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Beyond “McCainism”

052214yg-600x687Several years ago, I had this long running, civil argument with fellow Leaguer Mike Dwyer.  I would talk about the need for the GOP to become more inclusive of gays and lesbians, especially if the party wanted to have a future.  He would always reply that the party wasn’t going to change its stripes so easily.  It was hard-coded into the GOP to be more socially conservative.

Mike wasn’t telling me that you can’t be gay and Republican.  Looking back, I think he was telling me to be aware of the context I was in.  Inclusion wasn’t going to look like the Democrats.  For a socially conservative party, gays would have to find some sort of place in the party in its present context.  But back then, I was very much into McCainism.

McCainism is what I describe as those people who were inspired by John McCain’s first presidential campaign in 2000.  He was in his “maverick” phase and was getting the attention of social liberals for his attacks on the religious right and his taking on Big Tobacco.  People saw in McCain what they wanted to see.  They saw him as the one that could save the party from the crazies.  The media was in love with him and he got the attention of Democrats as well.

I was a McCainist back in those days.  I wanted to see a GOP that got rid of its social conservatives and moved forward as a conservative party in the mold of European parties.

In some ways, I’m still into McCainism, but I’m far more chastened.  My McCainist tendencies was interested in former Utah governor Jon Huntsman’s campaign.  But his campaign wasn’t very focused- like McCain in 2000, he kind of ran against the base of the GOP which it turns out is not a winning strategy.

As a gay Republican, I do want to see the party become more inclusive and I support inclusive candidates.  But these days I’m concerned in how the GOP will deal with bread and butter issues as much as I am on social issues.  I’ve also become more willing to work with social conservatives than immediately brushing them off.

In a recent blog post, Ross Douthat wrote about Reform Conservatism and the culture war.  Reform Conservatism is basically a grouping of writers, politicians and intellectuals who are interested in creating a governing conservatism grounded in the 21st century and not a rehash of the Reagan years.  Douthat is responding to articles written by E.J. Dionne and Andrew Sullivan who both wonder Reform Conservatism can get very far if it doesn’t deal with issues of tolerance and diversity.  Sullivan of course, wants a party that wants him:

And then the reformicons are operating at a disadvantage in a culturally polarized America. It would be great if this were not the case – but since a huge amount of both parties’ base mobilization requires intensifying the cultural conflict, and since the divide is rooted in real responses to changing mores, it will likely endure. And that kind of climate makes pragmatic conservatism again less likely to get a hearing.

So, for example, I’m perfectly open to new ideas on, say, helping working class families with kids. But some pretty basic concerns about the current GOP on cultural issues – its open hostility to my own civil marriage, its absolutism on abortion, its panic at immigration, its tone-deafness on racial injustice – push me, and many others, into leaning Democrat for a while. And it’s important to note that even the reformicons are die-hard cultural and religious conservatives in most respects.

Should the GOP go after the votes of people like Sullivan (or me for that matter)?  Douthat responds with a strong no:

One answer here — and it’s an important one — is that for intertwined reasons of policy and politics, reform conservatives aren’t actually trying to win over Sullivan, or at least we aren’t trying to win him over first. The immediate reformist priority, the raison d’etre of the movement, is serving the interests and winning the votes of those “middle class parents with kids” (and people who might want to be middle class parents with kids) on economic issues; the question of how the Republican Party should adapt (or not) on the issues Sullivan lists is an important but ultimately second-order concern.

Sullivan thinks that the GOP should focus on social issues first and then maybe deal with the pocketbook issues of the middle class.  It would make sense that someone like Sullivan or myself would expect that the party should focus on social issues since we have to deal with social issues all the time.

But here’s the thing: I’m starting to doubt that if the GOP moderates on social issues that all will be well.  The 2012 presidential race really didn’t focus on social issues; they hinged on economic issues.  What is the most memorable thing said by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney?  You guessed it: it was his 47 percent remark.  Social issues did factor in but not as strong as it was in past years.  As a gay man, I’m focused on issues concerning me: like same sex marriage.  But there are not enough of me or Mr. Sullivan to make a difference to the GOP.  Should the party be more inclusive?  Yes.  But none of that means a hill of beans if the average family is wondering how make ends meet.  There are a lot of those people, gay and straight, who live in cities, small towns and suburbs all fearful of how to own a house or put their kid through college.

One other note: the word to hone in on in Sullivan’s musings is “Democrat.”  I’ve been engaged in the effort of gay inclusion in the GOP for 10-plus years.  What I have seen over time other well-educated urban folk like me end up leaving the party and strangely become partisan Democrats.  Whenever I hear that someone demands the GOP change it’s social tone and how they would if they just started liking gays, I’m skeptical.  More than likely, that person has already “gone to the other side.”  There is a political party that does cater to his cultural concerns and he has made up his mind.  The GOP isn’t going to a major party again by being the Democrats Jr.

Douthat shares a quote from French writer Pascal Emmanuel Gobry who also responds to Sullivan’s concern:

But, well, the reform conservative disposition says that the GOP should not court voters like him (by which I mean highly educated, urban, coastal). First because, as much as they wish it were not so, they do not decide elections in America (I’m reminded of “Yes Prime Minister”‘s description of Guardian readers as “people who think they ought to run the country”). Second because reform conservatives see the main domestic policy challenge facing America as solving the problems of working and lower-middle-class Americans, and that some of these concerns are cultural in nature, and that while these concerns may “come out” in unproductive and/or mistaken ways, lashing-out, they are also the expressions of real serious concerns with regard to (mainly) the slow disintegration of what used to be regarded as the pillars of The Good Life in America, namely marriage and the family and religiosity.

Perhaps another way to phrase this is that reform conservatism thinks that the GOP should be a populist party because, well, the populists are roughly right about what went wrong, at least in a few key respects, even if they sometimes are wrong about the particulars or about how to fix it. The Democratic Party already has the upper-middle class locked up, precisely because it panders very well at their cultural prejudices (which we hear very little about, as if America in 2014 was the only place in recorded history where only one side engages in demonization of the other side). A Republican Party that tried to go after its slice while dumping its base, which happens to be a plurality of voters in America, would, ipso facto, become a rump. Needless to say, this is not something reform conservatives favor.

What this all means is that Republicans have to focus on those downscale voters who are affected by the economic headwinds, which probably includes a lot of social conservatives.  It’s important to note that Douthat is not suggesting that the GOP dive headlong into right-wing social issues.  He thinks the GOP should surrender when it comes to same-sex marriage.  He advocates talking with African Americans on issues that matter to them (hint: it’s economic) and less focus on Voter ID; and focus on issues that affect people of color such as sentencing reform and drug law reform.

So, five years later I get to say this to Mike: you were right.  I will still work for inclusion in the GOP, but as someone who support reform conservatism, I am willing to work for a GOP that not only speaks to me, but more importantly speaks to the single mother in Detroit, the anxious parents in suburban Atlanta and the factory worker in St. Louis.  The GOP has to be a party for all of America, not just a small slice of it.

Update: In looking at the comments, I think people are misunderstanding what Douthat meant. He didn’t say the GOP doesn’t want their votes. He wasn’t talking as much about that as he was that the GOP isn’t going to get far going after upper-income, educated, urban and largely white people who tend to support gay marriage, are pro-choice and so on. It’s that sliver of the electorate that McCain went after in 2000 and Jon Huntsman targeted twelve years later. When Douthat and Gobry say that there aren’t enough of these voters, this is who they are referring to.

I will say again, Douthat is not saying it’s okay for the GOP to be homophobic or racist. And yes, Douthat has his own cultural biases. But he is saying that taking the McCain route as has been done twice is not in the long run a winning strategy for the party.

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147 thoughts on “Beyond “McCainism”

  1. Great post, as usual.

    My main quibble can be found wrapped up n this statement here:

    “As a gay man, I’m focused on issues concerning me: like same sex marriage. But there are not enough of me or Mr. Sullivan to make a difference to the GOP.”

    While this is true enough on its face, I think it important to remember that there are other factors in play.

    Taking a similar issue, it’s also true that that, numerically speaking, the GOP doesn’t really need the black vote. But in the last decade especially, many of their positions (or, perhaps, inartful ways of declaring their their positions) haven’t just alienated black voters. They’ve also alienated a growing number of white voters, especially those on the younger side of the spectrum.

    I think they are in danger of doing the same thing with gays and lesbians now (and in a few years, perhaps, with the transgender population). Which is to say that I can see them alienating a growing number of straight voters in the future based on the way they approach gay and lesbian issues today.

    There comes, in other words, a tipping point when a social issue doesn’t make one de facto liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Slavery is the obvious one, but there are others: Jim Crow laws, prohibition, women’s suffrage, invading adjoining countries for their natural resources. I believe we are rapidly approaching that point with gay issues. If the GOP isn’t careful, it might find itself as being long-identified with a position that seems both bizarre and unthinkable to a growing number of voters.

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    • This. I don’t think the GOP wins by trying to out-Democrat the Democrats on social issues, but I think for their economoc focus to help them win it has to not be overshadowed by a focus on their social animosities. “We want to help middle class people, but KEEP OUT GAYS AND STOP BLACK VOTING” doesn’t seem like a true winning strategy to me.

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      • And, importantly, the GOP doesn’t get to sweep these views under the rug. They don’t get the option to say “We’d rather talk about small businesses right now”. Because enough people on both sides seriously care about social issues that silence is never an answer.

