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Memo from the American Whig Party

If the Republicans look to the history of their political ancestors, they’ll find two very compelling reasons to consider someone like Marco Rubio: one is based on something the Whigs did well, and the other is based on something the Whigs could not do.

The American Whig Party basically formed as a motley crew of opponents to Andrew Jackson. The Second Party System was, at bottom, a continued referendum on Jackson’s policies. A war hero, Jackson was simultaneously for a robust executive and limited government, particularly on economic issues, while his opponents wanted to use the tariff system to help build American businesses and raise money for infrastructure expenditures.

The intellectual dynamo and de facto leader of the Whig Party was Henry Clay. Clay ran for president 3 times: 1824, 1836, and 1844. Clay lost every time.

The only times the Whigs won? When they nominated famous generals. The only two victorious Whigs were William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor. Harrison gained fame for his work fighting against indigenous peoples. Taylor gained fame from his work in the Mexican War. In other words, the Whigs used the Democrats’ playbook: nominate the famed war hero, and appeal to the masses. The 1840 “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” campaign was, in a sense, all about out-Jacksoning Jackson’s party. It continued in 1848. Whig Congressman Abraham Lincoln said as much: he viewed Henry Clay as his “beau ideal of a statesman,” but supported Taylor over Clay in 1848, for very pragmatic reasons:

Our only chance is with Taylor. I go for him, not because I think he would make a better president than Clay, but because I think he would make a better one than Polk, or Cass, or Buchanan, or any such creatures, one of whom is sure to be elected, if he is not.**

Truman Smith, a Whig Senator from Connecticut, was even more explicit in 1852, discussing Gen. Winfield Scott, the prospective nominee for the party (and another military hero). He intoned, “We are a minority party and cannot succeed unless we have a candidate who can command more votes than the party can give him. Every consideration which justified us in going for Taylor in /48 requires that we should go for Scott now.” (Holt, 673).

Military heroism no longer seems like a particularly significant electoral factor. Three of the past five elections have pitted presidents with strong military backgrounds against ones with no military experience (other than W’s Texas Air National Guard time), and all three times, the military heroes lost.

But in the age of television, the candidate’s age–and ability to project youthful vigor–has really made a difference. John F. Kennedy was only four years younger than Richard Nixon, but his appearance on television is widely considered to have made a difference; television made Nixon look sweaty and shifty, while it made Kennedy look polished and comfortable. More recently, both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama benefited from facing substantially older opponents. Clinton, comfortably in his 40s, faced 68-year old George H.W. Bush (and then 73 year old (!!) Bob Dole). Obama, in his late 40s and now early 50s, faced 69 year old John McCain. In both cases, the Democratic candidates were able to make generational appeals. Clinton ran an ad that described Gore and himself–before anything else–as part of a “new generation of Democrats.” Barack Obama was even more explicit in his announcement speech:

I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness — a certain audacity — to this announcement. I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

The genius of our founders is that they designed a system of government that can be changed. And we should take heart, because we’ve changed this country before. In the face of tyranny, a band of patriots brought an Empire to its knees. In the face of secession, we unified a nation and set the captives free. In the face of Depression, we put people back to work and lifted millions out of poverty. We welcomed immigrants to our shores, we opened railroads to the west, we landed a man on the moon, and we heard a King’s call to let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done. Today we are called once more — and it is time for our generation to answer that call.

These messages work, particularly after years in a given political alignment. So the Republicans might consider making like the Whigs, and stealing their opponents’ playbook. The Whigs nominated military vets, following Jackson, for reasons of electability.  Republicans today might want to consider nominating the youthful, vigorous candidate, to present a contrast against Hillary Clinton, who has been in the public eye for the better part of three decades.

It would be out of character for Republicans to go this route; they’ve nominated the older candidate in all but one election since 1972.

