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The Self-Scrutiny of the GOP

One month after the election, were well into the second wave of Republican self-examination, with denial, anger, and depression giving way in some quarters to bargaining and even acceptance. (Of course, there are numerous exceptions.) Thus Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio waxing kinder and gentler this week at a dinner honoring the late quarterback and tax-cutter Jack Kemp, as E.J. Dionne details here. More than easily echoed tactical proposals hurriedly gussied up as strategic redefiningreach out to Hispanics and women, cultivate more candidates of colorsome of the current talk on how to save the GOP seems to stem from a deeper examination of whats really ailing it.Consider the piece in Tuesdays New York Times from David Welch, a former research director for the Republican National Committee. He reasonably sounds the call for a new William F. Buckley to resuscitate the mainstream conservatism that once defined the GOPs pragmatic, establishment character. A good argument to make, particularly when the Bircherism that Buckley beat back has its analog in the moon-bat pronouncements (Welchs characterization) of todays Tea Party. A couple of weeks earlier, it was Ramesh Ponnuru in the National Review acknowledging that the Republican story of the heroic entrepreneur stifled by taxes and regulations just doesnt resonate. The ordinary person does not see himself as a great innovator. He, or she, is trying to make a living and support or maybe start a family. About this person Republicans have had little to say. Admitting you have a problem (extremism coupled with a disconnect from ordinary Americans) is the first step toward solving it.But then check out Welchs proposed inheritors of the Buckley mantle: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Karl Rove. How a scion of wealth, a scourge of unions, and a squanderer of nearly $300 million entrusted with him by wealthy investors to secure the robust financial and regulatory returns an Obama loss would have ensured can together add up to one Buckley is hard to see. And while Rove is supposedly reforming his Super PAC to support more moderate candidates in state and local primaries, dont forget his role in asserting (as Mark Danner reminds us) modern Republicanisms right to manipulate the the reality-based community by creating our own reality, a glimpse of which he memorably revealed to Fox viewers on election night.Ponnuru abides by reality a little more in ceding that the Republicans lone electoral bright spotretention of the Housedates to the midterm gains of 2010 and subsequent gerrymandering of congressional districts following that years census. What [2012s] House success demonstrates, in part, is that Republicans can do well when they choose the voters rather than vice versa.Choose the voters. An interesting way to put it, given the partys efforts in this election to suppress black, Hispanic, youth, and working-class turnout. In other words, likely Obama voters. Elizabeth Drew details the by-now well-known efforts to take away the Constitutional rights of these citizens, but she also documents the blow-back the Republican party sufferednamely, highly motivated Democratic voters who waited all day (and night) in places like Florida and Ohio to cast their ballots. A canvasser in Virginia is quoted as saying the suppression efforts were so extreme and visible and outrageous that it made people more determined.They were motivated too but what they stood to lose, Drew continues.

Millions of voters had come to see Mitt Romney as a threat to whatever they had achieved. It wasnt just that he didnt speak to them, didnt understand their lives, had nothing to offer them; he was actually campaigning on a program that would benefit economically himself and other wealthy people at their expense.

That its a party for the rich is a perception thats dogged the GOP for a long time; polls on how Americans view Republicans look the same today, a month after the election, as they did in 1953. Whats different is how many of todays Republicans hold views that might be considered extremesuch as the 49% who believe that ACORN, which disbanded in 2010, stole the 2012 election for Obama, and the 25% who want their state to secede from the union. Welch and Ponnuru (and Rubio and Ryan, if to a lesser extent) are right to confront the uncomfortable facts about the condition of their party. But with the same polling showing a 5 point increase in Democratic identification since election day (to 44%) and a 5 point decrease in Republican identification (to 32%), they may need to move faster in clarifying, and administering, their prescriptions. 

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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As someone old enough to remember how much more hopeful -- and yes, just -- life was in this country before Republicans (and some Democrats) embraced unregulated free market economics, globalization and Social Darwinism (cynically done up in the rhetoric of Christianity), I'm more than pleasantly surprised by this sudden turnaround in political fortunes. Only two months ago, such a thing seemed impossible. Whichever party managed to win a slim victory in November seemed doomed to go on pretty much as before. But no, I think this may finally be the transformative moment when the 99 percent (or 47, or name-a-percentage of the American people of all ethnicities who've been downtrodden and downsized too long), finally realize WHY they're mad as hell and decide they're really not going to take it anymore. If that's what's happening, the Republican party has a LOT more than voter demographics to worry about.