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      • And I totally agree. I think there has to be some attention to how the GOP has ignored or mistreated minority populations. I want a party that cares about me as a gay man and as an African American. Ignoring social issues is dangerous; I just think it has to be done differently than how the Dems do it. The reform conservatives aren’t putting for a more milquetoast version of the Democratic policy, but coming up with ideas that are conservative. I think the party has to do the same when it comes to social/cultural issues. How can conservatives urge tolerance LGBT people and affirm religious liberty? How can same sex marriage be seen not only in liberal terms of equality, but in light of conservative principles like stability and family? How does the GOP deal with immigration according to conservative ideals?

        I think part of the problem when it comes to social issues is that we use the same solutions to these issues. Fencing the party off from gays and blacks will not help the party, but it can’t simply do what the Democrats are doing. It has to work for diversity according to conservative principles.

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      • Dennis, I’m curious what “work hard for diversity according to conservative principles” would actually look like. Is admitting that the government and american society have systematically disadvantaged blacks and gays over the last several hundred years a necessary first step? I have a hard time seeing the modern GOP doing that either explicitly or through some clever finesse.

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      • Dennis,
        I think a proper “conservative vision” of a country with Gay Marriage and fixing some of our societal inequality would be an interesting read.
        I don’t think it would necessarily involve the exact same solutions that a liberal comes up with…
        Write a post on it? if you don’t, I will, but being “not a conservative” I’ll have to take a bit longer to think it through, as it’s not my natural side of the argument.

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      • ” I’m curious what “work hard for diversity according to conservative principles” would actually look like.”

        Particularly when we’re told that “stop being foolish in how you spend your money” and “don’t have kids without being married” are coded phrases expressing secret racism.

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      • Dennis: the thing is, Democrats have beat them to it, at least insofar as gay rights are concerned. Gay marriage is a conservative, not liberal, ideal. Getting gay people to buy houses with white picket fences and adopt two and a half kids? It’s practically Norman Rockwell.

        In most cases where there are good-faith conservative solutions to minority rights issues, the Democrats have done a much better job of embracing them than the Republicans. I don’t see how the Republicans can get around that except by outflanking from the left.

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      • How can conservatives urge tolerance LGBT people and affirm religious liberty? How can same sex marriage be seen not only in liberal terms of equality, but in light of conservative principles like stability and family?

        When the GOP (metaphorically) takes the Rick Santorums of the party out back & shoots them, or at least gags them & tosses them in the GOP Secret Bondage Dungeon where they belong, I’ll begin to have hope that the party is coming around.

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      • James Hanley: ““We want to help middle class people, …'”

        Since when does the GOP or the Right want to do that? They do everything to hurt the middle class, and invoke ‘trickle down’ to cover it.

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    • “Taking a similar issue, it’s also true that that, numerically speaking, the GOP doesn’t really need the black vote. But in the last decade especially, many of their positions (or, perhaps, inartful ways of declaring their their positions) haven’t just alienated black voters. They’ve also alienated a growing number of white voters, especially those on the younger side of the spectrum.”

      Last I’ve heard, they’ve also alienated Hispanic voters and voters of Asian ancestry.

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      • Thank Pete Wilson running for re-election on Prop. 187 for starting that. Admittedly, Wilson didn’t intend to inspire an entire moatdigger faction to manifest itself in the GOP coalition requiring a hairsplittingly careful rhetorical parsing of how you can be anti-immigration without being anti-Latino, but he didn’t do anything to stop it from happening once it got started, either.

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    • I think they are in danger of doing the same thing with gays and lesbians now (and in a few years, perhaps, with the transgender population). Which is to say that I can see them alienating a growing number of straight voters in the future based on the way they approach gay and lesbian issues today.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Attack gay people, and people who have gay friends are less likely to vote for you. I’m not saying they won’t ever, but just go ahead and knock them an extra 10% towards the left. Maybe some other issues will make them end up Republican, but they’re X amount closer to the line than they would have been.

      And by ‘people who have gay friends ‘ I mean basically every person under the age of thirty-five. So, uh.

      If the GOP isn’t careful, it might find itself as being long-identified with a position that seems both bizarre and unthinkable to a growing number of voters.

      To quote Douglas Adams: There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

      There’s a theory I have about the Overton window. Moving the window can drag existing voters that identify with a party to the left or (As has been happening for the last three decades) to the right. Existing voters have party loyalty, at least until they snap and spring back to their actual political positions. (Hence the rash of ‘I didn’t leave the Republicans, they left me, blah blah’ articles over the past two decades.)

      However, new voters take a good long look when they show up, voters who would be in the center or even slightly to the right…and promptly sort themselves into the left, and vote Democratic. Because that is where their current position is. That’s where *most people’s* current position is, and I don’t say that because I think most people are actually liberal…it’s because I think most people are somewhere between moderately conservative and moderately liberal, and that’s exactly the position the Democrats are occupying.

      The Overton window does not, and cannot, *lead* politics. That is not where people get their political worldview from. They get it from society, from fiction, from early experiences, they don’t get it from yammering idiots on TV claiming that Obamacare is too liberal.

      All that deliberately movement in one direction, while the ‘true center’ actually slowly drifted the other way, put the true center smack dab in the middle of the left. Which means all those twenty and thirty year out there that support magazine limits for guns, think gay people should be able to get married, and think that people should have the ability to buy health insurance, think they are *liberals*. (No, they are not. They are ‘centrist’.)

      And, once they identify with Democrats, they will probably be voting Democratic for the rest of their lives, getting dragged *leftwards* as the Overton windows returns to where it belong after whatever happens with the Republicans happens. (Until, predictably, a few of them snap back their true position and write articles in 2050 about how liberal the Democrats have gotten.)

      Moving the Overton window was exactly the wrong way to win elections in the long term, and will literally result in the destruction of the Republican party. When political opinion is slowly moving away from you, you follow it, or even get in front of it…you don’t move the other way, and try to drag everyone with you. (Why they did that is complicated to explain, but it has to do with the fact that corporate interests don’t actually care about the long-term health of the Republican party.)

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    • Republicans will soon enough begin reminding us that a) they were for gay marriage all along, and b) gay marriage is socially conservative because it molds people to behave kind of like they do in nuclear family situations (Sully’s argument about why conservatives ought to be in favor of it, IIRC).

      All that some of their colleagues (not they personally) wanted to do was make sure that religious folks weren’t being set up to be castigated for exercising their individual religious freedoms.

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  2. The immediate reformist priority, the raison d’etre of the movement, is serving the interests and winning the votes of those “middle class parents with kids”

    Fortunately, none of them need health insurance but have pre-existing conditions, or suffer from medical conditions that require expensive forms of contraception, so the standard GOP economic playbook works perfectly for them.

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    • In addition, they love working for low wages (with required off-the-clock work), hate decent working conditions, love ‘just in time’ schedules, and in general lust for their employers to have more power, rights and privileges over them.

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    • The 2012 presidential race really didn’t focus on social issues; they hinged on economic issues. What is the most memorable thing said by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney? You guessed it: it was his 47 percent remark.

      I would actually invert your point–this is a social issue in the guise of an economic issue. The core of the GOP’s current appeal is in protecting “us” against the encroaching “them” (gays, blacks, Muslims, immigrants, poor). It’s in the sense that, whatever we had, other people are taking it away. And the 47% remark is precisely in that vein.

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    • Well yes Mike, at the moment the reformicons aren’t particularly close to power and Lord(Lady?) knows their proposals are 50% rebranding but even if they could succeed in changing the GOP’s tone that would be quite an improvement. Whatever else one can say about reformicons they are at least generally reluctant to declare the Dems and Obama as some historically unique threat to the survival of America today. That’s not nothing.

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      • I have low low expectations for the GOP. The medicine they need is the medicine they don’t want- losses, failure, and lots of it. When their base begins dying off in earnest their medicine will start getting delivered to them in aple supply. Refomicons are just well meaning wonks trying to direct that train onto a siderail that might divert them from the crash. I doubt they’ll be able to overcome the party’s institutional inertia. Old people tend to be set in their ways.

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      • I wish I agreed that they’re facing losses and failure. I just don’t.

        The GOP controls more then half of the states in full or part; they control school boards and town councils.

        They are not losing; they’re just not clearly winning at the federal level.

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      • North,

        The thing that’s hurting the GOP is off-year turnout. Their base voters are among the high-turnout crowds, doubly so in off-years.

        They might take a drubbing in a Presidential year, only to turn around and make bank two years later — despite their overall popularity not improving. Worse so when their off-year candidates are more extreme than their Presidential year picks.

        That’s gonna be ugly to break. There’s not going to be a 49-1 state drubbing like Nixon pulled off to force change.

        And it makes sense, really — if you consistently win when you double down on extremism (those non-Presidential cycles) why wouldn’t you believe that’s what you should do in Presidential years? And when it fails, but you do better again two years later, obviously you were too mainstream before…

        The GOP just seems wedged into a whole bunch of feedback traps, some sort of weird political loop they can’t seem to break free from. It’s like standing on a hill, and seeing the mountains all around you, but not being able to reach them because every direction from you is downhill and you want to go “up”. You know there’s “up” over there — but you can’t bring yourself to go downhill first.

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      • Zic, Morat, I’m inclined to agree with what you say here but these are both factors of their aging base. Funny thing is that older people make a great base to have up until they get infirm and die. They have income to tap into, they have free time to volunteer, vote or get involved in local politics, they tend to be set in their ways so they’re very easily turned into unswerving party stalwarts. In the short term the GOP has gotten great benefit out of their elderly grey legions and there’s doubtlessly some oomph left in them but when they shuffle off this mortal coil they’re not being replaced in the party’s ranks. In the moderate to long term that’s going to start to bite the GOP hard even in off term elections.

