There was one post yesterday, “The Pathos of Republican Reformers:”
Ross Douthat has a wonderfully written, heartfelt takedown of the WSJ editorial page, which is — surprise! — dead set against any deviation from the tax-cuts-for-the-rich agenda. Definitely worth reading. But my question is, did Republican reformers like Douthat really think there was any chance that their ideas would achieve headway within the party? If so, they were remarkably naive.
After all, what is the modern GOP? A simple model that accounts for just about everything you see is that it’s an engine designed to harness white resentment on behalf of higher incomes for the donor class.
What we call the Republican establishment is really a network of organizations that represent donor interests because they’re supported by donor money. These organizations impose ideological purity with a combination of carrots and sticks: assured support for politicians and pundits who toe the line, sanctions against anyone who veers from orthodoxy — excommunication if you’re an independent thinking pundit, a primary challenge from the Club for Growth if you’re an imperfectly reliable politician.
To a very casual observer, it may look as if this movement infrastructure engages in actual policy analysis and discussion, but that’s only a show put on for the media. Can you even imagine being unsure how a Heritage Foundation study on any significant issue will come out? The truth is that the right’s policy ideas haven’t changed in decades. Paul Ryan’s innovative idea on Medicare — let’s replace it with vouchers! — is the same proposal Newt Gingrich offered in 1995.
So why are we seeing a crackup of this system now? It’s not because events have called the orthodoxy into question; that has never mattered in the past. On the contrary, failed predictions have never caused even the slightest change in claims: the same people whopredicted that Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax hike would kill jobs and that Obamacare would be an economic disaster are making confident predictions about the salutary effects of tax cuts now.
The problem, instead, seems to be demography — an increasingly diverse population means that the party needs to go beyond white resentment, but the resentful whites are having none of it. Oh, and the base never cared about the ideology.
Just to be clear, Democrats aren’t angels. But the Democratic party is a very different kind of arrangement. It’s a coalition of interest groups. None of them are selfless, but the party does in fact try to serve the interests of these groups, more or less; it’s not the kind of immense exercise in bait-and-switch that the GOP has become. And it can respond to a changing country by changing itself, adapting to the shifting balance of power among its constituent groups.
Oh, and the very pluralism of the Democratic system, while it can make the party diffuse and ineffectual, means that there’s nothing like the right’s unchallengeable orthodoxy, which in turn means that sometimes analysis and evidence can matter.
But back to the Republicans: the reformist hope was, I guess, that the donor class itself would realize the need to soften the party’s ideology in the face of a changing society. But the right-wing rich are different from you and me: they can and do surround themselves with people telling them that if only they say the usual things louder — if only they run yet another ad accusing Donald Trump of not being a true conservative — they can reestablish the old order. Remember, it took five presidential defeats — 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, and the shocker in 1948 — before the old GOP accepted the legitimacy of the New Deal. If that’s the standard, would-be Republican reformers might have to wait through two terms of Hillary and one of her successor before getting a hearing.
For now, at least, the reformers have no constituency.