Year Republican Age Democrat Age Diff
1960 Richard Nixon 47 John F. Kennedy 43 +4
1964 Barry Goldwater 55 Lyndon Johnson 56 -1
1968 Richard Nixon 55 Hubert Humphrey 57 -2
1972 Richard Nixon 59 George McGovern 50 +9
1976 Gerald Ford 66 Jimmy Carter 52 +14
1980 Ronald Reagan 69 Jimmy Carter 56 +13
1984 Ronald Reagan 73 Walter Mondale 56 +17
1988 George H.W. Bush 64 Michael Dukakis 55 +9
1992 George H.W. Bush 68 Bill Clinton 46 +22
1996 Bob Dole 73 Bill Clinton 50 +23
2000 George W. Bush 54 Al Gore 52 +2
2004 George W. Bush 58 John Kerry 61 -3
2008 John McCain 69 Barack Obama 47 +22
2012 Mitt Romney 65 Barack Obama 51 +14

Essentially, like the Whigs, the Republicans should consider emulating the successes of their opponents. But they also might want to learn from the Whig Party’s decline.

The Whig Party’s policy agenda was exhausted in the early 1850s. The Whig policy agenda essentially surrounded Clay’s American System: high tariffs needed to fund subsidies for the construction of major infrastructure projects. This was a persuasive argument, but the facts on the ground had changed by the 1850s. Michael Holt, perhaps the leading scholar of the American Whig Party, describes the situation as follows as follows:

Since 1849 the economy had been soaring even without Whigs’ governmental programs, primarily because of a huge increase in the specie supply fueled by the California gold strikes and by truly unprecedented British investment in the American economy. … Much of the British investment, in turn, went into railroad stocks and bonds, funding a spectacular construction boom that tripled the amount of track in operation from 6,000 to 18,000 miles between 1849 and 1854. Railroad construction itself had important stimulative multiplier effects. It provided markets for and thereby revived the previously prostrate iron and coal industries. It gave jobs to at least some among the swelling tide of European immigrants. It allowed cheaper and faster movement of agricultural goods and thus increased the productive acreage and profits of farmers.

Together these and other developments undercut the rationale for Whigs’ program and eliminated many of the specific issues Democrats and Whigs had fought over since 1837. (685-686)

So the Whig Party, founded essentially as a coalition of groups opposed to Jacksonian economics, had found its issues overcome by events. Exogenous shocks–namely the California gold rush and massive investment from Britain–had provided the capital that the Whig insisted needed to come from government. It never recovered. The Democrats thumped the Whigs in 1852, and the Whigs faded into nonexistence. As the old issues faded, the newly relevant slavery–Seward’s irrepressible conflict–and the role of the federal government in the territories, were the issues around which the next American party system was founded. The Whigs’ overall economic orientation largely dominated the new Republican Party–Lincoln even said that there was “no difference” between the Republican economic program and Henry Clay’s old program. But until the emphasis and the issue constellation changed, the Whigs were doomed.

(An aside: I suspect Lincoln might have been advised not to use that line after the fact. The Whigs, after all, were the minority party in the Second Party System, and the Republicans only had a majority with the support of Democrats who had opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Hence why Democrat Lyman Trumball, and not Whig Abraham Lincoln, won the Illinois Senate election of 1854.)

All of this is to say that there is a parallel between the Whig experience of the early 1850s and the Republican Party’s current situation.

Although marginal rate cuts were a welcome antidote to some of the economic problems of the 1970s, today’s economic issues will likely not be solved by moving the top rate down a few percentage points, and they call for different solutions. Even if marginal cuts were the right answer to today’s policy situation, the Republican focus on marginal rate tax cuts has been caricatured as tax cuts for the wealthy and does not poll well. Really, stagnant take-home pay and income insecurity are the main issues, and Republicans need to craft solutions to address those concerns. Most of the policy debate in the party currently is over a program that has been dubbed “reform conservatism,” which seeks to refocus the party on issues that they deem more germane to the current concerns of the broader American public.