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  3. I’d say, though, that the 47% was as much about social issues as it was about economic issues. It’s ugly pandering classism that brings to mind the GOP’s ugly pandering racism and ugly pandering homophobia. That it’s also a statement about tax policy is rather secondary.

    But in a wider sense, I just don’t understand who you think they’re going to grab with economic issues that they haven’t already grabbed?

    Douhat says “middle class parents with kids”. By which he presumably means straight white middle class parents with kids. Because for gay voters and voters of color, it’s an issue of trust, and in no case is that trust going to be earned back on economic issues.

    But haven’t basically all of the straight middle class white people that are persuadable on economic issues been persuaded?

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    • Arlen Spector got folks to trust him.
      It’s one of the things that Republicans do worst —
      time and again they’ve failed to recruit black conservatives
      from urban areas.

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    • I’m always bemused that some people go straight to seeing the GOP as just a bunch of racist cranks. I don’t think Douthat is saying only help the white people. He is saying that getting wrapped up in social issues, ignoring economic issues and dismissing more conservative folk is not a winning strategy.

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      • “I don’t think Douthat is saying only help the white people.”

        But the people who desperately need a class-struggle/war-on-bigotry narrative as part of their constructed self-image do see it that way.

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      • But the people who desperately need a class-struggle/war-on-bigotry narrative as part of their constructed self-image do see it that way.

        Sigh. There’s really nothing I can say that you could at least give some thought.

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      • I don’t see the GOP as a party of racist cranks. I see the GOP as a party that values the votes of racist cranks more than they value the votes of persons of color.

        As a minority voter, when I go to the polls and consider checking the GOP box, I’m forced to confront the idea that there are people on team red who detest my sexual orientation and favor laws that would actively harm me for being gay. The only way I’m ever willing to check that box is that I trust that the GOP candidate is more interested in making me happy than in making others happy at my expense.

        I don’t think the GOP candidate is being homophobic for wanting to please homophobic voters. Maybe they’re being strategic. Maybe they’re being loyal to their long-time adherents. Maybe they’re responding to a legitimate will of the majority that swings against me. I don’t care, though. The why doesn’t matter. I don’t trust the GOP candidate, and the only way I’m going to vote for him is if he earns back that trust somehow. And I suspect voters of color feel the same way.

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    • But haven’t basically all of the straight middle class white people that are persuadable on economic issues been persuaded?

      I imagine that once twenty somethings who earn somewhere around $20k/year become thirty somethings who earn somewhere around $50k/year, they might find themselves weighting economic issues differently than they used to.

      Which is not to say that all will change their minds, of course… but some will. At the margins.

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      • Political studies have shown that, by and large, changing a solid party identification is rather hard to do. (And also that most ‘independents’ are just as partisan, they just don’t like the label). It takes a watershed moment — or several Presidential cycles of unpleasantness. Creating a party identification is easier — just vote for the same party, at the top of the ticket, for a few cycles.

        Since the actual ‘swing’ voters are so small, elections are generally won by turn-out. Not by swinging votes, but by swinging WHO votes.

        Social issues are a very, very effective tool to get the GOP voters out to vote. Unfortunately, they are also an effective tool at convincing young voters to vote against the GOP. Hence the crack the GOP is wedged in. Their best tool for winning elections is killing them with younger voters — voters who won’t vote Republican, in the future, until the Democrats screw the pooch for a decade or so. (Bush managed to knock off a lot of Republicans, but that was the culmination of at least a decade long process of increasing disenchantment among moderate Republicans).

        The Democrats have worn that particular shoe in the past, and will again in the future. The issues change, the pattern remains the same.

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      • You are exactly right, morat20. See my comment above.

        tl;dr – Deliberately moving the Overton window rightward was incredibly stupid for their long-term prospects. It moved existing Republicans rightward, but caused new voters to (correctly) pick the Democrats as the party that most aligned with them. And party identification is very hard to change.

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      • Since the actual ‘swing’ voters are so small, elections are generally won by turn-out.

        Either getting your voters out or suppressing the other side’s votes. The latter being aided, in this case, by a complaisant judiciary.

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      • I agree David, but politicians are- by nature- short view creatures. Their horizons strech out to typically 4 years or so. What’s good for their party is often not necessarily what’s good for them.

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      • How realistic is that, though, with the death of the blue-collar middle class? Non-college educated folks making 20k in their twenties aren’t making 50k in their thirties, they’re making 30k. And college-educated folks that the GOP didn’t catch during or immediately after college aren’t going to change their political views just because they got raises.

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      • Is the problem the GOP has to finally confront the one they’ve managed to avoid for the last 20 years – how to resolve the demands of their corporate and populist branches? The democratic party largely marginalized their anti-corporate wing with the rise of the Neo-liberals; in contrast, the GOP have thus far managed to keep both pieces of their coalition alive. The fractures there are whate make this so hard.

        For example, there continue to be are the rumblings a Tea party-centric populist GOP movement. Their pro-minority/working class message would be clear (I’m not saying correct) – “Democratic pandering to big corporations, banks, and media has kept you poor despite the lip-service they’ve paid to you! Vote for the Tea-Old-Party and we’ll give you the FREEDOM to toss aside your the Democratic corporate overlords!.” Of course, this ignores the fact the GOP have been part and parcel of any alleged corporate giveaway, but when have facts ever mattered in political spin?

        The bigger problem is that any populist message like this goes directly against the large pro-corporate wing of the GOP. How do they square that circle?

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  4. Great post, Dennis. As someone who’s incredibly disenchanted with both parties and sees them as tools of corporate interests more than anything else, I’d be curious to know how the Republican party, which is the most beholden of the two, is going to break the corporate stranglehold and present an economic plan that might actually help the middle class as opposed to those in the very top income brackets. After all, the GOP tends to support the infusion of more and more money into the election process.

    I know Douthat and others have been writing about populist Republicanism for a while now, but it doesn’t seem to have trickled down to party leaders, who strike me as ever more unhinged. It’s hard for me to see either party as truly giving a damn about what happens to the middle class as both have supported policies that have lead to its undoing. So call me skeptical. Even Douthat seems just as concerned about gays getting married and other culture war issues as he does about bread-and-butter issues.

    For my part, I think the culture wars are largely as smoke screen used to distract voters from what’s really going on in this country–the erosion of the middle class and the move toward an economic structure that looks increasingly third world. Neither party is addressing what’s really at stake.

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    • Skepticism is good.
      But strings are still being pulled, and not everyone who’s got strings is an evil person.
      Hell, quite a few strings have been pulled for the communal good.

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    • I can’t say I’ve been particularly impressed with the reformicons here, either. Can somebody point me to their proposals that will benefit these sorts of people apart from fiddling around with the EITC so that it’s more generous to couples with children and less generous to the childless working poor? Because if that’s all they have to offer, I’m awfully curious who it is supposed to persuade.

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      • Andrew Sullivan poitned out that there is a very big problem with the reformicons, the absence of a Red Tory or Bismarckian Conservative faction in American conservatism. Regardless of party labels, American conservatives have always opposed what we would call government regulation of the economy and wealth redistribution and welfare programs. This was true whether they have been Bourbon Democrats, Mugwump Republicans, or just about anything else. There is nothing in the American conservative tradition to support the idea of reform conservatism.

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      • I love all these political labels when I have no idea what they mean.

        Which, like, sure I could go lookup “Mugwump Republicans” on Wikipedia or something, or I could just picture some random image in my mind. The latter is quite amusing.

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  5. Here’s the takeaway I get from the Sullivan-Douthat exchange. Sullivan argues that the GOP needs to be more inclusive of gay and black people. Douthat responds that the GOP doesn’t want the votes of those people; they just want the votes of middle class families… as if black people and gay people can’t have middle class families!

    It’s fine to say that you want to win over voters with pocketbook issues, but as Tod notes above, if you appear racist and homophobic, a lot of people aren’t even going to listen to your tax policy.

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    • I think you are misunderstanding what Douthat meant. He didn’t say the GOP doesn’t want their votes. He wasn’t talking as much about that as he was that the GOP isn’t going to get far going after upper-income, educated, urban and largely white people who tend to support gay marriage, are pro-choice and so on. It’s that sliver of the electorate that McCain went after in 2000 and Jon Huntsman targeted twelve years later. When Douthat and Gobry say that there aren’t enough of these voters, this is who they are referring to.

      I will say again, Douthat is not saying be homophobic or racist. And yes, Douthat has his own cultural biases. But he is saying that taking the McCain route as has been done twice is not in the long run a winning strategy for the party.

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      • When Douthat and Gobry say that there aren’t enough of these voters, this is who they are referring to.

        There aren’t enough to even be the crucial vote for Dems, and the best the GOP could hope for is to take a slice of thst.

        But he is saying that taking the McCain route as has been done twice is not in the long run a winning strategy for the party.

        It’s the strategy liberals would like, because then the conservatives would not be so conservative. And of course it’s entirely reasonable to want the other to be like us. But because of that, it’s likely that some liberals who look at the situation don’t at first distinguish between their preferences for what Republicans ought to do/be and what is good electoral strategy for Republicans. (And that’s not because they’re liberals, but because they’re human; reverse the players and it would look the same. Also, I’m not talking about Jonathan; his comment and Dennis’s response just stimulated this line of thought.)

