Tag Archives: republican

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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A tale of two Republicans

Kevin McCarthy, the first among many Republicans to be considered as a replacement Speaker of the House, has seen a new, formidable challenger appear: central Florida congressional representative Daniel Webster. Previously one of the leading contenders to unseat Boehner at the start of the current congressional term, Webster has again captured the attention of many in the most conservative Republicans with calls for less Party oversight in bringing bills forward and other legislative actions. In the wake of that, he has earned the endorsement of the Freedom Caucus – the closest bloc within the House to a third party.

A key thing to note within this process is that this borderline rogue faction within the House is not only approaching this with more preparation than ever before, but also hasn’t selected one of their own. As some have pointed out, Webster is virtually identical to McCarthy on policy, and his main criticism of the Republican Party is about its leadership and structural organization, not policy outcomes. I’ve pulled together a list here of recent and major assessments on a variety of issues to show just how similar their political perspectives are:

Rankings and Assessments

Assessing Organization Kevin McCarthy (GOP CA-23) Daniel Webster (GOP FL-08)
NARAL Pro-Choice America (2014) 0% 0%
National Right to Life Committee (2014) 100% 100%
Planned Parenthood Action Fund (2014) 0% 0%
American Farm Bureau Federation (2014) 50% 50%
Food Policy Action (2014) 17% 11%
American Farm Bureau Federation (2014) 50% 50%
American Library Association (2013) 22% 22%
Gun Owners of America (2014) 80% 80%
Hispanic Federation National Immigration Scorecard (2014) 59% 59%
Human Rights Campaign (2014) 0% 0%
American Family Association (2014) 75% 75%
Christian Coalition of America (2014) 90% 90%
FRC Action (2014) 75% 75%
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (2014) 36% 36%
Federally Employed Women (2014) 30% 30%
Concerned Women for America (2013) 92% 91%
American Civil Liberties Union (2013-2014) 0% 0%
AFL-CIO (2014) 0% 9%
John Birch Society (2014) 50% 60%
Peace Action West (2014) 9% 16%
Center for Security Policy (2013-2014) 9% 16%
Bread for the World (2013) 30% 20%
Drum Major Institute (2012) 7% 14%
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (2014) 25% 20%
Competitive Enterprise Institute (2014) 100 100
FreedomWorks (2014) 52% 62%
National Taxpayers Union (2013) 68% 74%
Alliance for Retired Americans (2014) 10% 11%
National Education Association (2013) 0% 0%
NumbersUSA (2013-2015) 50% 93%
NumbersUSA (2011-2012) 57% 57%
American Immigrant Lawyers Association (2014) 33% 33%

(Sources: here and here.)

To a large extent, this makes sense when you think of McCarthy and Webster as products of their districts. Both presided over largely non-Hispanic White and comparatively rural sections of far more racially diverse and urbanized states. The leading industries of agriculture and tourism have become economically and socially invested in the presence of other ethnic and racial communities, particularly non-White Latin@s, for labor. As a result, they fall into a conservative business-minded fold of the Republican Party – in favor of a light approach towards immigration but not necessarily citizenship and amnesty for undocumented people. McCarthy’s district has a deeper structural basis in immigration workers and so he has been less able to tap into increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric the way Webster has in recent years. That shows in their diverging scores from NumbersUSA in recent years. That said, when it comes to organizations that care about the nuts and bolts of immigration policy, they’ve been given largely identical rankings.

What’s more, on virtually every other issue, they fall together – in favor of most military activities, of strict policing, restrictions on abortion, and restrictive definitions of marriage. All of that’s reflective of the largely non-urban, White, and middle class nature of their standard voter. Related to all that, the sizable presence of national industries like agriculture and tourism in their districts encourages them to hold a specific type of economic policy perspective. It’s one about maximizing profits within the existing economy, not radically restructuring the economy into a more ideologically conservative model.

All that said, McCarthy has failed to gain the support of the Freedom Caucus and most likely many unaligned House members who are similarly invested in a hyper-conservative outlook distinct from his and Boehner’s. Webster, equally an outsider to that faction, simultaneously has. He’s one that more conservative parts of the party believe they can effectively advance their policies under, largely because of his ideas on how to differently run the House. More than revealing something about Webster, this suggests something about the Freedom Caucus. For all their policy disagreements and protests, they have cast their lot in with the Republican Party and decided that they are Republicans after all. They will foment a fight within the party to decide how it will be run with clear hopes for how a different structure might allow different ideas to come out on top within the party. That said, they have decided to fight within the party, not against it.

As I’ve written before, the factionalism within the current Republican Party often leads to all of the uncertainties and instabilities of a more-than-two-party system but with all of the policy discussions third parties bring up being directly or discretely discussed. This is exactly that dynamic at work – a few opinion pieces from Freedom Caucus supporters have hinted at what policies exactly they want instead of those personally put forward by Webster, but a broader public analysis of how that group of Republicans differ from other groups hasn’t really happened even within conservative media circles. We have a House of Representatives that’s increasingly divided into factions that the average voter won’t be informed of. That doesn’t inspire confidence in our ability to make a decision about which groups we support and vote for.