The 1850s Whig platform is not quite analogous, but the fact is that it is quite arguable that part of the Republican Party’s difficulties in national elections over the last few cycles has been the party’s failure to put forward an agenda that matches the concerns of the population. “You didn’t build that!” was compelling for Republicans who love to tweak President Obama, but it wasn’t a message that resonated with the broader populace. Reform conservative Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry sums it up well: “2012 was a ‘Generic Republican’ campaign, and Generic Republican campaigns lose.” (Gobry’s piece incidentally, is probably the best description and defense of the reformocon program that I have seen online.)

Of all the declared candidates, Marco Rubio is the one most clearly on the side of the reform conservatives. He has been at the center of various reform conservative initiatives in the Senate, and his campaign site is already hinting at a similar agenda (though, in fairness, his issue pages have not yet been built out very much).

Rubio is also young and telegenic. He can draw the generational contrast with the older Hillary Clinton, emulating what Democrats did so successfully in 1960, 1992, and 2008.

The Whigs, then, might have argued that Rubio is the right nominee for the Republican Party.

**Lincoln’s speech against the Democratic nominee from 1848, general and expansionist Lewis Cass, is probably the most entertaining speech Lincoln ever gave. It is simultaneously uproarious and devastating. I unfortunately couldn’t come up with a way to fit it into the narrative, but that’s a far better read than anything else in this article.

***All citations of Michael Holt come from his The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Cover image from Wikimedia Commons, by N. Currier (firm) [Public domain].

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176 thoughts on “Memo from the American Whig Party

  1. Good post

    The Whig Party’s policy agenda was exhausted in the early 1850s

    It’s also just as easy to argue that the Whig’s Party agenda was thoroughly co-opted by the end of the 40s, leaving the Whigs superfluous. To the extent they even had an agenda – as you say, the Whigs were always most defined as the hodgepodge coalition of ‘not-Jackson’ that emerged after the Era of Good Feelings.

    When Polk got the country back onto a firm financial footing and made the final peace with Britain, that accomplished two main ‘right wing’ policy objectives going back to the founding of the Federalist Party. And pretty much the opposite of what Andy Jackson felt about the two issues.

    Similarly, railroad technology made the primary foci of the American System – canals and roads – virtually obsolete (or at least, made canals deeply uncompetitive unless connecting major waterways, and made roads uncompetitive until the automobile burst onto the scene) . With a more flexible geography (more separated from watersheds and esp interstate boundaries), and a lot quicker return on investment, railroad building politics became a different sort of thing and accomplished in a decade what Hamilton and Clay had been trying to do all their political lives.

    One shouldn’t forget the completely atrocious Whig leadership either, particularly their habit of dying in office. Harrison wouldn’t wear a fishin coat, Tyler should have never got a Whig leadership position to begin with given his views, Zach Taylor may have wound up being a blah President had he not died from eating too much ice cream (and the crisis of 1850 would have loomed large in any case), but Millard Fillmore was probably the man most *not* cut out for the job in American history. But still, slavery broke the Whigs apart even before it broke apart the Democrats.

    Edit: There’s still an important lesson and parallel here that goes to your main point. If the center of political gravity for the Democratic Party is or becomes white collar middle income professionals, the Republican Party is every bit as superfluous as the Whigs in 1852 were.

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    • This is a great comment, top to bottom. The co-option thing is definitely another angle that could be explored, and I think Holt does do so at points in his massive history.

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  2. “Zach Taylor may have wound up being a blah President had he not died from eating too much ice cream”

    It wasn’t ice cream, it was unwashed cherries, likely infected with salmonella (given his symptoms).

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  3. I’d find it more persuasive if I had any reason to believe that the reformicon movement was anything more than fingernail deep. Scratch reformican proposals with your fingernail, though and it’s just Bush&Reganomics under the paint. I’d also note that the base of the party (you know, those people who elect the nominee) have only let Rubio come in from the cold after he spent the better part of two years prostrating himself for his apostasy on immigration.
    So sure if the GOP was actually seriously considering the reformicon agenda that’d be good for the party and the country but in reality it doesn’t look like the GOP is seriously moving in that direction at all outside of Douthat’s hopeful dreams.

