2005 November 13 Sunday
Alan Ehrenhalt Sees Unstable Republican Coalition

Alan Ehrenhalt sees greater divisions in the Republican Party's coaltion than in the Democratic Party's coalition.

Indeed, it is Mr. Norquist's informal political alliance, what he calls the "Leave Us Alone" coalition, that points up the most serious rents in the 21st-century Republican fabric. Over the past decade, the coalition has grown from its original libertarian base to include Christian Right activists whose agenda of moral regulation represents a flat rejection of libertarian values. It is the modern-day equivalent of Bella Abzug, the New York feminist, and James Eastland, the Mississippi segregationist, attending Democratic conventions together in the 1960's. It is too ridiculous to last, and it won't.

The potential for schism in the unwieldy Republican ranks is nothing new; it goes back to the debate between libertarians and Christian moralists that played out in the National Review in the 1950's. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won a presidential election as head of a movement that improbably fused together disciples of Jerry Falwell and disciples of Milton Friedman. But all the factions could agree on the need for a tough stand against Communism, no matter what their differences might be over abortion or federal spending.

Ehrenhalt thinks the conflicts of interests between the factions in the Republican coaltion are becoming more apparent to the various factions. This makes sense to me intuitively. Take abortion for example. 25 years ago libertarians and moderate Republicans who were not opposed to abortion didn't have to worry that a President like Reagan might nominate justices to the US Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade. The size of the shift needed on the Supreme Court was too large to happen in a single President's term of office. But we are fast approaching the point where the Supreme Court will really overturn Roe v. Wade and that'll make differences on this issue harder to ignore.

Similarly, the factions of the Republican coalition who believe in lower taxes and less spending have got to be thinking that when it comes to spending what is the point of even bothering to vote for Republicans rather than Democrats? Other factions in the Republican coalition (e.g. neocons who want to spend a lot invading other countries or otherwise conservative old folks who want more Medicare benefits) have gotten their way to a point where fiscal conservatives have got to feel demoralized about Republicans as the ruling party.

But I see a much bigger threat to the Republican coalition: More states are going to fall into the Donkey column due to immigration. For example, the influx of Hispanics into Georgia and North Carolina might knock both states of the fairly reliable Republican column in Presidential elections. The Republican Party has already declined into long term minority status in California. The fate of the Republican Party in Californa presages the fate of the Republican Party elsewhere.

One of the curious trends in American politics is a decline in the extent to which the parties are defined by class and an increase in racial identity determining party affiliation. Lower class whites increasingly have voted Republican and this has compensated for the growing number of other races voting for the Democrats. But higher income liberals who do not identify with capital owners vote for the Democrats in spite of their income levels. Is this pattern stable? Or will the parties eventually return to representing class interests? Or will the decline of whites as a percentage of the total US population drive even more whites into the Republican Party?

Right now the Republicans are hurting in the eyes of the public because of the Bush Administrations' mistakes and policies. Will the discrediting of Bush lead to a paleocon resurgence in the Republican Party?

Years ago I read and found enlightening Enhenhalt's book The United States of Ambition. It is about the decline of the old style machine politics of backroom deals for choosing candidates and for running governments and the rise of entrepreneurial self-starting individual candidates who make careers out of politics. The book gave me some respect for the advantages of the old political machines. In many instances the political machine operators were much better at choosing competent political candidates than our current system where the candidates pretty much go out on their own and sell themselves to voters. The average voter just isn't very knowledgeable and lots of elections are fought between charismatic figures who are far better at being candidates than at making decisions and administering governments.

As demographic trends bring about a declining quality of the average American voter could a revival of the political machines compensate for this trend?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 November 13 09:58 PM  Politics Identity

John S Bolton said at November 13, 2005 11:37 PM:

The republican party as an antimerit tranzi organization is exceedingly vulnerable. They've had such success in redistricting that only a very small percentage of congressmen win by less than ten percent. This makes a great many republican districts open to challenge from the right in the primaries. The moderate right treats the media as a constituency, even when there is nothing to lose by alienating them. The NYT's lead editorial of Sunday 9-25-05 called Bush a racist in rather clear terms. Why would they try to appease elements which will say these things regardless? Bush got a trifling percentage of the minority vote overall; so how is it that support of quotas and antimerit immigration did not register with them? Bush could probably have doubled his share of the black vote by strong restrictionism of immigration. Republican congressmen don't even have need of any minority votes, or maybe 3% of them do.

