Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Troubles Facing The Republican Party

(This caricature of the Republican elephant is by DonkeyHotey.)

The Republican Party faces a bigger crisis than just having to choose between two bad candidates. It also has a growing demographic problem, and finds itself on the wrong side of many issues these days. The following post is by Stuart Rothenberg in Roll Call. He does a very good job of laying out the GOP's dilemma.

Both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have glaring weaknesses as presidential nominees, but that’s only the beginning of the GOP's problems. Just as important, the current mix of top issues is simply terrible for Republicans in general and conservatives in particular.
The country moved noticeably to the right starting in the early 1980s with Ronald Reagan and continuing through the presidency of Bill Clinton (“The era of big government is over”) and even the first years of the George W. Bush administration.
That isn't to say that Republicans always got their way. But issues like taxes, welfare reform, crime, wasteful spending, and national security and foreign policy dominated the national debate. And that gave Republicans the upper hand with an electorate unhappy with President Jimmy Carter’s weak leadership, a Democratic Party held captive by organized labor, and a federal government that had been expanding since the Johnson administration.
Cultural issues also worked to the Republicans’ advantage as many Americans tired of the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s.
Even many Democrats demanded that their party become more pragmatic and responsive to the middle class, and the centrist Democratic Leadership Council aggressively criticized the party of George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Carter.
Today, the national debate sounds very different.
Corporate America is under assault, with income inequality and Wall Street getting more attention than jobs, wages or over-regulation. Many Americans seem hesitant to support a muscular U.S. foreign policy. Democrats are united on immigration reform and campaign finance, while the Republicans are conflicted or divided.
There was once a bipartisan consensus on free trade, but now a majority in the Democratic Party and a significant minority in the GOP oppose it. And politicians from both parties talk more about criminal justice reform than crime.
The debate over cultural issues has also changed over the past few years, fueled by changing attitudes among younger voters.
Not surprisingly, the Pew Research Center found last year that Americans are becoming less religious.
“The falloff in traditional religious beliefs and practices,” noted Pew, “coincides with changes in the religious composition of the U.S. public. A growing share of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, including some who self-identify as atheists or agnostics as well as many who describe their religion as ‘nothing in particular.’ Altogether, the religiously unaffiliated … now account for 23 percent of the adult population, up from 16 percent in 2007.”
The current issue mix strongly favors Democrats and suggests that the party will have momentum beyond the November election, assuming it retains the White House and wins a Senate majority.
This is odd given that a polarizing liberal Democrat is into his eighth year in the White House, and his party is poised to nominate an extremely damaged candidate to succeed him.
True, many of the GOP’s problems can be traced to the fact that Republican voters have been more interested in sending a message of frustration with the party’s current leadership than in selecting a nominee who could both keep the allegiance of the party faithful and attract new supporters.
But the Republicans’ problems go much deeper than their 2016 presidential nominee. The party has failed to dictate much of the national discussion despite opportunities on issues like terrorism, economic growth and government paternalism. Instead, it has preferred to argue with itself about policies, personalities and who is a real Republican.
If you are a Republican and want to blame the media for the party’s problems, go right ahead. But doing so doesn’t change the near-term reality or help the GOP frame the national debate.
None of this means that the Grand Old Party will become irrelevant next year or that the current issue mix will last. Issues come and go, and so will the current ones — though probably not until Hillary Clinton enacts part of her agenda and turns the Supreme Court considerably to the left.
The GOP could very well have a good 2018, since the midterm turnout will likely be more Republican than 2016's and midterms often offer a rebuke to the incumbent president’s party.
But Republicans have plenty of work to do to adapt to the new electorate and to the new issue mix, including looking beyond their own preferences to see what will sell nationally, among all voters.
Temper tantrums of the kind that we are seeing from GOP voters in 2016 may make the Republican rank-and-file feel good for the moment, but they aren’t a sign of seriousness or pragmatism in the adult world.


  1. Have to disagree with one statement here, and that is the ne about the attitudes towards ;free trade' versus 'fair trade.' (I should start by stating that maybe I saw te piece I will mention because I am with the actual plurality of Demoocrats -- I can't find the exact post and poll, but this was within the last two weeks and probably on Rachel's blog -- in that I favor free trade. The Democrats were about 48% for the proposition that 'free trade has been good for the country' with the negatives in the high thirties, and the rest not sure or no answer. It was REPUBLICANS who were the strongest opponents of free trade.
    We forget that we are not self-sufficient mercantilists any more. We need both imports and particularly exports. We need to be competitive -- in quality as well as in price. (It was our failure there that turned us from the 'auto manufacturer for the world' to a place where other countries come to build cars, not some mythical trade pact effect that needed to borrow the birther's time machine to work. It was our concentration on tail fins and dual headlights, when foreign manufacturers concentrated on fuel efficiency and safety and quality that turned the 'Big 3" into 'the platers in the middle of the pack.' Even now our manufacturers are like dieters, enjoying -- maybe -- the electric cars on our plates, but wishing they could just reach over and pile the plate full with the mashed potatoes of SUVs.)
    Understand that I would be eager to 'tweak' the trade pacs fairly strongly, making sure that there was some bar to products produced by child labor, by forced labor, by labor forced to work in unsafe conditions, and labor that is receiving a substantially lower wage scale compared to the cost of living in their country, (That last gets forgotten when we talk about comparative wages.)
    (Hmmm, I literally had never thought of this before writing the last paragraph, but there should be a further type of index -- I don't, obviously, have details -- which could let a consumer know how the revenues of a large product were divided. What % goes to the workers actually making the product, what to the administrative support -- office workers, supervisors, safety and quality control -- what to advertising, what to executives and upper management, and what to the government in taxes -- actually paid, not official rates -- or as part of shared public/private ownership including ownership by 'connected family members' in places such as the Marcos' Philipines. Just having those numbers available might give us different views of why we are losing jobs abroad, and might get us to be a little leaner in the top levels.)
    [Character limits, grrr. Gotta split this up.]

  2. Part 2 because of character limits.

    We have long moved beyond the 'infant industry' stage that was once our excuse for tariff wars. We no longer can complain about 'cheap foreign crap' since imported items match our onw in many areas. And we seem to forget that much of our industrial and other products are for export and that a policy that helps other countries get rich makes it easier for them to buy our products. (And just a reminder to the orange-headed, red hatted xenophobes, the better the Mexican economy is, the less likely it is that desperation waves will send families needing to penetrate our borders.)
    So the irony is that we Liberals still can't shake our automatic reactions to 'nasty-sounding' trade deals and look more closely at the question of trade in general. (Again, I still remember the voice of Fulton Lewis and "A GATT in Your Ribs" (which those of you who had the incredible fortitude -- and extra caffeine -- to finish one of my wordy posts may recall) which was Bernieism from the right-wing perspective where this argument always belongs.
    Is it too hard to remember the basic point that differentiates progressive economics (Keynes, Galbreith, Krugman, Desert Beacon) from classical versions, the understanding that there are very few true zero-sum games in economics?


ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED. And neither will racist,homophobic, or misogynistic comments. I do not mind if you disagree, but make your case in a decent manner.