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    • This is my concern as well, that the party hardliners will just refuse to embrace or support any position besides the rigid ones that they’ve held for decades.

      Rubio might be a better candidate, but unless he has a significant Come To Jesus moment, the hardliners will never let him have a shot at becoming the leader of the nation, or the party.

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            • Did it? You’d figure Rockefeller himself would have become the standard bearer if that was the case, but instead it was Nixon, who was only on the national stage to begin with because he was the peace offering to conservatives when Ike got the top of the ticket in ’52. Nixon did govern, um, idiosyncratically, but that directly led to Reagan completing his twenty year project to take over the party.

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            • I think Kolohe has the better end of this argument (and he’s actually pushed me a bit on this topic to his point of view). If someone like Ted Cruz wins the nomination, I think the primary lesson drawn will be “I need to be more like Ted Cruz to win the nomination” and the pretzeling will get worse and not better.

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              • But the flip side of that argument is that Nixon’s and Reagan’s first presidential contest victories (and even Ike’s to some extent) required Democratic own goals and a general dissatisfaction with the way things were going. This generating a ‘change’ narrative that was of course only possible with being the party out of power.

                So there’s no path for Cruz in 2016, but against Clinton’s 2020 campaign if something squirrelly happens to the economy right then? He’s got a shot.

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                • Someone with Cruz’s agenda – to the extent that he has a serious one – could. Cruz himself? I am more skeptical. I think someone else would be required to carry it out. I don’t think Goldwater himself would have failed where Reagan succeeded. (Nixon is kind of a complicated cases.)

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              • I am looking closer at home, I confess. The GOP has nominated squishes, McCain and Romneybot respectively, predominantly on the establishment putting their foot down on the wingnuts and says “seriously guys we need to consider electability”. They’ve both lost and the GOP has gotten more frenetic and lathered each time with midterm resurgences reinforcing that. I don’t see how nominating another moderate would change the dynamic whereas if a Cruz or Walker got the nod and lost big and was followed up by a midterm loss that would, I would assume, jolt the GOP out of its rut and give reformicons some actual oomph to their proposals instead of them being used as parsley on the same ol’ turd sandwiches that Ryan has been serving up as policy.

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                • That worked briefly in 1964 but ultimately Goldwater led the way for the modern right-wing. There was an essay in politico a while ago about how the conventional wisdom on the 1964 GOP primary is wrong. Rockefeller did not lose because of his divorce, Rockefeller lost because he was too liberal on civil rights:

                  http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/05/happy-nelson-rockefeller-wife-barry-goldwater-gop-racist-118298.html#.VYB4tufzlPM

                  Rockefeller was forced out of the Veep ticket in 1976 because of his liberalism and this might have been a good choice for Ford.

                  Your optimism is admirable but I don’t see why a Goldwater type lost would teach the GOP the correct message this time.

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                  • Madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results. It’d be crazy to expect the GOP to change if they nominate a squish and lose. Anyone to the left of Paul Ryan would have to be batshit insane to be sanguine at the prospect of the GOP taking the presidency (they just need someone to rubberstamp what they pass through the House and Senate). So that leaves them nominating a wingnut and losing for me to root for. Obviously them nominating a wingnut and winning would be worse, but not a lot worse, and frankly it’s a lot less likely than them nominating a squish and winning.

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                    • The thing is, if Jeb Bush wins the nomination without pretzeling (and it looks like he’s not going to play that game), the Tea Party is done even if Jeb loses by 8 points. Fear of the base in 2020 will be non-existent.

                      If Walker wins the nod, but loses the general, it may weaken the argument that a True Conservative can win but would also instill fear in future establishment candidates. Ditto Perry and especially Cruz.

                      Rubio is kind of the wild card. Depends on how he got the nomination.

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                      • I think Rubio has exactly a 0% chance of getting the nomination, absent virtually every other candidate committing seppuku.

