Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Thursday, March 31, 2016

What Is To Be Done?

It has been clear for a long time that the Republican coalition includes a significant number of people with unsavory attitudes about race, religion, gender, and sexuality.  Josh Barro makes this point today, arguing that despite its protestations, the Republican Party is stuck with Trump voters because it needs their support to win.  Paul Krugman made much the same point yesterday, though his focus was on the cynicism of the conservative donor class.

Barro and Krugman are right, and their point stands as an indictment of the Republican Party as an institution.  Quite often the best explanation for Republican support for a policy or idea is that it is dickish, or that it gives voice to some sort of resentment or racial anxiety.  So in other words, it's not just that the Republican Party is full of racists, it's that those racists are specifically motivated to vote for bad reasons.  It is unsurprising when this results in a bad agenda and (when the Republicans have power) bad policies.

But as Barro notes, it's not clear what (non-racist) conservatives can do.  One answer is that they could give up and admit that their constituency is too small to win elections.  In a multi-party system, this might actually be effective:  a party commanding 10-15% of the vote can act as a coalition partner in a center-right (or maybe even center-left) government, exerting modest influence in proportion to its level of popular support.  At times, such a party can punch above its weight when its support is crucial to the governing coalition—it can essentially force the center-right and center-left parties to bid for its support.  (My understanding is that this is the role Parnell hoped to play in British politics.  His lack of success may point to structural problems with this strategy, or it may simply reflect the degree to which his personal life intruded on his political efforts.)

And in fact that's roughly what we see in Europe.  The mainstream conservative parties are (relatively) unsullied by racism, because racist voters flock to the far-right parties that have prospered in recent years.  This has its pluses and minuses, but whatever its merits, it doesn't seem to be feasible in the United States.  For conservatives to "give up" here would mean true exile in the wilderness.

Conceivably conservatives could attempt a quasi-hostile takeover of the Democratic Party, forming a coalition with the party's centrist forces against its anti-market fringe.  But the Democratic Party would reject this maneuver, and it probably has the institutional strength to ward it off.  (In other words, conservatives could join the party and try to push it to the right in primary elections, but their leverage would be very limited and so they would end up residing in a political party that had barely budged from its left-wing commitments.  Perhaps in a few states conservatives could exert more influence, but the net effect would probably be marginal.)

Given these grim alternatives, you can see why conservatives would try to build a party that attracts just enough racist support to remain electorally viable while trying to wall off the racists from the core of the party.  It more or less worked for several decades, and it may work again when Trump has been defeated (probably at the hands of the Democrats).  What is unique about Trump, maybe, is his combination of personal popularity, highly racialized policies, and ineptitude at racial coding:

Conservatives presumably hope that they can put the genie back in the bottle when he has run his course.  And maybe they're right.  But the unfortunate fact remains that their ideological movement is intertwined with bigotry and cannot be extricated in any foreseeable political future.


Blogger Zed said...

It seems absurd to claim the racists have been walled off from the core of the party. If nothing else just look at the extremely widespread voter suppression efforts, which distinctly predate Trump. I frankly do not think Trump is more racist than Steve King or like a third of the GOP house caucus. He differs in being (a) less loyal to the party and also less interested in the upscale vote, so more open about his racism; and (b) generally less bound by norms e.g. against violence and therefore more terrifying.

10:43 PM  

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