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      • Yes I think what Ross, and Dennis, are saying is that the most feasible GOP path to electoral success long term is to demobilize (unsympathetic read: surrender) on some social issues but not try and imitate the Democratic Party on those issues. What would it look like? Switching from active to passive resistance on Gay Marriage; dropping pushes for voter ID laws* and other laws, moderating the way they talk about gay and racial issues, compromising on immigration reform and above all else focusing on other subjects and refusing to take the traditional activist GOP opposition position on these subjects.

        Now I would certainly prefer the GOP become way more race and gay friendly than that but objectively speaking the suggested path would be a (small) improvement over current GOP strategy and would also be more likely to enable the GOP to change the subject to economic issues**. So that could potentially help their electoral fortunes.

        *And let’s be frank, so far the voter ID laws look like naked political opportunism and short sighted vote suppression.
        **Though it bears noting that on economics the cupboard is not particularly well stocked either. They’re going to have a lot of work either way and some hard choices to make.

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      • I’m of the opinion that it would be resoundingly easy to be conservative and pro-gay marriage. To the point where it’d irritate the ever-living crap out of anyone inclined to SSM.

        So, when are you two going to get married?
        So, are you going to have a big wedding or a small one? You should have a reception where people can give you stuff, you know. Just invite a lot of people to that.
        Have you thought about adopting? You should think about adopting. There are a lot of kids out there who would benefit greatly from having you as their papa.
        Have you discussed marriage? I think you should discuss marriage.
        Whatever happened to Tommy? He was nice. He struck me as the marrying type.

        (Edit: granted, it’s not religiously conservative but that’s not the only flavor.)

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  6. Great post Dennis. As for your conclusion, I don’t know if I was right. I think on gay marriage and some other issues the GOP knows the tide has turned against them and most realists are probably ready to just move on. The problem is how you transition. My advice for the GOP would be to look at what Democrats did with blacks after the 1964 Democratic Convention, when they refused to recognize the integrated delegation from Mississippi. They could not have done a worse job of handling the situation and yet now, 50 years later, they are the home of nearly the entire black population. That’s an amazing turnaround.

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    • My advice for the GOP would be to look at what Democrats did with blacks after the 1964 Democratic Convention, when they refused to recognize the integrated delegation from Mississippi.

      Could you unpack this a bit more? Does this mean refusing to seat someone who is not in favor of gay marriage?

      Also, looking back to those discussions years ago, has your position changed? If so, what caused that?

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      • Dennis,

        What I mean is that Democrats terribly mishandled the issue of Civil Rights up through the convention. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped turned the corner but what helped the most was the mass-exodus of the segregationists form the party after Johnson’s election that same year. The GOP could benefit from a similar purging but unless the Tea Party becomes an independent entity, I don’t know where they would go.

        As for my views on the matter, as you know I am a registered Independent now and plan to stay that way. I’ve become very libertarian on the matter. People should be allowed to do what they want so long as it does not harm someone else.

        As for the GOP, I still believe that conservatism has an important place as a moderating influence on liberal over-exuberance, but that essentially means always being the bad guys. That’s why I have had this same avatar for years, because I’ve always believed that’s how the Left sees us.

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      • The GOP could benefit from a similar purging but unless the Tea Party becomes an independent entity, I don’t know where they would go.

        Mike,

        I don’t think the GOP would benefit if they got rid of the tea party. Douthat notes in his post that ignoring social conservative types as they do in Europe could mean the rise of more nationalist parties like the UK Independence Party, or even Greece’s Golden Dawn. I think there has to be a way to co-opt the Tea Party instead of kicking them out.

        I would also add that I don’t think you can equate the Tea Party with the segregationists of old. I think this is a very different context than the Democrats in 1964.

        None of this means that I love the Tea Party. There are good elements and some that are just ridiculous. One could not say that about the segregationists. The danger of expelling the Tea Party (and that is tempting to me) without expanding the GOP coalition spells disaster not just for the party, but maybe for the American political system as well. I think the more salient question is what parts of the Tea Party can be adapted and try to downplay the more crazy parts.

        I’m learning that politics is a dance. What’s needed is a waltz instead of the electric boogie.

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      • I think that’s right, : “I don’t think the GOP would benefit if they got rid of the tea party.” I don’t think they can, since the tea party is informal and plenty of GOP’ers gravitate towards it without identifying with it and the ones who do identify with it do so for a multiplicity of reasons that don’t withstand careful scrutiny. Alsotoo those are the sorts of people more likely to show up to work phone banks and stuff envelopes without being paid for it and indeed the sorts of people more likely to write the three- and four-figure donation checks that keep local party organizations viable.

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      • Dennis,

        You make a good point about the Tea Party. While there are a few loonies, for the most part it would be extremely unfair to equate them with 60s-era segregationists. Maybe inclusion IS better as a Big Tent strategy generally wins elections and brings some diversity of thought into the ranks.

        I actually think that opposition to gay marriage should be nearly so problematic in the long-term as opposition to integration, however it remains to be seen just how long the electorate remembers. I really wonder what my kids will think about the GOP 10 years from now when SSM is legal in a majority of states and opposition seems completely ridiculous in hindsight.

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      • Mike and Dennis,
        I feel like the Republicans have a really solid chance of stealing TONS of Democratic Votes, provided they’re willing to get rid of most of the Southern Social Conservatives (the Christian Democrats can stay — Huck and company don’t piss folks off, mostly)…
        See, the problem is that most folks everywhere else don’t think like Southern Conservatives anymore — telling people they can’t judge Sarah Palin because “she’s a lady” and therefore deserves more respect and a tilted field? Oh, boy, stuff like that just pisses everyone off.
        Drop them, pick up the black and Latino conservatives (and, yes, that’ll take a hell of a lot of work), and you’ve got a decent coalition. Pick up the Young Professionals (the Creative Class) from the Democrats, and you can’t help but win.

        … but it does take jettisoning the current base of the party… and with enough people in power that an Authoritarian Mindset has pretty much taken hold…

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    • That turnaround took two parties and was more of a success in the GOP getting white Southern Democrats to change parties and thus making the solidification of black voters for the Democratic party both possible and necessary. If there wasn’t a Southern Strategy it’s very possible to see black votes today splitting 60-40 in favor of the Democrats.

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  7. The problem is not that Republicans can’t transition; it’s that they won’t be allowed to. Mitt Romney straight-up said “I’ve got the same standards for women and men, I’ll hire any woman who meets the standards, and here is in fact a big list of all the woman who did and I hired”, and this was seen as the mumblings of an out-of-touch buffoon who thought statistics could excuse sexism. Todd Akin was repudiated by the Republican establishment and soundly thrashed in his election and he’s still being used as an example of How Republicans Think About Stuff. Meanwhile, Democrat peccadilloes are excused with “well we don’t ALL think like that and he’s hardly a major party figure anyway”, to the extent that they’re acknowledged at all.

    When any Republican position is seen as racist homophobia before it’s even heard, what’s the use of compromise? Why bother softening your positions to come to an accommodation? All that’s gonna do is piss off the people who did vote for you.

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    • Gee, this sounds a lot like victimology. You’re basically saying that the party can’t change because the Democrats and media won’t let us change. So why bother. Waaah!

      That’s nonsense. And I’d like to know at least one Democrat whose peccadilloes have been excused by the phrase “well, we’re all not like that.” Seems to me that the ones who cheat on their wives with prostitutes or text pictures of their penises to women have been drummed from office; whereas family values Republicans who cheat on their wives remain in office.

      And Romney didn’t say he had lists of women, he said “binders full of women,” a far more inarticulate and condescending formulation that came on top of a lot of other condescending and inarticulate formulations (“corporations are people, my friend”) and the infamous 47 percent tape.

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      • “I’d like to know at least one Democrat whose peccadilloes have been excused by the phrase “well, we’re all not like that.” ”

        The very next post on this weblog contains the phrase “[D’Souza] then manages to trot out a left-wing extremist to defend each of the points listed above, including discredited former professor Ward Churchill…”

        Remember him? The “Little Eichmanns” guy, the one who said that 9/11 was America’s fault for being so interventionist and flaunting its riches?

        “[Romney] said “binders full of women,” a far more inarticulate and condescending formulation…”

        I love it when someone epitomizes my criticism and thinks it’s a rebuttal.

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      • Churchill quickly returned to obscurity after his 2001 article came out. The university fired him from his tenured job in 2007 because of irregularities with his research. I’m sure he was happy for whatever publicity appearing in D’Souza’s film afforded him.

        And what makes you think he’s a Democrat? He’s part of the radical fringe.

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      • So you made a stupid generalization and you’re following it up with a No True Scot?

        I suppose that once your foot hits your stomach, it can be technically said to have been removed from your mouth…

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      • Jim, Michelle’s eating your lunch on this exchange. Seriously, the Presidential Candidate of the GOP party =/= to a far left wing kook who we don’t even know for sure is a Democratic Party supporter (he could easily support one of the fringe left wing parties). You have to have something better than that to use as an example don’t you?

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      • Jim Heffman:

        “Remember him? The “Little Eichmanns” guy, the one who said that 9/11 was America’s fault for being so interventionist and flaunting its riches?”

        Only barely. I had never heard of him before 9/11, and very little of him since. While I am sure that it is very pleasing to find someone not on your side who said something stupid, but would be more significant if this someone was, well, someone.

        “I love it when someone epitomizes my criticism and thinks it’s a rebuttal.”

