Monday, September 04, 2017

Who We Thought They Were, Part II

The headline said: "Why a Republican Pollster is Losing Faith in Her Party." I immediately thought: "I bet it's Kristen Soltis Anderson."

I was right.

I've known Kristen since high school -- we were on the debate circuit at the same time, albeit she a few years older than I. It's been a bit weird watching someone you know become, you know, an official Big Deal (fun fact: Washington Post reporter Bob Costa was also part of this same era of debaters -- the conservative Student Congress set has done very well for itself!). Kristen was always on the more moderate side of her party, and as a pollster had long been pushing reforms to the Republican Party to make it more appealing to young voters -- tamping down on right-wing social issues and focusing on matters of economic opportunity.

But the reason I knew this article was talking about Kristen wasn't because she's a moderate, per se. It's because as a pollster, I suspected Kristen would not be able to shrink from a reality that many others in her ideological camp -- more intellectual, moderate, thoughtful Republicans -- are somehow still in denial about:

The brand of politics represented by Donald Trump is, as of now, the dominant form of Republicanism in the United States.

It isn't an aberration. It isn't a hijacking. It isn't a tiny minority that's somehow taken over.

Most Republicans fundamentally like the things Donald Trump does and the politics he represents. And that includes him at his most wretched -- for example, the aid and comfort to the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville. Quoth Anderson:
Anderson’s fear is that in a rapidly diversifying America, Trump is stamping the GOP as a party of white racial backlash—and that too much of the party’s base is comfortable with that. Trump’s morally stunted response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month unsettled her. But she was even more unnerved by polls showing that most Republican voters defended his remarks.

“What has really shaken me in recent weeks is the consistency in polling where I see Republican voters excusing really bad things because their leader has excused them,” she told me. “[Massachusetts Governor] Charlie Baker, [UN Ambassador] Nikki Haley, [Illinois Representative] Adam Kinzinger—I want to be in the party with them. But in the last few weeks it has become increasingly clear to me that most Republican voters are not in that camp. They are in the Trump camp.”
The portion of the party coalition willing to tolerate, if not actively embrace, white nationalism “is larger than most mainstream Republicans have ever been willing to grapple with,” she added.
Polls showing Trump’s approval among young people falling to 25 percent or less justify her pessimism. And yet, as she noted, Trump’s approval among Republicans, while slightly eroding, remains at about 80 percent. Only one-fourth of GOP partisans criticized his handling of white-supremacist groups in a recent Quinnipiac University national survey.
That's the key point. Most Republicans of Anderson's political orientation simply won't admit that white nationalism is not some fringe phenomenon in their ranks. It is, as of now, the dominant position in Republican Party politics.

I can understand why Anderson thinks the Republican Party is worth saving. One could certainly say there are elements of conservative ideology that are not tied to White racist resentment and are worth preserving and defending. But those engaged in that project need to be honest about the status quo. And the status quo is that what drives the median Republican voter, right now, isn't economic opportunity or limited government or human liberty or any of the other markers that might justify an intellectually and morally defensible conservatism. It's a vicious form of identity politics that manifests in and celebrates things like DACA elimination, the Arpaio pardon, the transgender service ban, the Muslim immigration ban, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

They are exactly who we thought they were. Some recognize that now. Most remain in denial.

1 comment:

EW said...

Ain’t that the way it goes? It’s just the racist 80% who give the rest a bad name.

Thesis: White nationalism has been a winning electoral strategy since—well, pretty much forever, but obviously since Nixon’s Southern Strategy. But it was always a strategy that would generate wins in the near-term, but loses in the long-term. Initially Democrats held the White Nationalist hand, but their affiliation with the working class led them to support civil rights and bet on the long-term. So Republicans opted to take the short-term strategy.

The question becomes, what price will Republicans pay for their choices?

Strategically, as the power of various minority groups grow, it would make sense for Republicans to begin to soft-pedal their White Nationalist affiliations, seeking to make a smooth hand-off to a less White Nationalist future just as the costs of the strategy become greater than the benefits. Alas for the Republicans, this is also precisely the point at which White Nationalists will become the most alarmed and demand ever more overt statements of fealty. Trump (and if it hadn’t been Trump, it would have been Cruz or someone else) figured this out, and was able to exploit this dynamic to attack the moderating voices in the Republican Party.

Because White Nationalism insists that it will die with a bang rather than a whimper—that it must rage, rage against the dying of the White—it will be most associated with the Republican Party just as it becomes least politically palatable. So I see a long-term problem for the “Republican Party.” But who knows? Maybe people are so partisan that they’ll continue to cling to the label Republican even as it taints all its candidates with the smell of racism. But maybe not.

But that doesn’t mean the end of conservatism. Conservatives may live to fight another day, provided they’re willing to abandon the label “Republican.” I could imagine most Republicans continuing to ride the great ship of Republicanism/White Nationalism even as it takes on more water, only to gracefully step off onto the ship of Libertarianism (or Christian Democrats?) just before the GOP submerges for good. They’ll then wash their hands of that naughty, naughty Republicanism, and embrace their new label while paying no penalty for their past associations. They’ll be like Spicer showing up at the Emmys, poking fun at his prior wildly anti-social behavior and being embraced by the rest.

This is the nature of forgiveness: It reduces the cost of collaborating with sociopaths.