I'm actually feeling sorry for my governor, Bobby Jindal. Such a smart young man -- honor graduate at Brown, Rhodes scholar, master's from Oxford, offered a scholarship for a Ph.D. there, admitted to both Harvard med school and Yale law school. He was just about the first Republican to lament loudly the Republican campaign, explicitly admitted it was mess, but now the poor guy is reduced to talking like a populist -- i.e., a Democrat -- in many ways. Even Ann Coulter has admitted that the Republicans have to support some raised taxes. What with Rubio and Rand also admitting the necessity for GOP change, maybe we can look to the younger generation to spearhead some realistic thinking. The older establishment is simply bankrupt.

It may be a start, but it will take more than Jindal, Rubio, Ryan, et al, giving speeches in which they repeat the words "opportunity" and "middle-class" like magical incantations for Republicans to find a new way forward. Take, for example, the House Republicans' current position on the "fiscal cliff".In a letter by Speaker Boehner (and endorsed by Cantor and Ryan, among others) to President Obama, House Republicans state that 1) they oppose higher marginal income tax rates, and 2) support "pro-growth tax reform that closes special-interest loopholes and deductions while lowering rates."As the level-headed Kevin Drum points out, this is merely a restatement of the Republicans' longstanding ideological position on taxes: "They want to close loopholes "while lowering tax rates." This suggests that they think the loophole closings will make up for the lower rates but not produce any net new revenue. That will come from the pro-growth magic of rate-lowering and base-broadening.I know I open myself up to charges of excessive cynicism here. But Boehner, Cantor, and Ryan can prove me wrong with just a few plain words. So far they haven't, and their public letter was phrased very carefully indeed. No matter how much the Washington pundit class wants to believe it, they very decidedly haven't agreed, even in principle, to higher taxes. Anyone who thinks they have should just ask them directly."

modern Republicanisms right to manipulate the the reality-based community by creating our own reality, The support of creationism by McCain, Jindal, Christie, Rubio, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., is an important part of their appeal to the ignorant. Hard to picture them renouncing their hatred of science.

The 2% who WILL get the tax increase, almost all live in the Blue states on the coasts.i.e. NY. Ct, CA, NJ, Ma, Wash DC,,... the red states have very few of the 2%..mostly less than 1% of their citizens and almost all of these are in the very low end of $250.000 + of adjusted tax income. So why in the h--- are they wanting to go over the cliff because so very few of their Red state fellow citizens will get a measly tax increase. A $300.000 a year couple's adjusted income [a $400.000 income with 100,000 in deductions] would pay $2300 more. Film of the cliff jump on Jan 1 will be a stay-up-and-watch..

Luke --I've been saying for a long time that the GOP is dying. This election seems to have finished it off. The current leadership (e.g., Boehner, McCain, Rove, Romney) seem to be caught in a time warp and can't get out. The Reagan economic trickle-down theory has finally been put to rest, and the GOP leadership have nothing to replace it because they refuse to admit that during a recession Keynes is the economist to follow. Equally important, the leadership have no credible general social theory, such as Russell Kirk's, to fall back on to meet our specific problems. So I think that the only hope for the GOP is in their young. The only question, to me, is whether or not the young ones are able to learn from their mistakes and change their thinking enough to breathe some life into their party. One big reasonI think, Jindal, Rubio and Ryan are so conspicuous is that they're all Catholic and at least can talk the natural-law language of the common good, subsidiarity, etc. They can give at least the illusion of having something new to say to the GOP. The problem is that the Democrats have been talking natural law theory since the '30's under the influence of Msgr. John A. Ryan, a much neglected Catholic moral/political/economic theorist. How can the new GOP young ones incorporate such theory without sounding like Democrats? There's the rub.I just read Msgr. Ryan's Wiki biography. Talk about prophetic! Here's the site. John A. Ryan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaThe Democratic Party is in pretty bad shape too. Maybe some of you young Democrats could benefit from Msgr. Ryan's thinking. I really didn't know much about him, except that he was a heavy-duty hitter who impressed many outside the Church including especially FDR. Hmm.