        Oh, please. Political operatives on both sides play this game, and the media is only too happy to play along. A politician says something infelicitous and it is gleefully ripped out of its context and misconstrued. Obama says “you didn’t build that” and it is twisted into a statement nearly unrelated to what he actually said. Or, for a classic, remember how Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet? What a hoot! Except that he didn’t actually say that at all. He had a factually correct discussion about his having supported the development of the internet while in Congress. But that isn’t funny at all. So a carefully chosen snippet was pulled out that, if you ignore everything that came before or after it, was ridiculous, and the good times rolled!

        The binders of women comment didn’t matter. It was for a short time fodder for comedians, then dropped out of the news cycle. (The 47% comment was a much bigger deal, as it had the air of Romney telling what he actually thought when he thought he could get away with it.)

        The suggestion that this sort of trivia constrains the Republican Party from doing what it might otherwise want to do is just pathetic. My six year old will often defend something she did by claiming outside influences. My duty as a parent is to guide her maturation so that she accepts responsibility for herself.

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      • “Dude, what’s your point?”

        I say: “Any time a Republican says something dumb, they’re held up as the epitome of Republican-ness. Any time a Democrat says something dumb, we’re told that they’re just a meaningless blip that we shouldn’t even be paying attention to.”

        Michelle says: “oh YEAH well give me ONE EXAMPLE.”

        I say: “Ward Churchill”.

        Everyone immediately dogpiles in, talking about how he was just a meaningless blip that we shouldn’t even be paying attention to.

        “Political operatives on both sides play this game, and the media is only too happy to play along.”

        Sorry bro, the BSDI card already got played in this thread.

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      • But good grief, Churchill doesn’t matter. He was and remains an ineffectual jackass who no one thinks about. Romney was the R’s actual presidential candidate. You don’t see how those things are different? Really?

        So, look, that was your example. Which means (and think about this) that was the best you can do. That was it. That was your indictment of the left. Compared to a (seemingly) endless parade of completely awful people that were elected by the R’s. Elected! You guys PICKED THEM over the others.

        (Anyway, let me help you: Maxine Waters.)

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      • What Veronica D said. There are crazies on both sides of the political spectrum. What matters is whether the crazies have actual influence or power. In present-day American politics the crazies on the right matter; the crazies on the left do not. This has not always been true, and it likely will not always be true in the future. But it is true today. The response here to a criticism of a powerful or influential crazy is to point to a crazy on the other side with neither power nor influence. This at best is banal.

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      • “But good grief, Churchill doesn’t matter. ”

        Neither do Akin or Palin and yet we still hear about them.

        “So, look, that was your example. Which means (and think about this) that was the best you can do. That was it. That was your indictment of the left.”

        Actually, it wasn’t. It was my indictment of you.

        Remember how this thread started? It wasn’t “there are idiots on the left too!”, it was “there are idiots on the left too but we always hear about how they aren’t important and don’t matter“, and then someone said “oh whatever give me one example”, and when I did, I was told that guy wasn’t important and didn’t matter.

        Fine, Maxine Waters, whatever, if I cared enough I’d go do actual research. The point was not to find a specific person and discuss their specific awfulness; the point was to show that there is a reflexive pattern of argument used whenever someone gives an example of an awful left-leaning person. And that is in fact what happened. Every time you post about how Ward Churchill is totally some nobody that nobody knows anything about, you’re confirming my thesis that Republicans are always viewed as representative but Democrats are always viewed as individual.

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      • Jim, let’s assume for the moment you’re right: that people on the left reliably claim irrelevance when an embarrassing leftist is brought up to in response to an embarrassing GOP-er. This begs the question of So what?

        Are you maintaining that this argument is usually wrong? Or are you frustrated that they’re actually usually right, and it’s no fun that your debating opponents have a good argument that you haven’t found a good response to?

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      • Jim, so your thesis is that Republicans are always viewed as representative but Democrats are always viewed as individual

        Refutation: The media and public frequently view Obama’s, Reid’s, and Pelosi’s actions and statements as representative of the view of Democrats. They do so for the same reason that Romney’s and Palin’s statements are viewed as representative of republicans: Because they were selected by their party as their national representatives.

        That’s why bringing up a Churchill in response to a point about what Romney or Palin said is laughable – because one actually *is* an individual who has no national role in the Democratic party, while the others have been selected by the GOP as a whole as representative.

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      • “This begs the question of So what?”

        Douthat, quoted in the OP, expresses the idea that Republicans shouldn’t bother going after left-leaning moderates because very few left-leaning people are willing to see the Republicans as anything other than racist homophobes. I gave an supporting example of how people will give leftists leeway that they wouldn’t give Republicans, and my reasoning was strongly confirmed by a group of commentors (whom I could not have paid to act more favorably to my argument than they did.)

        “So what”, then, is further confirmation of my (and Douthat’s) contention that Republicans won’t quit Being So Racist because they won’t be allowed to. Outreach across the aisle will be rebuffed because Everybody Knows Republicans Are Racist. Republican proposals for anything will be seen as obviously racist (although usually it’s an extremely well-hidden racism, sometimes only detectable via dogwhistle phrases) because Everybody Knows Republicans Are Racist.

        Also, http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=693

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      • “That’s why bringing up a Churchill in response to a point about what Romney or Palin said is laughable”

        Although everyone’s increasingly strident attempts to claim that he’s irrelevant are only furthering my argument that Republicans are representative but Democrats are individual.

        You cannot refute my claim about your behavior by doing the thing I say you always do.

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      • Except that you’re taking an ancillary point at the end and trying to make it a standin for my main point.

        Your (partial) thesis: “Democrats are always viewed as individuals.”

        Refutation: “Statements by Democrats Obama, Reid, and Pelosi are commonly viewed as representative of the Democratic Party.”

        QED.

        QED.

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      • “Your (partial) thesis:”

        Please go back and read my first comment before being all “QED QED” at me. You’ll note how you haven’t, actually, refuted my thesis.

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      • You wrote: “my thesis [is] that Republicans are always viewed as representative but Democrats are always viewed as individual.”

        Showing a single Democrat who is viewed as representative is sufficient to refute that thesis.

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      • This is a question of measurements, of distribution, of power and influence. So it might help if we agree on a methodology, for example, should we limit consideration to these: nominated senators, or elected representatives, or presidential candidates who won at least 3 primaries, on and on. I’m not saying one measure in unassailable, but comparing a true nobody (such as Churchill) to an elected senator (such as Rick Santorum) is unbalanced for obvious reasons.

        If the R’s don’t want to be seen a bigots, stop electing bigots.

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      • This is a question of measurements, of distribution, of power and influence. So it might help if we agree on a methodology, for example, should we limit consideration to these: nominated senators, or elected representatives, or presidential candidates who won at least 3 primaries, on and on. I’m not saying one measure in unassailable, but comparing a true nobody (such as Churchill) to an elected senator (such as Rick Santorum) is unbalanced for obvious reasons.

        I’ll even concede that some *elected* Republicans don’t represent the Republican party.

        Ted Cruz, for example, is often operating in ways that even I, as an outsider, can see is to solely to further his own career at the expense of the GOP, and hence if someone wants to say something he did or said isn’t representative of the GOP, but was just said to help himself out, I’ll accept that.

        And then there are the people so dumb they obviously can’t represent people, like Louie Gohmert.(1)

        But Santorum? No. He’s repeatedly come close to being the R’s presidential nominee.

        And, yes, Palin. At least until the party denounces her.

        1) Louie Gohmert is actually a scientific experiment to see if we’ll notice non-sentient humans (aka, p-zombies) walking among us. It is not possible to blame him for anything, because there is no ‘him’ there. It’s like blaming a worm for being in your apple…worms and Louie Gohmert does not have a concept of ‘self’.

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    • Doesn’t your last paragraph explicitly concede that not being sexist will piss off the GOP base? That’s a pretty candid admission that probably explains at least a portion of the gender gap in voting.

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      • “Doesn’t your last paragraph explicitly concede that not being sexist will piss off the GOP base?”

        Do you think that the stereotypical demon Republicans who live in your imagination would accept gay marriage if only gay couples acted like total white-bread Middle Class Americans?

        There is sexism, and then there is “refusal to perform the Not Sexist Kabuki”. These aren’t the same thing, but why bother doing the latter when it annoys your friends and your enemies don’t believe it?

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      • Jim, the problem is that what you see as “not performing the Not Sexist Kabuki”, others see as simply “not being sexist”. And they’re the ones whose definitions count, since those are the votes that the GOP is losing. Belligerently insisting that the GOP isn’t actually sexist won’t win any converts; if the GOP wants more female voters it will have to appeal to them in a different way than they’ve been doing.

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      • “the problem is that what you see as “not performing the Not Sexist Kabuki”, others see as simply “not being sexist”. ”

        Yet again, epitomizing the criticism.

        “You’re being not-sexist, but you aren’t being properly non-sexist, you aren’t looking like I imagine a non-sexist would look like!”

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      • Jim,

        Simply put: If the people you’re trying to convince you’re not sexist (ie: the persuadable voters, especially female ones) persist in seeing your words as sexist, complaining that they’re misreading you doesn’t help.

        First rule of communication is to know your audience and communicate accordingly. The rules of delivering a football pep-talk and delivering a talk about best practices in modern firewalls are entirely different. Switching styles, even if the content is the same, will result in audiences ignoring you or thinking you’re an idiot or otherwise not worth listening to.

