. At least, within the Republican Party itself, it’s more durable. With Trump leading in the polls, that might sound like basic commonsense, but it also says something far more meaningful and darker about the future of the Republican Party.

What they’ve carefully crafted over the past several decades, with Southern Strategies and Moral Majorities, are ultimately brokered deals. Those are between an electoral bloc motivated by causes artfully directed away from economic populism and a smaller set who call the shots on anything with economic relevance. This was the playbook up through the recent Bush administration – which was headed by something of a cultural representative. His accent was pretty unconvincing to many, but just trying to use one aligned him with one cultural element in the country, which remains a large electoral bloc if not plurality of voters.

His upper class background spoke to the demarcations within that Republican arrangement – if not one of he was from and familiar with the few powerful donors and representatives who held key positions and dictated economic policy. That description of his administration might sound odd, and it is incomplete in how it leaves out the inescapable and protracted debates on marriage equality and abortion. The presence of two distinctive, at times radically so, policy conversations has been the Republican modus operandi for decades. Trump has disrupted that clear boundary between the two and the larger system that created that.

spirit justice.jpgRemember when all national discussion stalled to talk about the Spirit of Justice statue and her exposed breasts? Image from here.

Most clearly, his economic policies, like most of his politics, are taken as much as possible from the reactionary cultural groups tapped into by Republicans for years. Even on “social” issues, he’s touched the live wires that few other Republicans would – ones like immigration which while often talked about in terms of language and identity are impossible to have a substantive policy on without huge economic ramifications, many of which are unfavorable to major Republican donors.

In a nutshell, what I’ve said about that before is that, electorally, what he’s doing works. The prior Republican set-up requires constantly shifting public discussion from issue to issue, with each one manufacturing new ways of understanding the issue that must be bleached of any economic impact. It relies unsustainably on an ability to simultaneously engage and distract the same set of voters and supporters. Trump is just adjusting the Party, making it into something that doesn’t depend on both democratic support and undemocratic leadership at the same time.

One of the conclusions of that, however, is that he isn’t an interloper “robbing” Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Chris Christie or anyone else of their rightful nomination within “their” Party. He’s adapting the Party from within, alienating some who don’t understand or admit the weaknesses inherent in its prior structure, but ultimately expressing the same politics in a more internally cogent way. Trump is Republican and a plurality of Republicans for months now have supported him in national polling.

(Credit to Gage Skidmore.)

Earlier this week, I saw the first major news headline to recognize what that means:

It’s the Republican “establishment” which would be running as the third party. Trump is the apparent Republican nominee. He is the seeming representation of Republican political philosophy. One of the responding tweets described the bluff being called in other terms

Hopefully this is a realization that a number of people – who had the personal freedom to tune out of the “cuture wars” and write it off as a distraction – will have. Whoever in politics is still operating with that theatrical use of social issues, which always was done in a way dangerous to some, they’re no longer a major party.

The most prominent voices still using those terms aren’t just promising the moon like before, but meaningfully articulating what they want done nationally. The Republican Party’s paper tiger form wasn’t working, and Trump and others have decided to opt in favor of an actual tiger instead.

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Tactics Alone

TW: heterosexism, cissexism

Alex Pareene had a very interesting piece up on Salon on Monday about how all the talk about a GOP civil war is often getting the nature of the argument wrong. As he put it:

There is still one party that is very committed to rolling back environmental and other regulations, preventing meaningful financial reform, and, most important, keeping taxes as low as possible on very wealthy people and corporations. The Tea Party is not opposed to any of those things. […] “The business community” wants the Republican Party to be competitive in national races — they’re also fine with the Republicans’ trying to win elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression — while “the Tea Party” prioritizes purity over electability. (In fact, most of them don’t see conservative purity as any sort of obstacle to electability, but they are wrong.) The backlash to Ted Cruz and the House “suicide caucus” was mainly a reaction to tactics, not a blow-up over policy.