Marvin said at November 14, 2005 2:32 PM:

If republicans do not become more firm in opposition to illegal immigration, there is going to be a mass exodus from republican ranks. Eventually, financial support to the Republican Party may fall as low as financial support to the Democratic Party. At that point, expect a viable third party to emerge.

Mac said at November 14, 2005 6:53 PM:

I don't think the Republican Party is as fragile as some believe, but the party needs to regain it's fiscal conservatism. Immigration restriction needs to go to the top of the list. The party needs to have something meaningful to say about health care. It's been a Democrat issue for too long.
Randall, what did you think of the recent Weekly Standard cover story? "The Party of Sam's Club".

Randall Parker said at November 14, 2005 10:29 PM:


The irony of the Weekly Standard story is that the neocons who write for that publication played a substantial role promoting policies that helped make Bush so unpopular.

Still, there is much here to agree with:

THE PRESIDENCY OF GEORGE W. Bush has three years yet to run, but this season of scandal and disillusionment is an opportune moment for conservatives to start thinking seriously about the post-Bush era--and particularly how to fashion a domestic policy from the wreckage of Bush-style, big-government conservatism. Thanks to the abiding weakness of the Democratic party, Republicans haven't yet paid a political price for insider-friendly appropriation bills, Medicare boondoggles, or the smog of semi-corruption rising from the party's cozy relationship with KStreet. But even if the GOP's majority survives the next election cycle, conservatives shouldn't kid themselves: President Bush's domestic policy looks less and less like a visionary twist on traditional conservatism, and more and more like an evolutionary dead end.

They bring up Social Security privatization. But they fail to grasp what was really wrong with privatization: The problem is that too large a fraction of the population is going to be eligible for federally funded money and medical care. Trying to move Soc Sec money into stock market funds really misses that point. Even if such a shift would improve returns on investment the shift would not address the deeper problem of people living longer while having smaller families.

Also, the deeper problem with the Republican Party is that only a small fraction of the population really does favor smaller government. Yes, the Republicans really are dependent on supermajorities of white voters. And the non-white voters want to have bigger government and Robin Hood taxes.

Bush and company are putting business desires for cheap labor ahead of the desires of whites for less immigration. At the same time, that policy is making the Republicans dependent on an even bigger and, on average, poorer white supermajority. So that makes the contradictions within the Republican Party even bigger.

Big Bill said at November 15, 2005 5:21 AM:

I don't figure overturning Roe is going to do a heckuva lot to the two parties. European feminists don't thrash around like a snake with its back broke because there are common sense limits on abortions and because those limits are established by legislative processes not judicial ones.

Of course the historical enemies of any abortion limits (Abzug, Steinem, Friedan, Dworkin, etc.) and other members of their tribe are going to fuss, they will in all likelihood find themselves pretty much alone as the American people compromise on a right to abortion that terminates somewhere around the first three months like Europe has.

Unlimited abortion rights a la Roe just don't have the constituency anymore.

steve smith said at November 15, 2005 8:17 AM:

What the Republicans, in fact what both main parties do not realize at this point is that an organization has now gone on line called VOID, or Vote Out Incumbents for Democracy. In a very short period, its single founder had a volunteer staff of 7 people, hundreds of dollars in donations and, have been working dilligently ever since.

VOID's goal is to force politicians to solve the problems that plague America today. Among these are, limit introduction and passage of Bills that are overweight with pork, get control of spiraling Health Care Costs, address the 18 million strong Illegal Immigrant Issue,end the nightmares associated with unacceptable Homeland Security, improve Educational Programs, reduce Poverty and introduce Tax Reform.

VoidNow.Org will force politicians to put voters needs and agendas ahead of special interests, party politics, big dollar campaign donors and lobbyist organizations control. If voters begin to remove politicians seeking reelection from office a power shift will occur from special interests back to the voter.

Voters must withdraw support from those seeking reelection and elect non-incumbents.

Big Bill said at November 15, 2005 12:19 PM:

I don't figure overturning Roe is going to do a heckuva lot to the two parties if Europe's experience wit abortion is any measure. European feminists don't thrash around like a snake with its back broke because there are common sense limits on abortions. It is only the extremist feminists that populate American academia who flip out over any constraints.

