Last night over a debauched dinner with two old friends, Drs. A and B, I made one of those stupid long-term bets that bloggers inevitably get sucked into. My specific bet was that the Republican party will not recover from Trump, and will fall into a long period of chaos and dissonance that will prevent them from holding the presidency for at least three election cycles. The bet was with Dr. B, with Dr. A as witness, and the prize is a 1.8 litre bottle of sake for Dr. B if I’m wrong, and a 6-pack of craft beer from whatever country they’re living in if Dr. B wins. In order for Dr. B to win the Republicans simply have to win any presidential election in the next three cycles – so she could win next year, or in 5 years, or 9 years. I have to wait the full 9 years …
So it was a stupid bet, but I thought I’d just state my reasons here for the record.
My basic reason is simple: the Republican party has become the party of grifters. They’re not serious about government or about doing better for the country, but serve to funnel donor money to the apparatchiks of the party, and as political backbone for a system of rorts and scams based on websites and shock jocks that sell all manner of stupid stuff to people with a paranoid authoritarian bent. In their incarnation as politicians they basically do the bidding of a small (and increasingly shrinking) group of families whose tax and regulatory interests they serve thoughtlessly, and in exchange they get a lot of money and an easy life. They don’t have to be serious about government or policy to fulfill this role, since ALEC will provide them with cookie-cutter legislation on behalf of their donors, and they simply need to ram it through their local congresses. This is why the modern Republican party has no alternative to Obamacare and feels no pressure to come up with one, and has simplistic and one dimensional solutions to the Iranian nuclear program. Their job is not to come up with policy that helps Americans or the world – it is to preen and pose for their base, while passing a few pieces of legislation that matter to their donors, specifically about winding back environmental and labour regulation and lowering taxes.
The problem is that their base want specific outcomes, not many of which align with what the donors want, and this primary season Trump has made this conflict between base and elite clear. The donors want cheap Mexican labour but the base want them out; the donors want to abolish social security but the base wants to keep it. Trump doesn’t care about what the donors want because he’s rich and crazy, so he can tell the base what they want to hear, and in so doing he has revealed just how big this gap is between donor and voter expectations. This has created a huge management problem for the Republican elite, who now face a rebellion they can’t quell simply by pointing out that the Democrats are the real enemy.
If you read the writings of the internet Republican movement – at web sites like Red State – you will see this conflict constantly simmering beneath the surface. Almost all the writers and commenters at Red State and the National Review Online see the Republicans in Congress and the House as sell-outs, who are betraying “conservative” values at every turn. They want to see the Republican party reformed and forced to do what the base wants, and they are aware that the party’s elites are captive to Wall Street and K-Street (which I guess is like a nightmarish version of Sesame Street, or something). Their problem is that the only person who has bucked the money trend and actually tried to present policy that matches what they want is a royal, flaming arsehole, probably an actual fascist, and someone who is so completely unelectable that their party is toast if he wins the primaries – and he will run independent if they don’t give him what he wants.
This is the big part of the Trump problem: in giving the base the red meat they really want he shows the party up as a party of racists and outright fascists, and indicates a complete lack of respect for religious conservatism, constitutionalism and decency. But the base love it. Ann Coulter has already stated that she doesn’t care if he performs abortions in the oval office so long as he deports all the Mexicans. Lots of other people seem to be falling in line with him despite these apostasies that the online Republican movement think make someone not a real “conservative.” What Trump is really showing is that the Republicans have built an electoral coalition that values racism and fascism over real conservatism or religious principles, and his behavior is so outrageous and indecent that he is going to lose them the election for sure if he wins the primary, and probably even if he doesn’t, because the things he is saying make him unelectable to the vast majority of Americans.
People used to say that the Republican party had a demographic problem, that it was increasingly the party of old white men and the growth of hispanic and black populations was going to sink it. I think Trump’s ascension shows that, more than a demographic problem, the Republican party has an arsehole problem. Through a calculated strategy of racist dog-whistling and attacks on the poor and the frail they have attracted the arsehole vote and lost the vote of the rest of the population. This is the natural extension of being lazy politicians: every election they had an opportunity to present a genuine policy position and fight on the issues, but since their only real purpose is to be the paid attack dogs of a small clique of rich people, and they’re a pack of grifters, why bother? It’s easier to appeal to racism and stupidity and lazy ideas, and if you lose who cares? The donors have to come back and pay you again, because corrupting a political party is expensive and difficult (and probably the donors are stupid too).
This lack of seriousness doesn’t stop at the party itself though, but also infests its entire extra-political intellectual apparatus. This is why at Red State you can find big sections linking to Human Events, an execrable conspiracy-theory site. This is why Mark Steyn is in a libel case with a respected scientist, and why the last Supreme Court challenge to Obamacare was so absurd. It’s also the reason that they can present “More guns less crime” arguments as if they were serious, and their supposed intellectual heavyweight organizations like the AEI and the Heritage Foundation are solid global warming deniers. Why bother being serious about a political policy if you just exist to rip people off?
The only exception to this is the religious fundamentalists, who genuinely believe the insane policies they’re being fed, and who in any case will tolerate any manner of stupid so long as they can win incremental battles on abortion and sexuality. They’re the arsehole party’s useful idiots, but recent defeats in court have started to split them from the Republican mainstream too. The religious part and the insane part are starting to fall out with each other, and Trump is going to drive a wedge between them by giving the arseholes what they want, and leaving the religious nutcases to hope for crumbs from his legislative table.
This is the natural consequence of pursuing a policy of empty-headed, immature and selfish tax-fetishism in service to a few rich oligarchs. After Bush jr they faced a fork in the road: repudiate his war-mongering and try and rebuild the party around his compassionate conservatism, perhaps starting from a genuine attack on the healthcare issue; or take the donor money and become the party of tactical tax-reduction. The crazy campaign finance laws helped speed up the process, but for a party that had hollowed out its intellectual and policy base through reflexive opposition to workers’ rights and global warming denialism, it was obvious which path they were going to go, especially after their “serious” thinkers made the hideous mistake that is the Iraq War.
From here they can stumble on, attempting to reconcile the stupidity and insanity of their primary season with the needs of a general election, never winning and looking dumber and dumber every year; or they can split and spend years in exile trying to rebuild. Either way, even without the so-called demographic problems they face, they are looking at a long period in opposition until they can reform. I’m guessing another two double terms of electoral failure at presidential level, and ultimately a long period of failure at the congressional level. That is, 8 years of Clinton and then 8 years of whatever Democrat replaces her. If Sanders gets selected over Clinton and the leadership find a way to get Trump out of the way before he ruins the reputation of every candidate, then they might be able to win on the back of a Fox News-driven fear campaign. But that’s a series of fortunate events that they aren’t going to see – in my (distant, largely ignorant) view, a more likely scenario is Sanders being selected by the Democrats and Trump going third party after a bruising primary season, giving Sanders an easy run.
In any case, my judgement is that the Republicans are screwed, because very few people are going to Vote 1 Arsehole. Prepare to welcome your Democratic Overlords, America! And send me your craft beers while you still have your freedom …