Conservatives simply differed over the best way to force Democrats into accepting the roll-back of the Affordable Care Act and/or a tax-cutting, social insurance-cutting long-term budget deal. Plenty of “establishment” Republicans still believe it is perfectly appropriate to use the debt ceiling, and the implicit threat of default, to extract policy concessions. Where Republicans split was on the wisdom of actually shutting the government down or merely threatening to, and on what precisely to demand in exchange for reopening the government. Grover Norquist attacked Ted Cruz for demanding the unachievable, but he doesn’t actually oppose defunding Obamacare. He just thought Paul Ryan had a better strategy for actually winning concessions.

In short, they’re not ideologically opposed (or if so, it’s in very minimal ways), but simply using different playbooks. Unluckily for them, their tactics are increasingly incompatible, if not gummed up by unmoored-from-reality expectations by Tea Party “strategists”. Viewed that way, the conflict is all too real, but in reality not between groups that old different sets of beliefs but groups with different understandings of how those beliefs appear to the larger society. The establishment understands the tactical need to dress up hostility and their interest in reestablishing or maintaining traditional power imbalances as something less offensive to a growing majority of US residents. The Tea Party has either failed to clue in, or refuses to.

(I mean, as if signs like this didn’t already clue us into that, from here.)

Another news item this week shows how true this is, that the real difference between main “radical” Tea Party Republicans and “moderate” Establishment GOP operatives is purely in presentation and not in substance. I’m talking of course about Chris Christie’s decision not to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court for a stay on same-gender marriages being recognized. As the New York Times reported

Mr. Christie’s advisers said it became clear late on Friday that the fight had to end after the State Supreme Court announced it would not grant the governor’s request to block same-sex marriages while he appealed. Not only did the court decision say that his appeal had no “reasonable probability of success,” it was also unanimous — signed by the justices Mr. Christie has long warred against and by the one he considered on “his” side, Justice Anne M. Patterson. The governor concluded that, legally, he was out of arguments, and that it would be what one aide called a “fool’s errand” to continue in the face of almost certain failure.

In short, Christie’s decision not to block one small advancement of equal rights and protections for queer and trans* people was not motivated out of wanting those people to be respected, wanting them to have equal means to protect themselves and their families, or even out of wanting to capitalize on a popular position. It was about calculating how to minimize damage.

He initially wanted to delay queer and trans* New Jersey residents’ ability to have their marriages recognized, as a means of reducing the state policy from immediate disagreement with him and his fellow conservatives to something less abrupt. When that tactic was shown to be highly unlikely to work, he rethought his strategy, and concluded that all he could hope for was to appear unaffected by it – and hence he attempted to quietly avoid an appeal. In a phrase, he decided to try and “save face”.

New Jerseyans who are queer, trans*, LGBT, or whatever labels we want to use need to understand and remember this moment. This is not a Republican Party that’s becoming more moderate and more willing to allow us to live as we want to. This is a political party with one faction that is smart enough to recognize the need to disguise or obscure their refusal to do that. If you vote to re-elect Chris Christie as governor, you are not supporting candidates who support you, but those that are capable of appearing to do so.

Christie has come under criticism from the virulently heterosexist National Organization for Marriage (NOM) for deciding not to appeal any further, but that’s not because they actually disagree on the political question of what queer and trans* people’s rights should be, but rather what they should do about those shared beliefs.

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Failing to see the consumers’ choice

Steve Friess has an interesting piece over at New York Mag, which is an interested (although not precisely “good”) counterpoint to the omnipresent talk about the US Republican Party as hopelessly out of touch with comparatively younger voters. He explains that Republican leadership are taking to heart the advice of Sasha Issenberg – a journalist with a new edition of their political tell-all coming out in paperback – who called them out for failing to engage younger voters in their digital media domains. In short, they’re hoping to imitated Obama’s reelection marketing strategies as described by Issenberg, which Friess believes mainly consisted of “the ways it tested the efficacy of various forms of communication” –  specifically “the use of Facebook to create social pressure to register”.

(Issenberg’s new book, The Victory Lab, on the new computer modeling and online marketing involved in US political campaigns, came out in paperback with a new epilogue this month – but can the GOP glean the right message from it?)