Of course psycho-femmes, the historical enemies of any abortion limits (Abzug, Steinem, Friedan, Dworkin, etc.) and other members of their tribe are going to fuss.

They will find themselves pretty much alone, however, as the American people compromise on a right to abortion that terminates somewhere around the first trimester like much of Europe has.

Unlimited abortion rights, abortion secrecy, and abortion independence just don't have any constituency. I don't think the Republicans need to be afraid of that.

dj superflat said at November 15, 2005 3:18 PM:

i never understood how anyone can seriously think that overturning roe is the equivalent of outlawing abortion. even when roe was decided, abortion was pretty much legal. overturning roe would simply kick the issue back to the state legislatures, permitting a few wacked-out state legislatures to prohibit abortion (until voters kicked them out next time round). of course, i do understand -- it's a critical selling point for the democrats. so i would think overturning roe actually hurts democrats, not republicans, because it deprives democrats of one of their core selling points (once voters see that abortion is still legal post-roe, one of the key reasons to vote donkey is removed).

Jorge D.C. said at November 16, 2005 4:58 PM:

The Republican Party has already declined into long term minority status in California. The fate of the Republican Party in Californa presages the fate fo the Republican Party elsewhere.

This was one of the most important political turnarounds of the 20th century and yet it is hardly discussed in the media it seems to me. If there is a book - let alone a definitive account - describing the incredible process of losing CA permanently to the Left (a book that names names in the CA Republican party) please post the info.

It was political suicide, no? I'd like to see a rundown and timeline describing who exactly made what key decisions. It's almost as if the CA GOP was infiltrated and destroyed from the inside by its enemies. And no, it wasn't Pete Wilson's fault. That's a myth.

Anyway what makes it doubly fascinating is the TOTAL FAILURE of other states as mentioned in the webmaster's post to learn from the CA Republican Party's mistakes. I will assume that the GOP Chairman does not give a crap about the Republican self-immolation in CA. He has no institutional memory of the disaster and no plan to prevent it reoccuring in the other 49 states.

The only guy who behaves like a lesson was learned is Tancredo and he is persona non grata. What does this tell us? I believe it tells us that the GOP has been hijacked. But all political parties are hijacked continuously as their natural evolution. That is not earth-shaking news.

But the key difference here is that an ideological hijacking that lessens a party's political power is usually punished severely and rolled back. It is declared a failure and remedied. But the current wisdom is that no great Republican failure occurred in CA! Republican leaders don't discuss it like a defeat at Bataan that must be revenged. When, of course, it should be a great rallying cry.

Think of the books that were written about the tectonic power shift that occurred in CA between 1992 and 2002. If they exist then they certainly didn't get a lot of press. This was one of the great political turnarounds in American history and yet the loser does very little - if any - soul-searching as far as I know.

All we hear about is the Southern strategy blah blah blah and its ramifications. But the Battle for California is the modern lynchpin in US politics. Obviously. It jettisoned the hard Left from electoral college obscurity into solid contention...in every forseeable future presidential election!

The Battle for California was tragically lost and then the dust settled and then - amazingly! - it was discussed no more because...the discussion itself is taboo. TABOO. That is the current state of affairs it seems to me.

David R. Remer said at November 25, 2005 8:12 AM:

It amazes me how the vast majority of American voters allow themselves to be polarized by a value issue like Roe v. Wade, when the country's future is drawn closer and closer to the brink by deficits, loss of international respect, loss of competitive advantage in the global marketplace, diminishing compensation packages for workers, and a porous border to illegal immigrants still 4 years after 9/11. It's a disaster waiting to happen, and voters are voting to retain politicians on the basis of whether some women choose to have an abortion or not. Unbelievable.

Steve Smith above, is right. Voters need to take an anti-incumbent stand until some of these huge problems facing our nation our solved. If they don't, these incumbents will continue to work for themselves, by dividing us, the electorate on value issues.

Randall Parker said at November 25, 2005 8:46 AM:

David Remer,

The polarizing issues are a tragedy. I wish we had a Presidency split up into several different separately elected offices. If the guy who appointed Supreme Court justices was not the same guy who signed or vetoed spending bills then people would consider more issues when voting.

Maybe the Attorney General should be directly elected. Maybe a person who just appoints judges should also be elected.

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