The only thing holding the Republican party together at this point in time is power, raw political power. The internal consistency of the party has basically collapsed as both “movement conservatives” and “moderates” become alienated as it becomes a white nationalist party dominated by Trumpism and social conservative radicals. I know that “conservative” and “moderate” are relative terms today, as both groups have essentially caved to the far-right agenda. But right now, the fact that the GOP holds power in both Congress and the White House is the glue still holding these alienated factions in the party. But eventually that bond will break. The question for these inevitable defectors is where, exactly, will they go.
Last fall, I wrote about how the political theorist Samuel Goldman laid out the case for the split for conservatives. Goldman makes the critical point that the white nationalists were only too happy to use the conservative economic agenda of free trade, tax cuts, and deregulation in order to ride the Republican party to power. But now everyone recognizes that agenda has largely failed to serve the American worker and the American people beyond the top 1%. The nationalists are now happy to reject the free trade part of that package but will continue to press ahead with the tax cuts and deregulation in spite of the knowledge they know those measures will not deal with the current economic problems. For true conservatives, the problem will come when it becomes clear, once again, that those tax cuts will never be paid for.
However, Goldman makes the critical point that true conservatives barely exist anymore. Says Goldman, “I think the great message of Trump is that there really are not that many movement conservatives. There is an infrastructure of journalists, intellectuals who are vested in a conventional combination of limited government, a relatively hawkish foreign policy, and a sort of religiously inflected public morality. There are a few hundred such people, and they all know each other. But it turned out that there aren’t that many voters who actually care about these things — or at least cared about them in quite that combination.” But for the few who do exist, the Republican party may no longer be a home.
In the most recent issue of the New Yorker, Lawrence Wright details the latest wranglings inside the ever-entertaining Texas State Legislature. (Although Wright gives us a taste of some of the more “interesting” members of the current legislature, he can never match the inestimable Molly Ivins in capturing the absurdity of that body.) But Wright does describe a somewhat hidden dynamic inside the Republican-dominated Legislature that is symbolic of the strains within the GOP as a whole. As Wright notes, “the key struggle is within the increasingly conservative Republican Party, between those who primarily align with business interests and those who are preoccupied with abortion, gay marriage, immigration, religion, and gun rights”. The State Senate is ruled with an iron glove by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, an evangelical Christian and former radio talk show host a la Mike Pence. The House, on the other hand, is led by Joe Strauss who represents business interests and more moderate Republicans and spends most of his time fending off the insanity coming from the Senate.
Wright details Strauss’ political achievements saying his “speakership has focussed on providing the workforce and the infrastructure that Texas businesses need, by protecting public education, building roads, establishing more top-tier universities, and expanding job training. Perhaps his biggest victory was in 2013: in the middle of a devastating drought, he ushered through a two-billion-dollar revolving loan fund for state water projects.” If you read that and thought it sounded like a Democrat, you would have the same thought is I did. In fact, throughout the article Strauss sounds like he would be far more comfortable inside the Democratic party than as a Republican in Texas. For the moment, however, Democrats are powerless in Texas. While the state is slowly turning purple, gerrymandering has and will slow down any political gains that Democrats might make. But when the day comes when Democrats do regain some political power in the state, you have to wonder whether Republicans like Strauss would find it an easy move to become Democrats as the GOP in Texas becomes even more zealous in its white nationalist outlook.
In the same way, the current health care debate in the Senate has also put the Republican “moderates” in both the House and the Senate under enormous pressure. Josh Marshall at TPM has a post entitled “What Will They Do Now? O’care Repeal Bill Gives Moderates Nowhere To Hide.” Senators like Capito, Murkowski, Collins, and Heller are more aligned with their Democratic colleagues on this issue than the majority of the GOP caucus. There was and probably will be a similar issue for moderate GOP House members like Leonard Lance and Charlie Dent if the Senate bill passes.
Right now, of course, many of these so-called “moderates” still fear a primary challenge from the right. They are constantly walking a tightrope between the radicalized base of the party which they fear and the more moderate populous of their districts. If and when Democrats finally regain control of the House and/or even the Senate, many of these moderates will be in the same predicament of the old Blue Dog Democrats both in the 1990s and in 2010 when they finally lost power. Some of the Blue Dogs changed parties while the rest were replace by “real” Republicans. We have already seen this effect on both conservative and moderate punditocracy as reliable Republican mouthpieces have abandoned Trumpism. The clearest examples of this are George Will and, more recently, Joe Scarborough who was ironically one of the greatest enablers of Trump putting his “conversion” under a certain cloud.
What’s even more indicative of this coming collapse is the virtual silence from Republicans outside the elected GOP structure. The Bushes, the Romneys the Huntsmans, and other “moderates” have barely raised a peep to oppose Trump or the radical white nationalist agenda. Do they have so much belief in the moneyed, oligarchic control of the GOP to believe this group will be able to waltz in and retake control of the party if and when Trumpism falls apart? I think they truly are kidding themselves if they think the rabid base of the party will accept that and I also think they know it.
This transition is not going to happen overnight. Gerrymandering, restrictions of voting rights, the Electoral College, and the urban/rural divide will provide some refuge for some Republicans. However, the process will be expedited if Democrats win the House in 2018. When Republicans begin to lose power, the bonds that are already holding the fractious factions of the party, the white nationalists, the movement conservatives, and the moderates, will quickly break. The real question is how much irreparable damage Trump and the white nationalists will do before that day comes.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on July 17, 2017.