        So, assuming the GOP is not, in fact, sexist — they need to learn to communicate with the segment of voter’s they’re after without erroneously triggering that reaction.

        Even IF the media is somehow, maliciously or otherwise, conforming to that and reinforcing this erroneous belief, simply declaring “I’m not sexist and won’t change, it’s a media conspiracy” will not, in fact, get you those votes. (It might stem losses among those predisposed to believe in media conspiracies though).

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      • “So, assuming the GOP is not, in fact, sexist — they need to learn to communicate with the segment of voter’s they’re after without erroneously triggering that reaction. ”

        And what Douthat is suggesting, as quoted in the OP, is that there are some segments of voters who are predisposed to react in a certain way regardless of how the Republicans try to communicate with them. It’s not a “liberal media conspiracy”, it’s inherent to that group.

        What Douthat is saying is not that the Republicans should change and go after moderate swing voters, because there’s nothing to be found there; what he’s saying is that they should go after the wavering Republicans who are thinking about changing sides, and that this isn’t going to happen by moderating and compromising and watering-down.

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      • What Douthat is saying is not that the Republicans should change and go after moderate swing voters, because there’s nothing to be found there; what he’s saying is that they should go after the wavering Republicans who are thinking about changing sides, and that this isn’t going to happen by moderating and compromising and watering-down
        In one sense, you are correct.

        Obviously, when you are in a hole you must stop digging. Ergo, the GOP must not drive off current GOP voters.

        But what to do when assuaging current voters is eating into their seed corn — damaging their ability to attract younger voters? The GOP has a solid demographic base amongst the old, whereas the Democrats hold a similarly large advantage amongst the young. The old are, bluntly, going to die off pretty soon now.

        That’s where Ross there runs into trouble. Short-term, he’s right. Long-term, the GOP is killing themselves with the under-35 set on gay rights. They’re setting in stone a view of the GOP as a party of homophobes and bigots, and while they can stop agitating on social issues that sort of things leaves a legacy that takes a LONG time to undo.

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    • The voters that the GOP can pick up from the Democrats don’t read the New York Times, nor are they watching the Daily Show. They need to ignore coastal “elites” (this is more a class thing than an income thing) because they can’t get those votes (there will never be enough libertarians in cities to beat progressives).

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      • It seems to me that libertarianism has changed its tactics somewhat. Instead of trying to win elections, it’s trying to get the two “real” candidates to talk about the it-shay libertarians care about. Sometimes, like with the drug war, you get two indistinguishable parties… but sometimes, like with SSM, you get one of the two parties to distinguish itself.

        I suspect that MMJ/RMJ is the next big thing that libertarians will be able to use.

        You don’t have to win an election to win on an issue. Win enough issues, it doesn’t matter which party is in power.

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      • Jaybird,

        That got me thinking. One common liberal complaint about libertarians (in general — which leads into the ‘all libertarians believe’ thing that people here find so annoying) is, basically, “where are you guys on the issues we agree with? Why do we only see you with the GOP, when they support X,Y and Z that should be anathema to you!”.

        So I was thinking — if Joe Liberal and John Libertarian had a conversation about politics and gay marriage comes up — John and Joe probably agree, so what’s to talk about? (Unless John is a ‘Why is the state involved in marriage at all!’ sort) — so the liberal take away is “John doesn’t seem that interested in gay marriage” (because there’s little dialogue, because they agree) or “John would rather inequality persist in the hopes that an unrealistic result would arrive, so John is nutso” (if John is ‘abolish marriage!”) — net result: Liberal feels John doesn’t care that much about gay marriage or is crazy, which is their take away.

        Now if it’s on, say, taxes — Joe and John have a different, more involved conversation — because they don’t agree. The result might be “John’s just a pot-smoking Republican who obviously cares more about social issues” or “John’s nuts” — depending on how that conversation is likely to go, but it’s likely to be a long and loud argument. A memorable one.

        And casting my memory back, I recall plenty of conversations about taxes, government spending, and such. And fewer about gay marriage, and those I recall most easily tangented quickly into weird corners. Again, because there was a general agreement of ‘who cares if two dudes marry’ which quickly wandered into the weird philosophical weeds of government and lawsuits and discrimination and whether you had to serve wedding cakes to gays, because if the conversation was limited to “should two dudes be able to get married” there’d have been like 95% agreement and then the sounds of crickets as there was little left to talk about.

        Makes me wonder if conservatives view libertarians as liberal hippies who just pretend to care about their so called ‘conservative’ issues. :)

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      • “I suspect that MMJ/RMJ is the next big thing that libertarians will be able to use.”

        It’s possible, but I think it will ultimately hinge on whether libertarians are willing to accept a regulated, taxed marijuana market.

        If they can celebrate legalization as righting a great injustice and taking a step towards greater freedom, then yes, libertarians will probably be able to capitalize on the issue.

        If it becomes an opportunity to reiterate the virtues of unregulated markets and the evils of government taxation, then the MJ issue will only help others.

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      • I would think most libertarians would agree with ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good’, but frankly the folks that hold out for perfect probably squeal the loudest on the internet.

        I wonder if anyone has done any real demographics on libertarians and libertarian ideas, to sort of tease out actual percentages and numbers beyond the self-selected types that have blogs and post comments?

        I’ve been thinking about the ‘libertarians believe’ complaint and have come to the conclusion they need a platform and better statistics so we can find out what, in general, Ye Olde Average libertarian believes and what’s just “that really loud, memorable guy who calls himself libertarian believes”.

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      • Hell yes I could “accept” pot as a legal product, taxed and all. It’s a damn sight better than what we currently have. But, a few things: 1) I’d PREFER a situation where the state has no involvement, ’cause that’s how I roll. 2) I have no expectation that Fedgov will go along with it–too much money on the line, camel in the tent to legalization of the rest of the drugs, etc.

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      • Damon,

        IIRC, it’s actually worse than that. I think pot status and treatment is also tied up in at least one treaty we’ve signed, which places the US government in a fun bind because it absolutely ties the hands of the executive beyond simply “don’t waste resources on it” although I think Bush may have actually given precedent to the “Screw it, we don’t have to abide by no treaties” thing in 2002ish. Didn’t he yank us from some treaty? I think there was a court case and he won.

        In any case, theoretically Congress has to actually vote on the treaty and the law. And then whomever we signed it with can get shirty about the whole thing, since we broke it or modified it without their consent.

        (Mark Kleiman’s mentioned treaty obligations regarding marijuana scheduling more than once, but I can’t recall the details).

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      • Makes me wonder if conservatives view libertarians as liberal hippies who just pretend to care about their so called ‘conservative’ issues. :)

        At Redstate, I was regularly pilloried for only caring about weed and sodomy. For what that is worth.

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      • I would think most libertarians would agree with ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good’,

        I’d like to think that most people, regardless of ideological alignment, do, and the basic arguments are just about what “the good” is. I hope that’s the case anyway.

        and have come to the conclusion they need a platform and better statistics so we can find out what, in general, Ye Olde Average libertarian believes

        Can we just start with Jaybird’s “vector” as our platform? Maybe add an end to rent-seeking? An enhanced right to privacy? The elimination of laws that create so-called victimless crimes? Massive reductions in the defense budget, too.

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      • Ah, but how to tell you’re not an aberration? :) The Democrats and Republicans are, at least, large parties that truly represent (or come close enough to garner votes) large numbers of people. So their platforms, at least theoretically, are at least in the right area for what “Ye Average X believes”.

        Although having read the new Texas GOP platform, I’ve been rethinking that.

        Personally, I’m all for slashing the defense budget. Honestly, I try not to think about what we spent in Iraq. Makes me too angry. Although for awhile, I did use “NASA” as a yardstick. “We spent one NASA a month in Iraq”. “The X program costs four NASA’s a year”, etc.

        Mostly because, like foreign aid, the actual amount we spend on NASA versus what people THINK we do is…well, “rarely in the ballpark”. You can hate NASA, love NASA, wish NASA was run by other people. That’s all good fun and proper politics, but good lord — I wish people could get actual numbers and percentages right more often.

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      • —To be fair, both and have been totally supportive of the basic rights for trans people. So I think they are doing what you are asking.

        Thing is, we notice when we disagree.

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    • , in my comments above, I talk about trust.

      The GOP has been so bad on certain social issues that they’ve completely eroded any trust they had. They’ve established their default position as one of racism, sexism and homophobia because they have a history of real racism, sexism and homophobia. Anything they do is going to be seen through that lens by a huge part of the population, even if it’s not actually motivated by those impulses.

      Sure, the GOP could try to go only for voters that don’t see through those lenses and also agree with the GOP on other issues. But that’s a shrinking portion of the voters, and if they do that, they basically become a regionalized party akin to the post-civil war democrats: able to take the non-tech south, the whiter bits of the rust belt, and the parts of the west where nobody lives. That won’t be enough to elect a president.

      Or they could try to smash those lenses of mistrust with concrete, good faith actions. Actions that have a good chance of pissing of their existing supporters, but will do a much better job of ensuring their long-term future.

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      • ” Anything they do is going to be seen through that lens by a huge part of the population, even if it’s not actually motivated by those impulses.”

        So, as Douthat says, stop bothering to accomodate the other side’s views, because the other side will never buy it and doing it alienates the people on your side.

        “Or they could try to smash those lenses of mistrust with concrete, good faith actions. Actions that have a good chance of pissing of their existing supporters, but will do a much better job of ensuring their long-term future.”

