It’s been a weird, weird election cycle so far, and I’m not certain we’re going to get back to “normal” after November. While we’ve got a few months to go before the election itself, I can’t stop thinking about what Donald Trump means for the Republican Party. Clare Malone in FiveThirtyEight has a compelling theory: this is The End Of A Republican Party.
Many have assumed that adherence to a certain conservative purity was the engine of the GOP, and given the party’s demographic homogeneity, this made sense. But re-evaluating recent history in light of Trump, and looking a bit closer at this year’s numbers, something else seems to be the primary motivator of GOP voters, something closer to the neighborhood of cultural conservatism and racial and economic grievance rather than a passion for small government.
Her whole piece is fantastic, and it’s FiveThirtyEight, so you know the data science and chart games are solid. For my money, one of the most telling moments is when Malone discusses the Republican Party’s future with Ben Howe, a contributing editor at RedState.com.
Howe’s theory for the racial animus of Trump supporters boils down to simple attrition: “Everybody who was reasonable seems to have gone home in 2012,” he said. Romney’s loss in 2012 discouraged many of the once-energized fiscal conservative activists. “This isn’t the most artful way to say it, but it’s like, where do you go when the only people who seem to agree with you on taxes hate black people?” Howe laughed ruefully. “I think what you do is you say, ‘Well, I may lose but I can’t align myself with them.’”
But instead, Howe said, he made moral compromises he regrets. “There are some things that I don’t have core values about, that I can be negotiable on, compromise on. But then there are other things that I can’t budge on,” he said. “I think I thought I had to budge on some things: ‘Yeah, this guy talking to me right now just said he agrees with my taxes and also we need to get that Kenyan out of office.’ Why did I stand there and say, ‘Yeah’? You know? I shouldn’t have done that. I should’ve said, ‘Wait, what? No, that’s stupid. You’re stupid. Don’t be stupid.’”
Howe’s onto something, but I’m not sure if ‘reasonable people going home’ is really what’s happening here. The Republican Party’s Southern Strategy was a cynical but effective maneuver to appeal to people with very specific ideologies. Republicans have had decades of opportunities to tell these people “what? That’s stupid. Don’t be stupid.” They dragged their feet. Don’t take it from me or Howe: an NBC poll this week found that 72% of registered Republicans still aren’t sure if President Obama was born in America.
Now the inmates run the asylum, and it’s dawning on Republican leaders that tax policy isn’t nearly as important to millions of their voters as “getting that Kenyan out of office.” I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if Obama builds his presidential library in Chicago or Nairobi.