No path to Republican self-moderation

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Jun 22, 2010 at 13:00

Ruy Teixeira, of The Emerging Democratic Majority fame, has a new, lengthy paper (large PDF) up on the coming impact of demographic changes on American electoral politics.. The basic thesis as one you have heard before: over the next two or three decades, demographic changes strongly favor the Democratic Party, since population growth is concentrated within groups that vote heavily Democratic (non-whites, non-Christians, Creative Class, Millennials etc).

In the face of these trends, Teixiera lays out two possible paths forward for continued Republican electoral competitiveness:

  1. Increased appeal to Democratic base groups through ideological moderation;

  2. Ineffectiveness of Democratic governance
The second path is  the only realistic one.  This is because there is simply no conceivable institutional force that could push Republicans to the center.

There is simply no engine that can apply enough pressure to move Republicans to the center in the face of the combined force of right-wing media (Limbaugh, Fox News and more), the Christian Right (even though they have faded a bit lately), the Club for Growth, and the Tea Party (whether or not that is actually a definable institution). None. Zip. Zero. Nada.  The resources simply do not exist for any group that would be interested in moving Republicans to the center.  Further, there isn't even really a group interested in acquiring those non-existent resources.  With over 70% of Republicans self-identifying as conservative, there is no base for it.

What funding did exist was largely produced by progressive, single issue advocacy infrastructure that, kin the interest of retaining influence on both sides of the aisle, used a double-standard and lot of its money to prop up moderate Republicans such as Lincoln Chaffee, Arlen Specter, and the Maine Senators.  However, that infrastructure was not producing any new moderate Republicans, just protecting the old ones.  Further, it faces a new left-wing critique, was based on a double standard of choosing slightly-less than horrible candidates on their issues, and has generally proven to be no match for the right-wing forces outlined above.

Politics remains a fight over the effective organization and application of resources.  There just aren't enough potential resources, and people interested in applying those resources, to create a more moderate Republican Party.  The conservative movement has taken over the GOP, and that is not going to change anytime soon.

So, the path forward for Republicans is to rely on ineffective Democratic governance.  On that front, they are doing pretty well.  The current manifestation of the Democratic Party is designed primarily govern in a fashion that protects center-right members of its own party.  Unfortunately, governing in a fashion that improves the lives of most Americans is only its secondary purpose. The irony of this structure is that the only way to protect center-right members of the Democratic Party over the long-term is to cement a governing majority by improving the lives of the majority of Americans.  But hey, I'm just a frakking stupid, pajama wearing, Cheetos munching blogger, so what do I really know anyway.

Chris Bowers :: No path to Republican self-moderation

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Filibuster (4.00 / 1)
Even if Obama and the Democrats in congress were perfect, this is a big problem.  With current Senate rules, nothing can be passed without Republican approval.  The more they realize their strategy of no is actually working -- they only thing within their control that can work -- the more changing the Senate rules needs to be our #1 priority.

If we had a parliament (i.e., just the House) the climate bill would have passed last summer, as would have HCR with a weak public option.  Who knows what would have happened in Fall, Winter and Spring.  Immigration reform?  Second stimulus and state aid?

Dropping the filibuster won't get us to that much nicer world, but it will be much closer.

It's been thirty years of this shit (aka The Rise of Reaganism) (0.00 / 0)
And it will probably take a complete collapse for any effective changes to our political system to occur. Neither the Teabaggers or the Dirty Fucking Hippies are represented in the halls of power in DC although both the Institutional Republicans and Democrats pay lip service to both. They are in power and they are very good at keeping power (and trading it off between them) but both side really suck at governance. The war against the middle-class proceeds apace and as long as the rapacious wealthy control the purse strings it will continue no matter what happens outside the beltway. I suspect they've thought of that and have in place the makings of a fascist state (the Security Theater and Endless War against the Brown People). Obama is a Weak President and will continue to stumble through his presidency for however long it lasts. We are, of course, fucked.

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it." - Mark Twain

Defeat will moderate the Republican party. (0.00 / 0)
It's probably the only thing that ever has.

Truman's defeat of Dewey produced Eisenhower.  When a weak Democratic candidate beats an otherwise-strong Republican candidate because that candidate's ideology is just too far removed from the voters, then and only then will the party moderate for a time.  The Republican party is so fierce now partly because they concluded from the Reagan episode that they don't have to moderate to win again.  Carter's failure to defeat Reagan taught the right-wing that they can stick to their guns and have it all.  Hopefully they'll be forced to unlearn this lesson in the next six years.

If a series of elections produces no major Republican gains, then they'll be forced to reevaluate and walk away from some of their ideological planks, just as the Democrats have walked away from gun control and the death penalty.  If they're allowed to win elections as they're currently constituted though, then no such luck for us.

Reagan (0.00 / 0)
Reagan himself would be tossed out of the modern Republican party.

[ Parent ]
Yeah (0.00 / 0)
Reagan's probably in line with someone like Joe Lieberman today.  Nixon's policy positions really weren't too far from someone like Hillary Clinton.  

[ Parent ]
I'm so old that I remember..... (4.00 / 1)
Over the next two or three decades, demographic changes strongly favor the Democratic Party, since population growth is concentrated within groups that vote heavily Democratic

In 1959 Chester Bowles published a book called "The Coming Political Breakthrough". His argument was the same: demographic trends favored Democrats. Unfortunately, the Southern vote and part of the urban ethnic vote switched parties in 1968.