                        I’m not saying he’s a bad candidate. I’m just saying he’s a poor fit for the actual GOP primary voters, and honestly I’d expect him to do worse than either McCain or Romney did against Hillary anyways. (And I suspect the GOP is aware of that). I just don’t see him as a credible candidate.

                        OTOH, I don’t see Jeb overcoming his legacy. Walker, Brownback, and Jindal have the millstones of their own state’s around their neck — their very orthodoxy as ‘true Republicans’ would kill them in the general election.

                        So maybe Rubio remains standing, disliked but at least not disqualified. He has spent the last few years publicly and severely repenting his flirtation with mild moderation.

                        But what’s he offer than Romney didn’t? Besides “He’s younger”? Moreover, how’s he — candidate or not — going to be able to shape the platform?

                        To be honest, both Jeb and Rubio would be stuck with a primary record of tossing out red meat, and probably stuck continuing to do it in the general to a base that distrusts them.

                        You can’t moderate the platform when you’re viewed as a potential sell-out from the get-go.

                        *sigh*. Rubio strikes me as trying to put lipstick on a pig, except someone took his lipstick. He’s just miming it.

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                        • Morat, I would get very nervous is Hill-dog was lined up against Rubio. I would very much prefer Walker, Cruz or Bush lined up against her (in ascending order of preference). She is emphatically far from a perfect candidate and I’d like to rake up every advantage we can get.

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                          • I would be nervous about the Marco Rubio who was sworn in on January 4th, 2011. The four years Rubio has done prostrating himself to the far right means he has much of the same policy positions as Walker, Cruz, or Bush do in the long run.

                            Ya’ know what they call you if you only win 51.2% of the vote versus 52.2% of the vote? Mrs. President.

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                        • Somebody has to win the nomination.

                          The thing about Jeb is that I don’t think he has any interest in tossing around red meat on issues critical to the base. That’s why his getting the nomination would be so devastating. It would mean that they can’t stop anybody.

                          I understand that Rubio won’t get your vote, and that you see minimal virtue in him. You are not the target audience. Personally, I think a lot depends on how he gets the nomination. He could pretzel himself out of general election viability, or he could walk that fine line.

                          Or maybe your apparent belief that Hillary Clinton is utterly invulnerable is correct. I think we’ll have a better idea a year from now., and until then there are Republicans with a better chance of winning and Republicans with a worse chance of winning.

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                          • I neither think Hillary is invulnerable, nor is my lack of interest in voting for Rubio why I think he won’t win.

                            I think his own party’s base’s lack of interest in him why he won’t be the nominee.

                            I think he will lose in the general to Hillary, yes. But I also think it’s incredibly moot, since — well, I don’t think the GOP is willing to pull the trigger for a poor man’s version of Romney 2.0, not with such recent and egregious sins on his record.

                            This year is shaping up to be quite the show. I expect quite a bit of blood on the floor.

                            I actually find it ironic, really. 2000-2008 was so bad that the wide, argumentative tend of the Democratic party said “Anyone is better than a Republican” and meant it. Meanwhile, the GOP is falling apart as “Anyone is better than a Democrat” doesn’t work as well and the knives are coming out over who is or isn’t a RINO.

                            Again, the work of the mid-cycle elections. That little quirk is seriously hurting the GOP long-term.

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                            • Morat, I was specifically referring to his general election appeal. If you’re relatively certain that he will lose (and Walker and Jeb) will lose, then it comes across to me that you see HRC as being invulnerable, except to an imaginary candidate. Or imaginary nominee John Kasich or something.

                              Jesse, Rubio was initially elected as the “conservative alternative” (if not the Tea Party candidate, close to it). That’s what makes him such a wild card and why how he gets the nomination is so important. Either side can claim him, both sides can, and neither side can (in which case, obviously, he wouldn’t get the nod). In any event, his announcement speech was pretty well-centered. My wife – knowing little about him – said he sounded like a Democrat.

