Thursday, October 8, 2015
by Reed Galen
Days Until Iowa Caucus: 113
Quote by A Smart Person: "I am not anti-government. I would not run a campaign against government." -Jack Kemp
Welcome to the American Singularity.
Why the Singularity?
• The presidential nominating process is one in which everything, large and small, is sucked into its gravitational maw, allowing nothing to escape its grasp as events pass through the campaign cycle’s event horizon.
• There is no more singular political experience on the planet than electing the President of the United States.
• The United States is still the most free, most prosperous and brightest beacon of hope to billions around the world.
Every action and reaction feeds into this black hole of press coverage, donor reactions, voter sentiment and activist opinions. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. Legions of reporters, bloggers, opposition researchers, trackers, social media monitoring services, vacuum up every last syllable.
Every week we’ll take a look at the campaign as it unfolds, and how events reflect the campaigns, the issues of the day and the country at large. Have a tip, piece of advice or something to add? Email me – firstname.lastname@example.org
The American Singularity – Week 29: The GOP: It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To
Every four years we seem to have the talk about whether the Republican Party, and its disparate factions, will hold together for another cycle to return the GOP to the White House. Normally, these conversations amount to little, if nothing structurally. Instead, more conservative voters hold their noses for a General Election candidate they never wanted and couldn’t learn to love, but bring little enthusiasm with them.
But 2015 may be the inflection point for the GOP’s future. Now, perhaps more than anytime since Barry Goldwater in 1964, the tribes making up the party are farther apart on many aspects of politics and policy. What does it mean for 2016?
Players on a Stage
The dichotomy between party wings will play out simultaneously in the next year on two different stages. On Capitol Hill, the Republicans will choose a new Speaker of the House, likely Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who will immediately be enmeshed in the internecine warfare of his own caucus. John Boehner’s decision to push through a bunch of governing measures before he leaves at month’s end sends conservatives into orbit.
UPDATE: Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has dropped his bid to be Speaker of the House.
In the race for president, the outsiders are preaching the new and different to voters who want something new and different. Donald Trump calls people in Washington morons and most Republicans agree with him. Ted Cruz espouses the same worldview as House Conservatives – draped in righteous indignation, “true” conservatism but whose message is a half-mile wide and an inch deep.
The Governors, Jeb, Christie and Kasich are by any objective conservatives and have made strides for the conservative cause in their states – Florida, New Jersey and Ohio respectively. These are big states, whose actions have ripple affects throughout the country. But despite their attempt to govern and do right, activists see them as surrender monkeys and RINOs.
The Heart and the Head
If there is a thread running through the GOP in 2015, it’s passion versus pragmatism. The outsider candidates and the “Freedom Caucus” in Congress are channeling anger and frustration of voters who see the government as a fundamentally broken and corrupt institution.
The “Establishment” sees politics and governing as fundamentally an incremental process. Sweeping change is difficult, and the mechanics of government can often discourage otherwise idealistic and purposeful people from trying too much, too often, for fear of failure and disappointment.
Both worldviews lack a lot of appeal to voters. While Tea Partiers may bask in the warm glow of anger and resentment, those emotions tend to burn hot and fast. More, they’re often unharnessed, leaving few accomplishments in their wake. The Establishment fares little better, as they’re seen as cogs and cronies in a vast machine that too often takes too much money and offers too little in return.
At Least It’s An Ethos…
Earlier this week I was listening to the Slate Political Gabfest podcast and one of the hosts referred to conservatives in the US House as nihilists. This infers that they’re angry, without motivation other than intransigence and ultimately don’t believe in government of any kind. Admittedly, I don’t know what goes through the heads of these Members. While I have a hard time believe that the truly believe in anarchy, their penchant for deciding that every issue is THE ONE over which we should shut down the government gives credence to their detractors’ claims that they just want to blow the place up. The problem with setting fire to the house while you’re sitting in it is that you’re likely to go up in smoke with it.