But the issue that the Republican Party is facing isn’t really considered as a whole in the piece, and for good reason. The age-related gap in means of news media consumption isn’t merely an oddity that the 2008 and 2012 Obama election campaigns exploited, they’re the result of deliberate choices on the part of younger people, which aren’t entirely separable from the current lack of GOP talking points in most corners of the internet. From the Ron Paul follower goldbug libertarians to the corporate and posh Huffington Post, the online media landscape is admittedly not always overtly opposed to the Republican Party, but those “friendlier” sections of the internet are in many ways predicated on their opposition and competition with the official Republican brand. And that’s without considering the progressive, anarchist, and even socialist portions of internet media.

People who get their news online aren’t just missing the Republican message, they’re probably looking for news online because they want an alternative. While many of the youngest voters are seemingly aging into that system of finding out important news information, younger middle age voters are also actively moving from Fox News to either other networks, or other means of consuming news, or out of the loop entirely. The internet isn’t the passive recipient of new voters – it’s also a space they’re drawn to because of the relative lack of GOP messaging. Introducing those same political opinions into that environment isn’t going to resolve that aversion.

In short, the party that purports to be the only true advocate for the free market is failing to notice the crowds choice in what messages they want to consume.

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Just when you thought we’d gotten a break from the Bushes…

As this is the first Monday since “Spring Forward” for me, and will also be for any US-based reader, I’ll keep this post especially short and to the point. Jeb Bush has in a simultaneously hilarious and terrifying fashion, declared that Obama based his reelection campaign on dividing the country – primarily on the basis of class. This was, purportedly, unfair because Republicans understand and sympathize with US voters from all backgrounds.

That’s rich coming from the brother of the Republican President who was installed in office after every Republican justice on the Supreme Court voted to discontinue vote counting and inspections in Florida and simply declare him the winner. Likewise, while in office, that same close relative continually made statements to the rest of government and the population of the US and the world in the vein of- either “you are with us, or you are with the terrorists“.

Those acts had antecedents though, in the form of decades of such rhetoric from prominent Republicans. Remember how they used to talk about how great it would be if the US became a de facto one-party state? Remember the Moral Majority and how it spent the 1970’s and 1980’s advocating for the rolling back of newly gained rights for non-Christians, women, and queer people? Before that was the Southern Strategy, when Republicans prioritized the racial views of White southerners over the opinions and rights of others.

These are more than distant facts though – these are the political forces that have shaped and continue to shape the Republican Party. There’s a reason that in the past presidential election, it was the Republican candidate who took credit for expanding opportunities for women when scores of female activists had actually pushed for it and did all of the work in creating the system that he then used. Isn’t it divisive and belittling how he erased their work from his account of what happened? Besides that, there’s also a two word phrase that Romney popularized during the primary: “self deportation“, which is the concept of making life so miserable for undocumented people that they would leave the United States (how’s that for divisive?).

Perhaps that’s why there were no states that Romney won that Bush hadn’t won in 2000 or 2004. There’s precisely two that he picked up from Obama in 2008. In all, 21 of the 23 states that Romney won had been won by the Republican in every one of those three elections. That is not an indication of a broad, inclusive political brand or presidential campaign.

2012 usa presidential map showing the vast majority of the US being some shade of blue
(In this map which blends the percentage of the vote that was Republican [red] or Democratic [blue] along with population [color saturation], you can clearly see how inclusive the Republican brand is. From here.)

But this runs deeper than Romney – the entire party is culpable. As I pointed out last week, the only way Republicans can capitalized on Obama’s disastrous drone policies is by being concerned that the differentiation between targets who are US citizens in the US and all others isn’t strong enough. In a very literal sense, their grandstanding on the issue is based on worrying that there’s not enough legal division between citizens and non-citizens. Likewise, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) has barred a group of gay activist Republicans from even sponsoring their event (cooties!) for the second year in a row (and in previous years, they were barred from various forms of participation while allowed to attend).

All signs point towards exclusion and division having become core Republican values.

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How do you have a civil war if you’re almost all on the same side?