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                              • , sure. But, he was conservative in the way the middle likes (taxes and regulations are bad), but not conservative in the way the middle doesn’t like (let’s work to get Manuel’s Grandma thrown out of the country).

                                As for his announcement speech, I have zero doubt of that. But, I guess announcement speech Marco will sound a lot different from Republican Debate Death March Marco, and I’m sure the various Hillary SuperPAC’s will be reminding voters like your wife the very conservative things ole’ Marco, Jeb, and everyone else will end up supporting to win the primary.

                                After all, the Mitt Romney who brought universal health care to Massachusetts and governed in a bipartisan way in that very blue state was a dangerous nominee. The Mitt Romney who had to promise to be severely conservative wasn’t really a problem for Obama outside of the day or two after the first debate.

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                                • Jesse, One of the reasons Rubio got so much blowback on his early support for comprehensive immigration reform was that he expressly argued that the path to citizenship is legal immigration.

                                  He may indeed pull a Romney, which takes me back to my original point: how he wins the nomination is critically important. When he had the opportunity to make a True Conservative case in his announcement speech, he didn’t. So it’s not a foregone conclusion. (Also a factor: Rubio may have more to lose by winning the nomination and losing the general, than he does losing the nomination. That wasn’t true of Romney in 2012, whose insecurity was I think in part influenced by that fact.)

                                  Morat, right now I’m not seeing anything that disqualifies him the same way that the writing is increasingly on the wall for John Kasich (who I briefly thought had a chance). That could change if he does a Full Huntsman, just like it could change if Jesse is right and he does a Full Heisenberg. Right now, at least, neither of those are the campaign he is running and his polling numbers are up in the first tier without the low ceiling that, say, Rand Paul and Huck have.

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                                  • I think something to keep in mind is we live in the age of YouTube and ubiquitous cellphones.

                                    I think that’s changed the landscape more than most people think, especially politicians.

                                    I don’t know if the old paths — of throwing meat to the base them walking back to moderation for the general — work as well when your opponent can pull up videos of you stumping for the Faithful, as it were.

                                    Sure, you can emphasize different parts of your platform — but if you had to go out off the deep end to establish your bona fides, that doesn’t vanish into the woodwork.

                                    Even back in the day, reporters didn’t cover that sort of thing closely — and even if they did, it was in print (you didn’t say it on camera or on the record!).

                                    I’m thinking Romney’s 47% comment, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nodding along when someone asks an insane question at a rally, rather than giving a WTF, are you crazy? look, for instance. Everything from red meat meant for small rallies trying to get the radicals in line to fundraising statements — it’s more and more there, for anyone to watch. (And it opens up lots of lines of attacks, not just on the content, but on what you ‘really’ think)

                                    Obama, and Clinton, both have the benefit of the moment of having a party that is basically “Anyone is better than the GOP” and with such a wide tent that their primary campaigns didn’t have to go very far from their general election pitches. Clinton and Obama argued over HOW to do healthcare — not over whether to do it.

                                    The GOP has a base that’s pretty extreme, and has been demanding candidates show they’re not RINOs.

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                                    • The Republican Party is doing a good job prepping their candidates for certain media questions where they need to be careful about how precisely they respond.

                                      They’re definitely going to need something similar for handling questions from party members. (“How to redirect the crazy thing they just said into something that you can support and that sounds reasonable.”)

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                                      • Maybe the party is, but….I think the GOP consultant’s industry MIGHT just be a con.

                                        Jeb shouldn’t have taken almost two weeks to answer a question about Iraq and his brother. It was the most predictable question you can imagine, and he was..unprepared.

                                        Despite having snapped up some big names in the GOP Presidential staff circuit.

                                        I’m wondering if something about having the ego to run for President means you’re less likely to listen to your staff peons. And since there’s fewer repeat candidates, there’s less time to learn your lesson that maybe these guys know what they’re doing more than you do…

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                              • Oh no, first off, until the votes are counted it’s pretty much up in the air.

                                I don’t see Hillary as in invulnerable so much as the GOP system set up to produce weak candidates right now.

