The state of the Republican Party

It’s really bad!!  Three really good piece on the matter this week.

First, Ezra:

So why has the Republican Party repeatedly turned on itself in a way the Democratic Party hasn’t? There’s no one explanation, so here are three.

Republicans are caught between money and media.

For decades, the Republican Party has been an awkward alliance between a donor class that wants deregulation and corporate tax breaks and entitlement cuts and guest workers and an ethnonationalist grass roots that resents the way the country is diversifying, urbanizing, liberalizing and secularizing. The Republican Party, as an organization, mediates between these two wings, choosing candidates and policies and messages that keep the coalition from blowing apart.

At least, it did. “One way I’ve been thinking about the Republican Party is that it’s outsourced most of its traditional party functions,” Nicole Hemmer, author of “Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s,” told me. “It outsourced funding to PACS. It outsourced media to the right-wing media.”…

What were the hallmark Republican economic policies in this era? Social Security privatization. Repeated tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Free trade deals. Repealing Obamacare. Cutting Medicaid. Privatizing Medicare. TARP. Deep spending cuts. “Elected Republicans were following agendas that just weren’t popular, not even with their own voters,” Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard, told me…

But what really eroded the party’s legitimacy with its own voters was that the attention to the corporate agenda was paired with inattention, and sometimes opposition, to the ethnonationalist agenda…

Same party, different voters.

A few decades ago, the anti-institutional strain in American politics was more mixed between the parties. Democrats generally trusted government and universities and scientists and social workers, Republicans had more faith in corporations and the military and churches. But now you’ll find Fox News attacking the “extremely woke” military and the American Conservative Union insisting that any Republican seeking a congressional leadership post sign onto “a new shared strategy to reprimand corporations that have gone woke.” 

“The reason the Democrats are much more supportive of the institutions is because they are the institutions,” Matt Continetti, author of “The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism,” told me. “Republicans are increasingly the non-college party. When Mitt Romney got the nomination in 2012, the G.O.P. was basically split between college and non-college whites. That’s gone. The Republicans have just lost a huge chunk of professional, college-educated voters — what you would have thought of as the spine of the Republican Party 40 years ago has just been sloughed off.”

The problem for the Republican Party as an institution is that it is, in fact, an institution. And so the logic of anti-institutional politics inevitably consumes it, too, particularly when it is in the majority.

Republicans need an enemy.

When I asked Michael Brendan Dougherty, a senior writer at National Review, what the modern Republican Party was, he replied, “it’s not the Democratic Party.” His point was that not much unites the various factions of the Republican coalition, save opposition to the Democratic Party.

“The anchor of Democratic Party politics is an orientation toward certain public policy goals,” Sam Rosenfeld, author of “The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era,” told me. “The conservative movement is oriented more around anti-liberalism than positive goals, and so the issues and fights they choose to pursue are more plastic. What that ends up doing is it gives them permission to open their movement to extremist influences and makes it very difficult to police boundaries.”

Eric Levitz:

In a remotely healthy democracy, there would be no way to reconcile the Republican Party’s voting base with its fiscal priorities. If Americans had an accurate understanding of their elected representatives’ policy goals, and the interest and resources necessary for holding those representatives accountable to their own preferences, the GOP as we know it could not exist.

Perfect information would not turn every working-class voter into a Democrat, of course. Conservatism, broadly construed, does not lack popular support. Plenty of blue-collar Americans are skeptical of unconditional welfare benefits for the poor and/or hostile to many aspects of social liberalism. But precious few believe that they should pay higher taxes so that the rich can pay lower ones, or that the federal budget should be balanced on the backs of Social Security beneficiaries. In a well-functioning republic, a Republican who supported such positions would not survive a primary…

The Democrats’ greater sensitivity to popular opinion does not derive from the party’s inherent virtue. Rather, it reflects blue America’s relative independence from reactionary billionaires and its coalition’s structural disadvantages. Due to the pro-rural biases of the Senate and Electoral College, the modern Democratic Party cannot win national power without securing roughly 52 percent of the popular vote. And it cannot pass federal legislation without securing the cooperation of legislators who represent Republican-leaning areas. This compels the party to heed majoritarian preferences. And that, in turn, gives the party an incentive to accurately communicate its own governing priorities and those of the GOP.

Conversely, the overrepresentation of rural America enables the GOP to win national power and make federal policy without securing majority support.

And, lastly, Thomas Edsall:

Over the past eight years, the Republican Party has been transformed from a generally staid institution representing the allure of low taxes, conservative social cultural policies and laissez-faire capitalism into a party of blatant chaos and disruption.

The shift has been evident in many ways — at the presidential level, as the party nominated Donald Trump not once but twice and has been offered the chance to do so a third time; in Trump’s — and Trump’s allies’ — attempt to overturn the 2020 election results; in his spearheading of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol; and most recently in the brutal series of votes from Jan. 3 to Jan. 7 in the House of Representatives, where 20 hard-right members held Kevin McCarthy hostage until he cried uncle and was finally elected speaker…

One of the key factors underlying the extremism among Republicans in the House and their election denialism — which has confounded American politics since it erupted in 2020 — is racial tension, not always explicit but nonetheless omnipresent, captured in part by the growing belief that white Americans will soon be in the minority.

As Jack Balkin of Yale Law School noted, “The defenders of the old order have every incentive to resist the emergence of a new regime until the bitter end.”

In his paper “Public Opinion Roots of Election Denialism,” published on Jan. 6, the second anniversary of the storming of the Capitol, Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at M.I.T., argues that “among Republicans, conspiracism has a potent effect on embracing election denialism, followed by racial resentment.” ..

In other words, the two most powerful factors driving Republicans who continue to believe that Trump actually won the 2020 election are receptivity to conspiracy thinking and racial resentment.

“The most confirmed Republican denialists,” Stewart writes, “believe that large malevolent forces are at work in world events, racial minorities are given too much deference in society and America’s destiny is a Christian one.”

Lots more good stuff in all of those.  And let’s be clear, it’s not actually fun to point out how broken, wrong-headed, and dysfunctional the Republican Party has become.  It’s a two-party system and it is genuinely distressing when one party is so far off the rails.  I really miss the good old days when I just disagreed with Republicans on things like health care and taxes rather on whether we should be a democracy or not or whether our politics should be based on ethnonationalism.  

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