        So become Democrats Junior, as was discussed up-thread? What’s the use of doing that? You agree that nobody’s ever going to take Republicans seriously; why should they kill off what support they have left?

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      • It’s difficult to backtrack after so many campaign speeches have involved burning the bridges down. The short-term gains of intense, absolutist rhetoric were useful, but the long-term costs were not considered well: I think I mentioned Pete Wilson and Prop. 187 above. The Republicans kept the Governor’s office in California twenty years ago thanks to it, but that’s pretty cold comfort now that 78% of California Latinos vote for Democrats and clocking in at 26% of all voters, they are demographically numerous enough to swamp the white suburbanites lacking strong party preference one way or another who formerly were the swing voters who, back in the day, could deliver statewide office in California to Republicans.

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      • : even Democrats jr. isn’t enough. They need to actually become better than the democrats on these issues.

        The Democrats, the traditional party of southern racists, became better than the Republicans on civil rights in the sixties, and they’ve been pulling in the huge majority of the black vote ever since.

        That’s what I’m talking about when I say take action to smash the lenses. It’s not an inevitability that the Republican party isn’t taken seriously. It’s a result of their past actions. They need to decide whether it’s worth not being taken seriously forever and die slowly, or to reject their toxic constituency entirely to create the opportunity for future growth.

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      • “The Republicans kept the Governor’s office in California twenty years ago thanks to it, but that’s pretty cold comfort now that 78% of California Latinos vote for Democrats and clocking in at 26% of all voters…”

        Although those California Latinos voted 53% in favor of Proposition 8 (along with 70% of blacks.)

        I mean, you’re all assuming that Republicans ought to be moderating their position on gay marriage, but maybe the problem is that they’re moderating it too much. Maybe what they need to be saying is “look, the Democrats don’t give a rat’s ass about blacks or hispanics, they take your vote for granted, and you’re helping them give benefits to sinful fornicators and feckless women. Vote Republican and we’ll stop that happening; after all, you already agree with us on anything that matters.”

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      • The Democrats, the traditional party of southern racists, became better than the Republicans on civil rights in the sixties, and they’ve been pulling in the huge majority of the black vote ever since.

        But the real reason black voters became loyal to Democrats is that the the *Republicans* became the party of southern racists. For that to work on gay rights, not only would the Republicans need to flip to pro-gay, but the Democrats would need to flip to anti-gay, which isn’t slightly conceivable.

        They need to decide whether it’s worth not being taken seriously forever and die slowly, or to reject their toxic constituency entirely to create the opportunity for future growth.

        Well, no. They needed to decide that in the 80s, for black people. They needed to decide it in 00s, for gay people and Latinos. They had a choice. Either ‘easy votes now, absolutely destruction later due to demographics’ vs. ‘no easy votes now, but we get to live’, and they kept choosing ‘easy votes now, absolutely destruction later’.

        It’s a little too late to try to change those things now. Like said, they’ve burned way too many bridges. And they’ve managed to convince their entire base that they should never budge on those issues, and anyone who does is the worse person imaginable.


        Although those California Latinos voted 53% in favor of Proposition 8 (along with 70% of blacks.)

        Assuming you are serious, you probably should realize that support for gay rights has massively changed since 2008.

        Maybe what they need to be saying is “look, the Democrats don’t give a rat’s ass about blacks or hispanics, they take your vote for granted, and you’re helping them give benefits to sinful fornicators and feckless women.

        …yes, another cycle or two of doubling down on the ‘easy votes now, absolutely destruction later due to demographics’ trick might let them keep winning for a cycle or two.

        <sarcasm level=’epic’>Good plan</sarcasm>

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      • Have you considered, , that what they’re really doing is the “Whig strategy” all over again. “It worked for us when we were Federalists and people stopped liking the Federalist brand, so we let ourselves peter out and then started calling ourselves Whigs.”

        And then people stopped liking the Whig brand, so they let the Whig name play itself out and started calling themselves Republicans.

        So now, maybe this brand is all done, and it just needs a cycle or two to get completely killed off and then they can start being something new again.

        (Only about 3/4 joking.)

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      • “Although those California Latinos voted 53% in favor of Proposition 8 (along with 70% of blacks.)”
        Well, here’s another thing the GOP needs to change: Stop shooting itself in the foot with “wedge” strategies.

        People aren’t stupid. We can see how cynical these arguments are. When you start complaining to Black people how Latinos are stealing their jobs, it sounds an awful lot like racism to them. And for whatever reason, they don’t like racism.

        And, for what it’s worth, Latinos are now more supportive of same-sex marriage than non-hispanic whites. And while Black people may support same-sex marriage less than white people overall, they’re actually more supportive once you adjust for region, religion, and income. So when republicans go after the votes of blacks and latinos by being anti-gay, not only does it come off as mean-spirited, it also comes off as tone-deaf and racist.

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      • People aren’t stupid. We can see how cynical these arguments are. When you start complaining to Black people how Latinos are stealing their jobs, it sounds an awful lot like racism to them. And for whatever reason, they don’t like racism.

        And just as importantly, racism has now been completely encoded, and it’s, by necessity, a somewhat vague code.

        I mean, Republicans can talk about people stealing ‘American jobs’ as code all they want, but even if they’re *intending* to talk about Latinos, black people are acutely aware those same people don’t consider *them* American (I mean, just listen to how those people talk about Obama), so, uh, it’s sorta hard to deduce exactly where the racism is aimed.

        And, yes, you’re right. If this is clarified, black people are unlikely to wipe their brow and say ‘Whew. As long as he’s not talking about *me*, I’ll vote for him.’

        And, for what it’s worth, Latinos are now more supportive of same-sex marriage than non-hispanic whites. And while Black people may support same-sex marriage less than white people overall, they’re actually more supportive once you adjust for region, religion, and income.

        More to the point, in another decade, functionally no one will oppose same-sex marriage except completely out-of-touch religious kooks, and the Republican party. (Insert Samuel Clemens joke ‘But I repeat myself’ here.)

        Well, here’s another thing the GOP needs to change: Stop shooting itself in the foot with “wedge” strategies.

        So when republicans go after the votes of blacks and latinos by being anti-gay, not only does it come off as mean-spirited, it also comes off as tone-deaf and racist.

        Pffft. They’re not allowed to use wedge issues, and they’re not allowed to do things that come off as tone deaf and racist.

        What, exactly, *are* they allowed to do?

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      • “And just as importantly, racism has now been completely encoded, and it’s, by necessity, a somewhat vague code”

        And we’re back to my contention. He’s a Republican, therefore what he’s saying is racist. Sometimes it takes a specially-trained mind with a lot of experience to detect the racism, but trust me–it’s there.

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    • “Your (partial) thesis:”

      Please go back and read my first comment before you start being all “QED QED” at me. You’ll note how you haven’t actually refuted my argument at all.

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  8. The GOP is dying the death of a thousand cuts. There are just enough old white people around and Ryan-Walker Reagan lovers that they can be viable in current form for 20-30 years.

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      • They’ll be able to get back the gay vote and the sympathetic white vote, sure. But race is heritable. If they’re the racist party for this generation’s people of color, they’ll be the racist party for the next generation’s people of color too. It’s going to take more than 20-30 years to wash that stain away, regardless of how much the democrats fish things up.

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      • They’ll be able to get back the gay vote and the sympathetic white vote, sure. But race is heritable.

        I don’t know. Gay people do end up in charge of an awful lot of culture, especially their own, which is rather large at this point and only getting larger.

        Expecting gay culture to just *forget* how they were treated by Republicans…obviously, it will happen, but I’m sure it will take 20-30 years also.

        Maybe not even that, because of one thing: Internet.

        People in the 80s didn’t have instant access to what people in the 60s said. People in the 00s didn’t have instant access to what people in the 80s said.

        But people in the 2020s will have instant access to what people in 2000 said. As will people of 2100 and 3100.

        It is entirely possible we’ve had an actual paradigm shift here, and the history of a political party will, from now on, be *forever* hung around the neck of that party.

        Or, rather, there will be ‘watersheds’ in history, beyond which certain behaviors are not allowed anymore. I’m suspecting that 2020 might be the ‘gay marriage’ cut off. Anyone who opposes it after that, has no political future. Ever. You oppose it, on video, in 2025, you run for president in 2040, you don’t get elected because of that.

        We’ll see if up-and-coming young Republicans are smart enough to at least *shut the hell up* about gay marriage.

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      • But traditional gay culture is disintegrating with the increasing acceptance of gays in mainstream culture. And as traditional gay culture goes away, the continuity of culturally held beliefs and attitudes goes away with it.

        That’s what I meant when I said that race is heritable. When the Latino voter of 2035 considers the Republican party, he knows it as the party that attacked his parents. When they Gay voter of 2025 considers the Republican party, he knows it as the party that attacks some old gay guys he’s never met.

        That doesn’t really matter if the party continues to harbor racism and homophobia, or if candidates with racist and homophobic positions try to run. But when the Republican candidate of 2035 who is not racist or homophobic and will not seek support from racist or homophobic voters tells the Latino voter and the Gay voter “The GOP isn’t like that any more”, it’ll be a lot easier to make the Gay voter believe.

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      • traditional gay culture is disintegrating

        As Mike Schilling said above, liberals are the real homophobes. It’s clearly their clever “acceptance” of homosexuality that has destroyed traditional gay culture.

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  9. Dennis writes:

    I’ve been engaged in the effort of gay inclusion in the GOP for 10-plus years. What I have seen over time other well-educated urban folk like me end up leaving the party and strangely become partisan Democrats. Whenever I hear that someone demands the GOP change it’s social tone and how they would if they just started liking gays, I’m skeptical. More than likely, that person has already “gone to the other side.”