If you ask why Bowles was wrong, I'd say it was partly because Johnson was overconfident after the 1965 election and overplayed his hand (Vietnam War plus Civil Rights law -- maybe he could have survived one but not both?) and partly because the Republican Party and Richard Nixon were cunning and resourceful. The analogy isn't close. But straight-line extrapolations are always risky, and unforeseen events do occur.

I don't disagree with the gist of this post.  I find it hard to see how the Republicans could remake themselves and still retain their core fanatics. I can see the country descending into demagogic chaos, though, if unemployment stays at 9% for five years.  

What is the modern analogue to the old South? (0.00 / 0)
If it were 1995, I'd probably say 'Hispanics'.  But the Republicans have probably managed to hopelessly alienate the Hispanic vote in the past five years.  

but I'm not seeing anything on the hrozon likely to cause a sea change demographic shift, or at least, one in the direction of the Republicans.  

[ Parent ]
Hispanics (4.00 / 1)
I still think that third/fourth generation, English-only speaking Hispanics will consider themselves white sometime in the near future.  Historically, the definition of white has always been a moving target.

Once English-only speaking Hispanic-Catholics are considered white-Christian the demographic analysis changes dramatically.  Republicans will still need to moderate a bit, but less than some expect/hope.  Eventually gay marriage will be considered their idea (pro marriage, after all) and immigration will be less of an issue because America will be a relatively less attractive destination.  

My understanding is the only issue the young have not moved to the left is abortion, so expect that to rear its ugly head again.

Still, I'm talking about time frames longer than 2012 election.  But 2016 seems possible to me.

A true shift to liberal politics will take more work.

As a third gen latino/european american (0.00 / 0)
This is accurate. In fact, my only quibble is that there are already plenty Latinos who consider themselves white. My grandmother was from El Salvador, and her ancestry was such that she was considered blanco there. My mother is half Hispanic and she considers herself white as well. She learned Spanish as her first language, but was born in America. In El Salvador, my family there is white. I consider myself Latino still, but that has much more to do with changing ideas of race and ethnicity in America and my own fragmented background then with Latin American politics. Plenty of Latinos already consider themselves white - the highest percentage among particular Hispanic origin countries is Cubans in Florida, but they are present among Latinos from all countries. The definition of white in Latin America aids this racial identity formation process.

In fact, now that I think about it, its intensely ironic that my family in El Salvador and my grandmother would be considered Hispanic by most people here, but are white at home, and I consider myself and my mom as Latino but we are thought of as white here.  

[ Parent ]
I was also going to say (4.00 / 2)
I don't know if Teixeira covered it, but this kind of study often ignores non-voters and infrequent voters. Besides swapping voters back and forth, either or both of the two parties could convince large numbers of new people to vote. That's been happening: the turnouts 1996-2008 were 49%, 51%, 55%, and 57%.  These are still low turnouts, though, compared to the 1960s, when turnouts averaged 62% [figures rounded].

I can see that going several ways. If Obama is ineffective, the Republican auxiliaries could whip up a well-funded pseudo-populist movement supporting the Repulicans, something like Tea Party 2.0 without the most embarrassing parts. (Tea Party 1.0  is much more plausible as an attempt to take over the Republican Party rather than it is as an attempt to win a national election).

A genuine third party could certainly stir things up, though I can't see it winning the election. As things are now and as they have been for some time, I don't see how a third party could do anything without a deep-pockets backer of the Perot type, and I wouldn't expect much good from one (suppose Rupert Murdoch runs as a centrist demagogue, or any other billionaire). Right now the general population seems too politically divided, demoralized and confused to come up with a real grass roots group, and even the strongest grass roots parties were lucky to get 20% of the vote nationally.

Or the Democrats could actually reach out to the unemployed and to the discouraged voters. That's the ideal, but I'm not sure that current Democratic Party would be willing or able to do that.

I've been arguing for a long time that the future of the Democrats was with the infrequent and  discouraged voters, but that the party leaders don't want to go that way because a populist pocketbook appeal would almost certainly be the best way to get to them.

As I've been saying for a few days now, getting the word out to more people is what we (populist / left-of-center Democrats) need to do, rather than strategizing our relations with the present Democratic Party and its representatives in Congress.  

And I should have said: (4.00 / 3)
The lightening speed with which Democrats disavowed ACORN in the face of a bogus charge is an indication of how uninterested the Democrats are in new voters. The cold shoulder Jesse Jackson got during recent decades is another. People always read Jackson and ACORN in racial terms, but they really represent outreach of a type that corporate Democrats fear.

[ Parent ]
Someone like Bloomberg would fit the Perot mold very well (0.00 / 0)
Also, a Mike Huckabee-type still scares me to the core for 2012.  An intelligent, photogenic, (rhetorically) anti corporatist with extreme right wing views on everything else could seriously stir up some shit.  

[ Parent ]
Yeah, I've seen Huckabee on TV (0.00 / 0)
Pleasant, down-to-earth, friendly, not a political machine.

[ Parent ]
or they could turn to the old standby (0.00 / 0)
3. Fraud, fear and tribalism

Look at the Giuliani worship among the "Creative Class" (among others) after 9/11. Fear will move a lot of votes that look solidly blue now.

Particularly depending on what you have in mind by Republican electoral success. They have a solid core in Distributed Jesusland so they'll have enough Senators to keep legislation in line. The White House may be hard for Republicans per se, but not for an "independent" pro-business, pro-war candidate, which is just as good as a win for most purposes.

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.


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