Ed --The reason the GOP leadership is acting irrationally is because they are tribalists from start to finish. (And this IS the end for them.) They simply cannot consider the possibility that their tribe has been mistaken all these years about something as basic as economic theory..

If the Republican Party in its present form is really dying, perhaps we might see the emergence of a genuine conservative party, with its roots in Burke (Edmund, that is, not Raymond), but brought up to date for the 21st century. Such an emergence would certainly be good for US politics, but in the age of tweeting, instant replays, and sound bytes, is probably wishful thinking.

@Ann Olivier (12/7, 1:50 pm) I don't think the GOP is dying, necessarily. They've got control of a bunch of states. Their dominance in small states gives them a solid base in the Senate. The combination of slow turnover, gerrymandering in 2010, and the fact that Democrats are crowded into cities gives them a stronghold (or at least a foothold) in the House. Given that the 2014 electorate will be smaller, whiter and more affluent than the 2012 electorate, Republicans should do well in those elections, quite possibly leaving President Obama in a situation analogous to President Clinton in his second term.To my mind, what the 2012 election does is confirm (at least for now) John Judis & Ruy Texeira's hypothesis in "The Emerging Democratic Majority"---that the combination of demographic trends and political leanings means that the Reagan coalition is slowly but steadily losing power. Republicans made a conscious choice in the 1960s and 70s to make room in their coalition for white people who didn't like non-white people. It was a winning electoral strategy when the electorate was 90% white. Now that non-Hispanic whites make up less than 75% of the electorate, it's becoming a losing strategy.

I've been voting for Democrats ever since I could, with a couple of more local exceptions. That said, I PRAY that the GOP does not die! I know full well the potential for the Democratic party to, given the opportunity, go over the cliff away from common sense, toward infighting nonsense that the looney left is perfectly capable of introducing, nurturing and keeping alive. Big city politics under the control of Democrats can be some of THE most corrupt. Take a look at San Francisco (sorry, Ed) and what is less-than-affectionatley known as the Board of Stupevisors: looneyism at some of its very worst.Please, GOP: return to the days of common sense Rockefeller Republicanism. Please.

Luke --Why will the 2014 electorate be smaller, whiter and more affluent? I can see it becoming a lot younger, darker, and maybe more affluent if the economy improves.

In 1974 I was naive enough to think that the Republican Party could not survive Watergate. Ten years later I was wondering how the Democrats would ever recover. I am not a prognosticator. So now, although Republicans are digging themselves a pretty good hole, I won't say that they are irretrievably lost. And I heartily agree with Jim that the Democrats need good opposition. Without it, people in power become first flabby, then arrogant, indifferent, corrupt, and finally despotic.So I hope Republicans will use this chastening moment for a real self-examination, and not persuade themselves that all they need is better presentation. It is true, of course, that they fielded a lot of unappealing candidates this time, ran uninspired and off-putting campaigns, and exhibited a slender understanding of election technology. But their real problem is a failure to understand that the world is larger than it used to be, and more inclusive. People who could be safely ignored a while back are front and center now, listening and engaged. They will not be disparaged and written off as takers and fraudsters. And when they see efforts to disenfranchise them, they will stubbornly vote in even larger numbers, and they will remember.The world is larger in another way, too. It is not as easily described in homely qualitative terms as it used to be in Sunday school and Bible classes. A party that ignores or rejects the findings of science is going to be ignored and rejected in its turn, and all the more as the evidence accumulates. And a party that asserts so baldly that American interests are the only interests that count in this world will time and again find itself unpleasantly surprised.Real self-scrutiny and willingness to change are what Republicans deperately need. Bad as I am at prediction, all I can say is that they are not utterly impossible.

@Ann Olivier (12/7, 8:44 pm) Good question! I think the answer is simply that's what typically happens in off-year elections. Infrequent voters tend to be younger and poorer (as a whole) than frequent/regular voters.

Lest we forget, the Democratic Party lost the House again. Self-scrutiny, anyone?