The featured image for this article comes from here.

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David Frum – now extra ridiculous

The always intriguing Alex Pareene has a lengthy piece up on David Frum’s twin articles from the past month (one about how Ted Cruz could ostensibly become the Republican nominee for the presidency in 2016 and another about how he could then win a general election). Pareene seems to be doing two things in his look into Frum’s head – correcting the more egregious errors (like the plainly inaccurate levels of turnout in past elections he references), but also probing for what the hidden message for Democrats.

Pareene’s answer is a thoughtful look at how delusionally certain Frum is that Democrats “playing” the class card would wreck their chances for the White House in 2016. But he seems to be operating with the assumption that the intended audience for these pieces are Democrats, liberals, progressives, or some other faction in opposition to the GOP coalition.

(Where these columns make sense though, from here.)

It’s a common refrain on the right that the US is a center-right country, so even when writing for the Daily Beast, I don’t think it’s out of the question to consider that Frum might be talking to his political compatriots or just voicing an opinion for his own pleasure of seeing it in print. Taking that approach, of his latter article especially being more of a fantasy for Republicans than a warning to Democrats, there’s something else to be learned from it.

In between the relatively thoughtlessly strung together happenstances that Frum envisions as launching Cruz to the White House, there’s a lot of chestnuts. He says that Ted Cruz could on Spanish language television, in English, “This is America. We obey the law. People who can’t deal with that don’t belong here” and yet not motivate much of the Latin@ electorate to vote against such a hostile take on the issue of undocumented immigration. He has Cruz also simultaneously liberated from conventional fundraising avenues for conservatives (by “angel” donors) but without even a trace of being beholden to either those bankrollers or his conservative base, in terms of what he could run on.

Throughout both pieces there’s an implicit longing for a past formula to suddenly become feasible again. In the first, Frum writes,

“The plan [for Cruz’s ascendancy to the GOP nomination] is obvious enough: to emerge as the next acknowledged political leader of American conservatism in the apostolic succession that begins with Robert Taft, continued through Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, and has had no agreed successor since Newt Gingrich’s retirement from Congress in 1998.”

In case that conspicuous absence at the end there isn’t obvious enough, there’s this gem from the second piece: “Cruz delivered half his convention speech in Spanish and used the other half to rededicate the party to “the compassion of conservatism,” a subtle variant of an old phrase that delighted convention delegates.” Yes, what Frum really seems to want is to reinvent the second Bush administration’s political hallmarks and structures.

In short, all this recent writing reads like an escapist fantasy. In it, in Frum’s own words, a president can win with “the vaguest platform” and the “most issue-free campaign” in immediate memory. It’s basically a push-button presidency, where Cruz simply… wins because the Democrats are divided, the electorate is more White, and US voters aren’t swayed by arguments for economic equality. The imagined world that Frum seems to deeply want is one where Republicans win because why not. It’s important to realize how unrealistic that is, however, and how rooted that is in view what were actually historical exceptions (like the 1984 presidential election) as the norm.

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The spectacle should be a scandal

One thing that’s become clear in the past few days is how effectively the Republican Party manages its image, in comparison to the Democrats. Just earlier today, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave a quick response to his meeting with various political leaders in Washington as the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) gave their own remarks. Boehner’s words rolled off his tongue from sentence to sentence with an ease that’s only possible to interpret as a prepared speech. It had nothing to do with their meeting, admittedly, since it recast the entire shut down in unusual terms (that is, as the Democrats’ fault for not repealing obamacare and otherwise supporting Republican policy). In contrast, while Pelosi and Reid were quick witted and explained their alternative perspective well, it wasn’t a prepared speech.

That difference is admittedly not the most important thing to pick up on today, with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stating that they can’t implement their seasonal flu vaccine, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) being unable to even start responding to the massive oil spill within the Colorado floods and mudslides, and the nutritional supplements for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) having only twelve more days of funding to keep food on some households’ tables. That said, it’s a revealing microcosm of the shutdown as a whole: Democrats are talking about what’s happening, while Republicans are stuck in an abstract soup of political philosophy and self advertisement.

(Republican congressman assisting veterans enter the WWII memorial that they voted to close, from here.)

Another flashpoint of that same crash between the truth and the GOP spectacle was the forced entry to the WWII memorial by veterans of that war accompanied by Republican congressman who had voted in place the barriers that they helped veterans move around. The truth is that they’re selectively responding to the fallout of the crisis they helped create, but the image is one of nationalist sentiment and the values Republicans tell themselves they have.

Did we finally hit a place where the Republican vision of the world and themselves is so disastrously at odds with what’s happening that it begins to cave in? Or can Boehner and others rehearse speeches nice enough and create photo ops stirring enough that they can reject reality and substitute their own?

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