                                Romney, had he not run in 2012, I think might have had a solid shot.

                                Honestly, I consider Clinton simply a good candidate (as in competent, a decent favorable/unfavorable spread for how well known she is, and an experienced campaigner. In short, she’s unlikely to have skeletons hidden in her closet nor make big mistakes) not a great one.

                                I just look at the GOP field and don’t see anyone stand out.

                                Although I think your wife may have put her finger on my problem with Rubio: Do you really think the GOP primary is conducive to someone who sounds suspiciously Democratic?

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                        • “Rubio has exactly a 0% chance of getting the nomination, absent virtually every other candidate committing seppuku. ”

                          I’m not disagreeing, but I would like to see that with my own eyes.

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                          • I dunno, maybe he’ll pull last man standing like Romney did, after everyone else has stabbed each other to death.

                            I think Jeb is better positioned for that, though.

                            I honestly expect Walker to come through, although if he does he’s dogmeat in the general election. He’s acceptable to the base, and at first glance he looks like a scrappy fighter (and winning that recall makes him look both ‘moderate’ and a ‘winner’).

                            I think second or third glance will kill him, though.

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                      • I’m more interested, Will, in seeing the base nominate their candidate, lose hard and then absorb that information. The party elite already knows/fears that a wingnut candidate will lose bad. The Party won’t get out of its rut unless the base learns that lesson too and there’s only one way I can see the GOP base getting that message.

                        As for the establishment candidates, I don’t care how afraid they are of their base. They’ve already demonstrated how bad a GOP establishment candidate can be, I’m skeptical a GOP wingnut administration would be much worse. The foreign policy architects of Iraq are the GOP establishment. Fish em.

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                    • Exactly. And what have they done the last two cycles? Nominated the safe candidate, the non-TP candidate in first McCain and then Romney; neither was pure enough. This cycle, Bush seems the safe choice, and thats exactly whey I think he’ll end up dropping out when it’s obvious he’s not going to win the nomination.

                      I think the GOP has to go there and pray to whatever gods or spirits our spiritual blessings you believe in that they lose when they do.

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                    • “They remembered everything and learned nothing”-Talleyrand on the reaccession of the House of Bourbon after the defeat of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna.

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                    • It’d be crazy to expect the GOP to change if they nominate a squish and lose.

                      Well, some of us don’t see the problem with the GOP nominating squishes that won’t win elections.

                      But, maybe that’s just me. ;)

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                  • “Rockefeller was forced out of the Veep ticket in 1976 because of his liberalism and this might have been a good choice for Ford.”

                    Dole was never much of a firebrand, and had long had a comfort level with ‘conservatives’ and ‘moderates’ by the time he was VP. Ford lost because the Dems nominated a moderate Southern governor at the time that mattered most (blah economy and shifting political sands on race) and of course because of the Nixon stench.

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    • “I’d find it more persuasive if I had any reason to believe that the reformicon movement was anything more than fingernail deep. Scratch reformican proposals with your fingernail, though and it’s just Bush&Reganomics under the paint. ”

      Seconded. And by now Rubio has worked hard to make it clear that in the end he’s just a young, Hispanic version of the GOP same old same old.

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  4. Great essay Dan.

    I guess you can say that the aging nature of the Republican Party does make them a Wig Party though. Couldn’t resist, sorry.

    North hits on the right point but our prospectives are partisan. Reformacon seems more or less like a new coat of paint over the same old ideas rather than an actual attempt to revive the Republican party.

    There are plenty of young or younger Republicans like Rubio, Walker, Ryan, some newer members of Congress are in their 30s. There are young Republican journalists. These people are all still very socially conservative though. The social conservatism is really what is going to turn off a lot of people to the Republican party. My girlfriend is fairly business minded. She could probably be convinced to vote for a Rockefeller type of Republican but those people are long gone. There is still a huge risk about getting eaten alive for candidates who try to shed the cultural and social issues. Walker might be primarily known for his Union busting but he is also deeply socially conservative in a way that does not attract younger voters. Rubio might be slightly better on immigration than many Republicans but he is still a social conservative for other fields.

