And, Still, It Moves...
Greg Ip on Ben Bernanke

The Republican Party Today

Another Comment on Mark Schmitt, who wrote:

Divide and Concur - Mark Schmitt: After the institutional reforms of the 1970s, the conservative coalition slowly moved into the Republican Party.... [W]e now have parties that offer a choice. [Ron] Brownstein sees them pulling further and further away from the center, but I think that's based on seeing the recent Republican Party and extrapolating a larger trend in both parties. A real political party, to capture a working majority, and with limited ability to work through cross-party negotiation, must capture the center.

For a brief and idiosyncratic period, the Republican Party was able to exercise Karl Rove's strategy of eschewing the center, but history will reveal that approach as one of failure, not of success. Right now, it is the Democratic Party that claims the center, which is why it is the only party that embraces the solutions that Brownstein describes in his first page as centrist solutions. I think this will change over time, and after some soul searching and crisis within the Republican Party, eventually we will have a true center-left and center-right party—both of which meet the 1950 definition of "responsible parties"—and a vibrant contest between them. It's taken me a while to give up my attachment to the age of bargaining, but there are many advantages to this new age.

I find myself much less optimistic about the future of the Republican Party than Mark Schmitt is. There are, in general, three ways to compete for the majority of the votes:

  1. To demonstrate that you will implement policies that will make the majority of potential voters freer, more prosperous, and happier.
  2. To convince a majority of voters that they are under an obligation to vote for your party because that is, fundamentally, who the are.
  3. To convince a majority that they are threatened by vicious and deadly enemies--and that the other party is, at some level, in league with those enemies.

The northern Democratic Party has by and large pursued the first. The northern Republican Party used to pursue the second--with Civil War memorials and Lincoln Day speaches and how the sainted martyr Abraham had saved in the Union and it was our duty to his memory to carry forward his banner.

Starting early in the twentieth century, however the Republican Party has been increasingly pursuing the third: excoriating immigrants, Catholics," that communist Roosevelt," Russian spies in the State Department, appeasers and other advocates of "better red than dead," rootless cosmopolitans, advocates of "peaceful coexistence" and other graduates of Dean Acheson's Cowardly College of Containment, uppity Negroes, Hollywood, liberal socialists who want to control your life, the nattering nabobs of negativism in the press, Mexicans, muslims, homosexuals, China, atheists. You get the drill: rally the people against an enemy, hopefully both an external and an internal enemy, and be sure to pick an enemy weak enough that it is not a real existential threat that requires any form of sacrifice that would disrupt the comfort of those you truly work for.

Four generations of Republican political activists have now been trained in the art of busying giddy minds with foreign (and domestic) enemies. They can't engage in the kind of rational-win-the-center politics Mark Schmitt hopes to see.

It's time to do to the Republican Party what the Republicans did to the whigs: raze the structure and start over.