@Mark Proska (12/8, 10:07 am) True! And Democrats are likely to lose seats in both houses of Congress in 2014.On the other hand, Democrats gained seats in the House and Senate last month (as well as keeping the White House) despite the weak economy and lingering war in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Democrats are look at the demographic trends and think they're largely moving in the Democrats' direction.For example, each year 4 million citizens turn 18. About half of them will vote in the next few elections. Those that do are likely to lean Democratic 60%-40%. Add it up and that's an added margin of 1.6 million Democratic voters every four years. (Without counting the roughly 3 million deaths annually---mostly elderly voters who lean Republican.)My own vote for a priority for any Democratic self-scrutiny would be: what do Democrats have to do to secure a larger percentage of working-class voters?

Luke--That sounds much more like self-congratulation/self-satisfaction than self-scrutiny.

@Mark Proska (12/8, 8:30 pm) Thanks for the reply. Gee, and here I thought that warning Democrats are likely to lose seats in 2014 (and earlier mentioning GOP control of a large number of state governments), along with prodding at the question of what Democrats would need to do to win back working-class voters in, say, West Virginia who voted strongly for Gov. Dukakis in 1988, was a serious attempt at self-scrutiny and critical evaluation of the current situation.The fact that national Republican candidates now find themselves behind by about 13 points before ballots cast by white voters are counted doesn't strike me as much of a problem for Democrats when the non-white electorate is now over a quarter of the whole, and is growing steadily. If you think otherwise, I'd be interested to read your analysis.

LukeThanks for your reply. Its an eye-opener to me that would consider it a self-scrutiny. I guess I would have thought a self-scrutiny would have addressed some, if not all, of the following:1)Why, if the demographic trends significantly favour the Democratic party, the Republicans not only retook the house, they did better in this presidential election than they did 4 years ago?2)Whether, if the Democratic party severely underperforms within a certain race (you have presented evidence that they do), there is an inherent racism in their message, or the way it is presented?3)Why the Democratic party underperforms among regular mass attenders and pro-lifers? (I am assuming you are Catholic and therefore find this troubling)Appreciate your always well considered thoughts.

@Mark Proska (12/9, 9:25 am) I'll take a shot at briefly answering your questions:1) Republicans retook the House in the 2010 elections largely (in my view) because a) the economy was terrible and voters punished the incumbent party, b) Republicans had a powerful message (somewhat dishonest I think, but powerful) about healthcare/Medicare, c) the off-year electorate tends to be a smaller and more conservative electorate. In the 2012 election, Democrats gained seats but didn't come close to winning a majority of seats (though they did win a majority of popular votes case in House races---a meaningless statistic when talking about outcomes).I think Republicans did better in the 2012 presidential race than four years earlier because unemployment was around 8%, the economy was/is growing very slowly, and Republicans had better fundraising and field operations than in 2008.2) Democrats have received about 40% of the white vote in presidential elections since the 1970s. In 2012, Gov. Romney received less than 30% of the Asian-American and Latino votes, and less than 10% of the African-American votes. Furthermore, when broken down by region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West), it turns out that Democrats tend to run roughly even with Republicans for white votes in three of those regions; it's in the South that Republicans run up huge majorities among white voters. (Which helps explain why, for example, President Obama won Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont---three of the whitest states in the nation.)3) Because the electoral college provides a huge structural incentive for a two-party system, those two parties tend to take/define opposite sides on many public policy issues. In the wake of Roe v. Wade, after some initial uncertainty, it became clear that the Democratic Party would be the party that supported decriminalizing abortion, and the Republican Party would be the party that opposed Roe v. Wade. Politicians of both parties (e.g., Ted Kennedy, George H. W. Bush) tended to change or mute their positions to fit the dominant view within their party. I suspect there's a substantial overlap between Catholics who attend Mass weekly and those who define themselves as "pro-lifers", and that explains why Republicans tend to get a majority of those votes. (Though Catholics as a whole tend to split fairly evenly, with President Obama getting a narrow (52-47, if I recall correctly) majority of Catholic votes this year.)

LukeTheres some truth in what you say, but I fear much of it is not on point. In fact, its hard to interpret your response to 3) as anything more than denial. One thing Im sure we can agree on: Theres very little of self-scrutiny in your reply.Nevertheless, I appreciate you taking another crack at it and wont pursue the point further. You had asked for my analysis of the Republican party. Let me give you an example what Id consider self-scrutiny: To win the presidency, the Republican party will need to go into the belly of the beast, and can be rightly faulted for not having done so in recent elections.

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