    So that means that Republicans can either a) write off gays as a whole, or b) assemble a set of policy proposals that appeal to (among other people) gays.

    What it seems like the OP calls for is for the GOP to STFU about gays qua gays already, and do other things to attract votes generally. And it seems to me that the way to do that is to put together a package of policy proposals that will lead to better government than what the Democrats have on offer.

    Now, doesn’t that inevitably lead to the advice that if challenged about gays, a Republican candidate should respond by… changing the subject, I guess: “Gays? Do gays like it when we have good public schools? I bet they do. Do gays like it when we’re at peace and not fighting some pointless war overseas? Sure, just like everyone else. Do gays want to pay higher or lower taxes? I’m betting they like lower taxes rather than higher. So don’t vote for someone because someone says she’s the “pro-gay” candidate — vote for the candidate who’s going to give you better schools, lower taxes, and peace with honor — whether you’re gay or straight or anything in between.”

    Maybe it is changing the subject and not answering the question, but maybe that would be a good thing?

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    • It seems like at least one obvious problem with the strategy of STFU already about gays qua gays from the perspective of a present or prospective GOP officeholder (or present or prospective apparatchik for that matter) is the intraparty challenge. As many of us, you included I believe, recognize, the sane-by-our-lights GOPers face a significant collective action problem.

      In theory our jungle primaries here in CA might eventually help that, but my take from looking at the recent Assembly and Senate primaries is that there is not that much partisan elasticity, ergo mobilization matters more than median voter chasing, ergo little hope as long as fear of teh gayz is a good motivator in low turnout elections (such as off year primaries), n’est-ce pas?

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      • To the extent this is true, it’s the result of the California GOP being whittled down to its hard, inflexible core. What you describe can remain the case for so long as the people running the GOP are satisfied with defining “success” as maintaining internal ideological purity rather than actually attaining office outside of “safe” districts.

        On the other hand, the more “moderate” and policy wonkish Neal Kashkari beat out the Tea Party red-meat-eater Tim Donnelly in the jungle primary. Alas for the Republicans, this matters not at all against the incumbent, and Kashkari’s inevitable drubbing in November will be cited as evidence that nominating moderates doesn’t work and the problem was that the Republicans weren’t conservative enough, because that’s what the world looks like to those hard, inflexible core voters who prefer being right to winning.

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    • Burt,
      Yeah, but state it stronger. Tester said, “The government doesn’t have any business getting involved in marriage in the first place.”
      The appropriate response is something like: “You can be red, blue, yellow or green, gay straight or inbetween. Won’t make one whit of difference to me, and I won’t let the law be anything but colorblind. Now, can we talk about some real issues, like safer schools or streets?”

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      • “Color-blindness” is a tricky enough approach in itself, but I wouldn’t advise anyone seeking minority votes to invoke strangely-colored people. It’s a tad patronizing.

        For one thing, it implies that non-white shades of skin are “more exotic”, sort of on a scale that goes like “white people, then black people, then hypothetical green-skinned aliens”. The apparent logic is that if I publicly declare that I wouldn’t even care if you were green, why, my personal tolerance scale obviously manages to include black people, right?

        A related issue is that this simplifies racism into mere dislike/hatred based on a single trait, rather than the history of stereotyping and subjugation of multiple groups of people by those in power. A politician can’t cancel that out with “Oh, all real and hypothetical categories of people are equally valuable to me.” He would be ignoring the actual circumstances of, say, Asian Americans by comparing them with non-existent purple people, about whom there are no stereotypes or history of racism.

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    • “Maybe it is changing the subject and not answering the question, but maybe that would be a good thing?”

      The response would be what morat20 describes in his post yesterday; “the Republican isn’t talking about gay marriage. That means he doesn’t care about gay marriage. That means he isn’t willing to fight to support it. That means I should vote Democrat!”

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      • Well, see, the thing is — the GOP was talking about gay marriage in the recent past. They’ve sorta got that hung around their necks like an albatross, even if they abruptly shut up about it — because shutting up about it because it’s suddenly making it difficult to win elections is NOT the same thing as ‘supporting it’.

        Not to mention you misunderstood my point drastically — which was that two parties in agreement on gay rights and disagreement on, say, taxes might have little to discuss on gay rights, but a lot to argue about taxes. Which can lead to the feeling of “Oh, they really care about taxes but not about gay rights, because look where all the energy is going”.

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    • Burt, you are presuming that the GOP actually has better ideas, on top of the problem that the GOP is basically saying (at best) ‘we want good things – for, you know – Real Americans’.

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  10. There seems to be an unspoken assumption running through this narrative that the Republican’s big problem is the social issues and that if they can just get past that unpleasantness they can go roaring forward. Implicit to that view is the assumption that they have some natural advantage around economic issues. I seriously question that view.

    After President Obama appointed our governor, Kathleen Sibelius, to head HHS, conservative Senator Sam Brownback sought and won the governorship of Kansas on a pro-business, tax-cutting agenda. The top marginal rates were cut and all pass-through business income was exempted. In an attempt to balance that we got increases in the sales tax, the elimination of middle-class deductions like home mortgages, and deep cuts to spending on education and infrastructure. These moves were lauded by commenters at CATO and the like.

    We’re now some $800M in the red.

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      • That’s what I said,

        We just see the results in states quicker because they can’t run deficits the way the federal government can. And at the federal level, cutting taxes on the wealthy and failing to invest in infrastructure decreases revenue and increases deficit spending.

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    • (Continued, android problems…) Basically we’re bleeding red ink here and all so folks like the Koch brothers (not hyperbole; they’re based in Wichita) can enjoy substantial tax breaks while low-income income folks have seen their overall tax burden rise substantially at the same time services have been slashed.

      Pro-growth? Hardly. We’re lagging well behind the rest of the nation in both GDP and employment. On the other hand you have that socialist hell-hole of California doing the exact opposite and… getting the opposite results, outpacing the nation in the recovery.

      At some point I have to hope someone notices that right-wing economics quite simply sucks. The residents of Kansas are noticing and the Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, is currently leading in the polls by about 6%.

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    • Shhhhh. Look, Republicans have been sprouting for decades about how they’re better at economic issues, while having a completely horrific record.

      The only reason they actually ever *win* is social issues.

      So the sooner they ditch social issues, the sooner they standing there, completely naked, convinced they are draped in the best economic issues ever. And the Democrats will be read to point out how naked they way.

      Although, a note to Republicans: The sooner you ditch social issues, the shorter your *complete implosion* there will be. So I’m not just trying to convince you to ditch social issues because I think you’ll start losing…you’ve already started losing on social issues anyway. It’s unavoidable at this point.

      What I’m worried about is that the complete destruction of the Republican party is going to result in the Democratic party splitting in two over economic issues, half of it ending up with a completely idiotic economic policy.

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      • “What I’m worried about is that the complete destruction of the Republican party is going to result in the Democratic party splitting in two over economic issues, half of it ending up with a completely idiotic economic policy.”

        You mean they one they have now, full of half-measures and weaksauce bullshit? I dunno, I’m not sure that would be the worst thing in the world. I would almost certainly be better than the status quo, with one party having the completely idiotic economic policies and the other having the outright dystopian ones…

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  11. Patrick: “The bigger problem is that any populist message like this goes directly against the large pro-corporate wing of the GOP. How do they square that circle?”

    Since the Tea Party has shown zero signs of economic populism, that’s not a problem.

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  12. From http://schroedingerscat.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/old-snake-oil-in-a-new-bottle/

    “Look out Onion, you have competition from the most venerable newspaper in the country,

    Can the G.O.P. Be a Party of Ideas?

    screams the headline of a magazine article by Sam Tannenhaus on July 2. The article is accompanied by a Vogue-like photo spread with the brave conservative intellectuals posing like the Founding Fathers hard at work drafting the Constitution in an ornate room complete with crumpled papers strewn all over the wooden floor.

    Short answer: No.”

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  13. I think you’re right on this, as far as political strategy goes. I don’t think there’s a large number of voters the Republicans would capture by becoming socially liberal, and doing so would alienate a huge portion of their voting block. (However, they could at least avoid pushing more people away if they made more of an effort not to be blatantly hostile and offensive – e.g., don’t talk about rape if you can’t avoid saying something stupid; end deliberate efforts to disenfranchise black people; don’t call gay people pedophiles.)

    The people who vote primarily based on support for socially liberal issues, dislike for Republican anti-science attitudes, etc. are people who are still going to prefer the Democrats even if the Republicans ameliorate those stances.

    Developing economic and social policies that genuinely address the needs and concerns of middle- and lower-income people, in contrast, has the potential to appeal to a much larger number of people, many of whom are already at least somewhat socially conservative. I do mean genuine policies – the party can’t go on with “tax cuts are the solution to everything”, “there’s nothing wrong with our health care system” and “poverty is just ’cause of laziness” if they want to go this route.

    There’s also a third area of policy they should be looking at, which is foreign and security policy. There’s plenty of room for an anti-war party, and while it would be a complete 180-degree turn for the Republicans to try to occupy that space, they do have some ideological foundation for doing so – if you think government should be doing less and spending less money, that can also be applied to thinking the government shouldn’t be spying on people indiscriminately or getting involved in every conflict that pops up halfway around the world or throwing away vast portions of its budget on a military that already dwarfs every other military on the planet.

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