Indeed, the Freedom Caucusers have plenty to be frustrated about. Many of them were swept into office in 2010 on the back of Obamacare and have faced down an equally stubborn president who shares their disdain for compromise, seemingly of any kind. This is fine if you’re in the minority, as Republicans were for decades, but when you’re in charge, you’re responsible.
If House conservatives really wanted to make a difference, they’d do well to look back to the 1994 Republican Revolution. Led by Newt Gingrich, who was not exactly known as an Establishment guy during his ascent to Speaker, recaptured the House after decades of Democratic control on the back of the Contract with America – a conservative outline for governing.
That the GOP is of two minds on many issues is nothing new. The success of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was that he was able to meld Republicans from Dixie, New England and California into a winning coalition. But as we approach a half-century since Tricky Dick’s 1968 victory, the ties that bind have frayed.
What many voters may feel, although may not express, is that the Republican party is supposed to be that of strong national security, fiscal responsibility, individual liberty and small government. Where we used to say, if I agree with someone 70% of the time, we should be able to work together, doesn’t apply.
A candidate like Rick Santorum is an example of this. He is not a small government conservative. In fact, he’s a big government politician who utilizes his strength with social conservatives. But how can we be the party of small government and individual liberty when the issues on which so many stake their ideology – marriage, and abortion for example, are among the most personal and intrusive things in which the government can take on?
We’re now in a place where on many hot button issues – like immigration or gay marriage, Republican voters do not share the same opinion. In fact, they share opposite views of these issues. How does a party whose voters, perhaps even more than its leaders, hang together for the next 13 months?
Where Have You Gone, Jack Kemp?
In the last two weeks, a number of conservative authors and pundits have pined for the return of Jack Kemp. Kemp, an NFL star, long-time Congressman from Buffalo, Cabinet secretary, and the GOP’s 1996 vice presidential nominee, is widely seen as a conservative who understood, at his core, that small-tent and anger-driven politics were the wrong course to chart.
Growth – true economic growth, is what Kemp strived to create. He was an optimist, always. While some of our Republican presidential candidates are trying to emulate Kemp’s ideals, if not his persona, the party desperately needs someone who can encapsulate a conservative world view that is truly egalitarian and colorblind. Also, as Pete Wehner notes in his piece this week, Kemp read every book he could get his hands on about economics, Lincoln and Churchill. Self-education, absorbing new ideas, processing them and espousing them from within a personal set of values, is a hallmark of Kemp. Can we find another one of his kind this year?
The Numbers Don’t Lie
The party’s larger issue; that it no longer appeals to anyone other than conservative whites has been on display the last four presidential elections. In 2004, President George W. Bush won 44% of the Latino vote. By 2012, Mitt Romney was able to capture only 27% of Hispanics. In fact, the only voters with whom Republicans have gained market share in the last 11 years are those voters 65 and over – which doesn’t look like a foundation for generational success.
Doubling Down on the Past
In 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson, facing a tough reelection bid, got behind a controversial ballot measure – Prop 187 that would have denied all services, education, medical care, and the like, to illegal immigrants. The measure passed and Wilson was reelected, but in the process, California Republicans sewed the seeds of their own long-term demise. A state court ultimately overturned Prop 187 and many of its provisions never went into effect. But it was a seminal moment for California.
Today, the state GOP makes up a paltry 28% of the state’s electorate. If you add Democrats, Decline to State (what we call Independents) and the balance of minor parties (Libertarians, Greens), it’s already in third place. In the next four years, it is likely the GOP will not be the minority party, but a minor party, coming in third behind the DTS. With the state’s “top-two” primary system, it is not unreasonable to foresee a time when there are as many independents elected to the legislature or Congress as Republicans.
The next 120 days will help determine the direction of the GOP for the next four years or so. Whether either wing, the angry outsiders or the practical establishmentarians can make the case both to their own base and enough independent voters to capture the White House is far from clear. But one thing is for sure: Given the relatively weak state of the Democratic field, we aren't likely to have as good an opportunity to win the Presidency as we do next year. Let's hope we take advantage of it.