Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Great Republican Revolt

A lengthy piece in The Atlantic looks at the war raging within the Republican Party.  Part of the warfare stems from the shortsighted  welcoming of the Christofascists into the GOP.  But another major cause of the battle for the party's soul is the fact that the so-called GOP establishment has based its policies on benefiting Wall Street and the wealthy to the detriment of working class Americans.  Yes, appeals to racism, religious extremism, and anti-immigrant hatred for a long time have duped the GOP base to vote against its own financial and economic best interests. Now, those tools of distracting the base may be losing their power.  The result is that the GOP establishment's preferred candidates - Jeb Bush being the starkest example - are failing even as the Trump insurgency goes on undiminished.  The article ends with options confronting the GOP elite.  Here are article excerpts:
The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle-class and middle-aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English, and who wonder how white male became an accusation rather than a description.

You can measure their pessimism in polls that ask about their expectations for their lives—and for those of their children. On both counts, whites without a college degree express the bleakest view. You can see the effects of their despair in the new statistics describing horrifying rates of suicide and substance-abuse fatality among this same group, in middle age.

White Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they typically vote for—the Republican Party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts. They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, “That’s my guy.”

They often don’t think in ideological terms at all. But they do strongly feel that life in this country used to be better for people like them—and they want that older country back. . . . . they lean Republican because they fear the Democrats want to take from them and redistribute to Americans who are newer, poorer, and in their view less deserving—to “spread the wealth around,” in candidate Barack Obama’s words to “Joe the Plumber” back in 2008. Yet they have come to fear more and more strongly that their party does not have their best interests at heart.

A majority of Republicans worry that corporations and the wealthy exert too much power. Their party leaders work to ensure that these same groups can exert even more. Mainstream Republicans were quite at ease with tax increases on households earning more than $250,000 in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the subsequent stimulus. Their congressional representatives had the opposite priorities. 

Their rebellion against the power of organized money has upended American politics in ways that may reverberate for a long time. To understand what may come next, we must first review the recent past.

Political identity has become so central because it has come to overlap with so many other aspects of identity: race, religion, lifestyle. In 1960, I wouldn’t have learned much about your politics if you told me that you hunted. Today, that hobby strongly suggests Republican loyalty. Unmarried? In 1960, that indicated little. Today, it predicts that you’re a Democrat, especially if you’re also a woman.

Meanwhile, the dividing line that used to be the most crucial of them all—class—has increasingly become a division within the parties, not between them. Since 1984, nearly every Democratic presidential-primary race has ended as a contest between a “wine track” candidate who appealed to professionals  . . . . and a “beer track” candidate who mobilized the remains of the old industrial working class . . . . . The Republicans have their equivalent in the battles between “Wall Street” and “Main Street” candidates. Until this decade, however, both parties—and especially the historically more cohesive Republicans—managed to keep sufficient class peace to preserve party unity.

Not anymore, at least not for the Republicans.   The Great Recession ended in the summer of 2009. Since then, the U.S. economy has been growing, but most incomes have not grown comparably. In 2014, real median household income remained almost $4,000 below the pre-recession level, and well below the level in 1999. The country has recovered from the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Most of its people have not.

It was these pessimistic Republicans who powered the Tea Party movement of 2009 and 2010. They were not, as a rule, libertarians looking for an ultraminimal government. The closest study we have of the beliefs of Tea Party supporters, led by Theda Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist, found that “Tea Partiers judge entitlement programs not in terms of abstract free-market orthodoxy, but according to the perceived deservingness of recipients. The distinction between ‘workers’ and ‘people who don’t work’ is fundamental to Tea Party ideology.”

Yet even as the Republican Main Street protested Obamacare, it rejected the hardening ideological orthodoxy of Republican donors and elected officials. A substantial minority of Republicans—almost 30 percent—said they would welcome “heavy” taxes on the wealthy, according to Gallup.

As a class, big Republican donors could not see any of this, or would not. So neither did the politicians who depend upon them. Against all evidence, both groups interpreted the Tea Party as a mass movement in favor of the agenda of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. One of the more dangerous pleasures of great wealth is that you never have to hear anyone tell you that you are completely wrong.

The rank and file did not like it. But they could not stop it. The base kept elevating “not Romneys” into first place, and each rapidly failed or fizzled; Romney, supported by a cumulative total of $139 million in primary funds by March 2012, trundled on.

Romney ultimately lost the presidential election, of course, to the surprise and dismay of a party elite confident of victory until the very end. One might have expected this shock to force a rethink. The Republicans had now lost four out of the past six presidential elections. . . . . And yet, within hours of Romney’s defeat, Republican donors, talkers, and officials converged on the maximally self-exculpating explanation. The problem had not been the plan to phase out Medicare for people younger than 55. Or the lack of ideas about how to raise wages. Or the commitment to ending health-insurance coverage for millions of working-age Americans. Or the anthems to wealth creation and entrepreneurship in a country increasingly skeptical of both.

Instead of holding on to their base and adding Hispanics, Republicans alienated their base in return for no gains at all. By mid-2015, a majority of self-identified Republicans disapproved of their party’s congressional leadership—an intensity of disapproval never seen by the Republican majority of the 1990s nor by Democrats during their time in the majority after the 2006 midterm elections.

In fact, disapproval had flared into an outright revolt of the Republican base in the summer of 2014.  

[W]ithin five weeks of his formal declaration of candidacy on June 15, Bush’s campaign had been brutally rejected by the GOP rank and file.   From Jupiter Island, Florida, to Greenwich, Connecticut; from Dallas’s Highland Park to Sea Island, Georgia; from Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to California’s Newport Beach, the baffled question resounded: What went wrong?

The mutiny of the 2016 election cycle has been different. . . . . What was new and astonishing was the Trump boom.

Half of Trump’s supporters within the GOP had stopped their education at or before high-school graduation, according to the polling firm YouGov. Only 19 percent had a college or postcollege degree. Thirty-eight percent earned less than $50,000. Only 11 percent earned more than $100,000.

Trump Republicans were not ideologically militant. Just 13 percent said they were very conservative; 19 percent described themselves as moderate. Nor were they highly religious by Republican standards.

What set them apart from other Republicans was their economic insecurity and the intensity of their economic nationalism. Sixty-three percent of Trump supporters wished to end birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants born on U.S. soil—a dozen points higher than the norm for all Republicans. 

The GOP donor elite planned a dynastic restoration in 2016. Instead, it triggered an internal class war.

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