There’s an interesting opinion piece by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times about the Republican Party’s current tribulations that’s been making the rounds over the past couple of days. It covers quite a few different issues, but it’s clearest points seem to be that the marketing subcontractors affiliated with the party are paid independently of their results and that the party’s base is divided between a mob of social conservatives resistant to any social change and a significant but smaller group of free market powerhouses. Sadly for Edsall, neither of these are particularly radical or new ideas. One trend of 2012 was the steadily growing obviousness of racketeering within the conservative movement and its chronic inability to hire the right people to send out its messages. Likewise, many others have been talking about a Republican “civil war” between a base that demands a loyalty to social policies that are politically toxic in general elections (particularly when the policies restrict women’s rights) and the smaller faction of moneyed interests within the party.

The idea that Republicans have potential allies who align with one of those blocs but not the other and they just have to figure out some new way of reaching out to them correctly seems pretty suspect when you actually look at how many conservatives analyze their own politics. They don’t view there as being a choice between support for economic policies that produce systemic class inequalities and support for a likely religiously-informed social conservatism. To them, those are the left and right hands of their politics – why bother lopping off one or the other? There are, of course, those who go even further and seem to view them as not only overlapping belief systems, but mutually supporting ones. For many modern conservatives, breaking with any part of that perceived socio-economic policy package is a breaking of a whole. It likely doesn’t matter to those people that they’ll still agree with the party when it comes to tax policy if they’re ignoring the social system surrounding the hope to install around that and other economic policies.

Beyond that sticky issue, there’s an implicit assumption that even if those present Republican voters stand by an exclusively fiscal-focused revamp of the party, there’s a significant number of other voters out there who will be enticed by the Republican message of tax cuts and ignoring growing economic disparities. That’s not even shown by the data Edsall uses in his own article:

(From Edsall’s New York Times opinion piece.)

The largest gaps between public perception of the Republican and Democratic parties are indeed over issues that are seen as primarily social in nature – the rights of women, queer, and genderqueer people. But the other major gaps all concern issues obviously concerning economic policy: assistance to the poor and tax policy. The issues on which Democrats have little lead or still trail Republicans in public perception are a mixed bag of social policies (firearms regulation), economic policies (handling the financial and energy industries), and ones that are a bit of both (immigration). The Democrats might have more strength on social issues, but the perception of them as ideologically more mainstream has both economic and social dimensions.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems easier to find myriad faults with this specific prediction of a coming Republican ‘civil war’ than to see its development.

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The GOP: we alienate everyone because we almost can

You may have heard some the talk recently in the US about how the blowout re-election of President Obama was due to the Republican Party alienating every voter they could, and there’s a lot to say on that issue. Election night was full of animated analysis of the gender gap, and particularly the marital dimension of it. The past few weeks, discussion of how that occurred for Black and Latin@ voters has been a common theme in political media. In more recent days, analysis of the stark movement of Asian electoral support from the Republican to Democratic Party has been the newest item of the on-going discussion.

(Various Asian voters historically favored Republicans, but the past twenty years of neo-nativist rhetoric have stunningly reversed that, making other shifts, like Bush’s gains with Latin@s look inconsequential in comparison. From here.)

The last bastion of Republicans strength outside of a narrow subculture of straight, cisgendered, White, Christian, wealthy patriarchs seems to be among the middle class, as Romney’s campaign strategist recently wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece. The facts are, however, that Romney only won the range of voters with yearly personal incomes greater than $50,000 when viewed all together. There isn’t data specific the “middle class” segment of that, however we might define it.

But of course, it comes as no great shock to note, as Paul Krugman has, that the Republicans have tried to push through a compromise on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts that would have sacrificed the current rates of many of those making between  the not-really-middle-class-anymore-right? $250,000 and a shocking $400,000 yearly, to keep the current low rates on income greater than that bracket. So, for those with income within that bracket, the message from Republicans is clear: the political demands of even the rich are irrelevant compared to those with those of the astounding wealthy.

(From Krugman’s article.)

How long will those who fit into the Republic pigeonhole in every way other than class keep voting for them? Did we just see the straw that broke the camel’s back?

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