Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The GOP Fears Its Activist Base, Democrats Don’t

Since I left the Republican Party more than two decades ago, the party base has increasingly become a mix of rabid dog types in general, asylum escapees, blatant white supremacists and religious extremists.  It truly is a toxic mix and to stereotypical country club Republicans, the GOP base now looks more like the mob that stormed the palace of Versailles than people they would ever associate with.  And it likely explains why many in the GOP establishment are downright fearful of the GOP base.  Meanwhile, among Democrats, one does not see a terrified party establishment cowering before an insane party base.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the phenomenon.  Here are highlights:
We’ve gotten so used to Republican infighting over the last few years that it would have been easy to forget that historically it’s the Democrats who have been the most consumed by internecine arguments. Over the weekend we got a reminder, as a group of protesters disrupted a forum at the Netroots Nation gathering of liberal activists where Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were speaking. By all accounts, neither Sanders nor O’Malley handled it particularly well.

But if we look at this event in combination with what’s happening on the Republican side, we can see the stark differences in the relationship of each side’s base, its activists, and its candidates.

[T]he contrast with Republicans couldn’t be more stark. The Tea Party started just as much as a movement of self-styled outsiders, but unlike activists on the left, they pursued an inside strategy from the outset, one focused clearly on elections. They saw the path to achieving their goals running through Congress and the White House, and they all but took over their party by mounting successful primary challenges to Republican incumbents. How many prominent Democratic incumbents have faced the same kind of strong grassroots challenge from the left in recent years?

In contrast, Republican activists have gotten one prominent scalp after another, from incumbent senators like Richard Lugar and Bob Bennett to important House members like Eric Cantor. The result is that Republican politicians regard their base with barely-disguised terror. You can see it in how they’ve approached Donald Trump, a spectacular buffoon who has tied the party in knots. Even when he was saying one bigoted thing after another about the demographic group the party desperately needs if it’s ever to win back the White House, his opponents stepped gingerly around him, lest they offend his supporters. 

Even if Trump pulled out of the race tomorrow (sorry, Republicans, no such luck), the rest of the candidates would still operate from fear of their base, which means that activist conservatives will be able to extract commitments from the candidates on the issues that they care about. You can argue that in the long run this hurts the GOP by radicalizing the party and making its presidential candidates unelectable, and you’d probably be right, but in the short run, it probably feels to those conservative activists like success.

The situation on the Democratic side isn’t the same at all.

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