A Republican post-mortem

Both the United States and the world at large are continuing to digest the implications of the recent budget crisis and its resolution last Wednesday with a complete Republican backdown. Fairfax’s Paul McGeough has a long survey of the topic yesterday, in which he says “the outlook remains grim” for further turmoil in three or four months when the current deal runs out.

But for some serious insight into what’s happening, don’t go past an interview at Salon with Josh Barro, politics editor for Business Insider.

Barro is a life-long Republican, although not a conservative (he says he “used to be a libertarian”). But his analysis of the current Republican Party in Congress is totally unsparing:

Whereas at the federal level, you have this core of about a third of the House Republican conference that’s just completely gone bananas. And they are immune to any information about public opinion or the economy. So those people can’t be reasoned with.

And then you have about two-thirds of the conference that understands what a train wreck much of this has become, but they can’t figure out how to stand up to these imbeciles because they know that they will face a primary challenger. …

I get all these angry emails and it’s amusing, and I get easy post fodder out of it. But if you’re a Republican member of Congress, this is scary. These are people that are going to give money to your primary challenger. These are people that are going to campaign against you. These are the people that elected you, who your job is to represent. And they want this crazy shit.

As you might guess from his job, Barro’s main focus is on economic policy. I’ve criticised before the idea that the “tea partiers” are mainly motivated by economic concerns, and I still think that’s a completely mistaken view (although sadly omnipresent in media coverage). But at least Barro understands what their economic policy really is: he refers to “the Paul Ryan economic agenda that is very heavily focused on reductions in marginal tax rates, especially at the top, and reductions in entitlement programs.”

That’s an incredibly unpopular policy position. And since the Republicans have been consistently losing support on the issues that their conservative wing really cares about – nativism, misogyny, military adventurism and anti-gay bigotry – that doesn’t leave them with very much to rely on. As McGeough puts it:

Party insiders acknowledge that though they have lost ground in recent years on what they call ”cultural issues”, they thought they could always fall back on being rated by independent voters as the fiscally responsible party. After the last few weeks, they might have trouble selling that one too.

So is there a way out of this? People have started talking about the possibility that the GOP could lose control of the House at next year’s election, or at least lose enough seats to set up a loss in 2016. Barro sees that as the only real hope, saying that “the only way they’ll start listening to me is if the voters are making them listen to me by causing them to lose more general elections.”

But as he understands, and as I pointed out the other day, the dynamics of the system work against that. So many of the party’s seats are safe from any Democrat threat (partly because they’ve been gerrymandered that way) that it makes sense for many Republican members to be more scared of a conservative challenger in the primaries than of any retribution from the voters at large.

And while I remain firmly of the view that good people are needed in all parties, it’s not hard to see why a lot of decent and intelligent people have basically given up on the Republican Party. In Barro’s words:

I think certainly I’m on the outside. I’m not someone who’s considered a trusted adviser by a lot of people inside the movement right now. But I don’t think there’s a reasonable place to be other than outside. The party on the national level has gone so off the rails that there’s no way to participate in good faith from the inside.

Scary stuff.

2 thoughts on “A Republican post-mortem

  1. Charles,
    Sometimes I think your analysis begins on the assumption that there is a fundamental goodness that all people work towards good and fair government.

    A brief look at the Tea Party web site casts these beliefs to the wind. Your searching for goodness in the republican party is like trying to find a rationalist in the Hitler Youth.

    Opps! Maybe a bit over the top ? The republican party is driven by its contributors and they have no morals. Fair enough..a spade is a spade. However the Democrats also have enormous conflicts re: Hilary and her back room back stab…

    Perhaps as an an exercise could you do a statistical analysis of the previous election in the US by class (income ) etc etc show people how a genuine minority of people elect a government in the US. I understand it bears absolutely no relevance to democracy as we know it.

    Apologies for this diatribe.

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  2. Thanks Harry. Yes, I think I do try to find good, or at least rationality, in political actors. Sometimes it’s hard; the “tea party” is certainly a case of that. But even there I think there are a lot of people whose concerns about debt, taxes and regulation are quite genuine (whether well-founded or not).

    The undemocratic nature of the American electoral system in practice (and to some extent even in theory) is a topic I’ll probably come back to with some regularity.

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