    There was a time during the mid 50s to early 60s when the Democratic and Republican Parties were fighting to be the party for civil rights. The Democratic Party won, the South fled the party, and the modern parties emerged.

    2016 is not 1992 for the Democrats. They can win by appealing to their base. The GOP needs their Franklin Graham moment but it is a long time coming.

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    • I’ve been saying for some time that the Republicans need to reform themselves. Thoughtful Republicans have said back to me that they generally agree, but they do not want to reform to become “Lite Democrats.” They want to reform to become a newer, better Republican Party.

      Nor do they want to reform to the point that the old guard, the ranks of all voters motivated by socially conservative issues, get squeezed out of their support base. They feel they cannot do without these voters, and these contributors. The newer generation of Republicans also seems to have embraced at least certain points of the social conservative agenda on its own.

      The newer generation of Republicans also seems to have embraced at least certain points of the social conservative agenda on its own. While they are willing to flirt with a variety of policy solutions to immigration, like @dan-scotto’s sweetheart Marco Rubio, they remain basically opposed to the idea of permitting large-scale immigration into the country. While they may not care as much about same-sex marriage as their older counterparts, they do care that people attend church regularly, both for moral and community-building reasons.

      Those of us on the outside of this phenomenon, especially those who self-identify as liberal or progressive, need to bear in mind that as conservatives reform themselves, they are going to reform themselves into conservatives. This is a process by which they seek contemporary solutions to contemporary problems, not a process by which they simply shift left on the spectrum. This is what “forward” looks like on the right. Maybe the results of the process aren’t to your taste, but it’s a good thing that it’s happening, because our system of government and our Manichean political culture requires a contest of viable ideas in the public forum to propel the molding of public policy to meet present challenges.

      So kudos to and the rest of the conservatives swooning over Marco Rubio and Rand Paul and their ilk, for saying “yesterday’s solutions may not work for today’s problems” and trying to come up with their own new ideas.

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      • I actually do not think this is true that reforming conservatives need to remain socially conservative. In fact, I thin that remaining socially conservative is going to cause long term harm to the Republican Party even though it helps them in the short term.

        European conservative didn’t like the social changes of the 1960s anymore than American conservatives. The Tories rallied against the permissive society and counter-culture. The Christian Democrats on the continent didn’t like declining church attendance. They remained relevant by coming to peace with the 1960s and finding a way to live with the changes. American conservatives can’t seem to do this for some reason. Their social conservatism and devotion to harsh law and order politics is alienating many young Americans, particularly young Americans of color. This is going to hurt them really soon.

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          • I’ll have a hard time calling them social conservative when half the social conservatives are Democrats. That’s why I say they’d do better winning the Christian Democrats than keeping the social conservatives. They don’t actually have the social conservatives. They may have most of the statist social conservatives, but that’s a different thing.

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          • I’m sure the European conservative parties wanted to remain socially conservative to and only liberalized on social issues gradually and grudgingly. If the Republicans want to remain politically relevant in the long run, they need to give up social conservative just like how the Labour Party had to give up national ownership of key industries and other hardline socialist economics to remain relevant.

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              • I mean yes. Remaining tough on crime is going to be a lot less hurtful of Republican electoral prospects than being anti-LGBT or advocating for abstinence only sex education. Republicans can argue that everybody can be a victim of crime and that they are the party to protect people. Repeatedly doubling down on LGBT issues just makes the GOP seem mean-spirited and out of place in modern society.

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                • Policy parts. Most specifically, “What positions do we expect our party leaders to take, and how fervently do we want them to act on it?”

                  Well, there’s a degree to which the Republicans need to do a better job of regionalizing than they do (than that the Democrats do, though they themselves have been de-regionalizing a bit), but that’s sort of a different topic and part of a broader one.

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                  • Do you agree with my assessment that the young writers at the Federalist and Washington Free Beacon are just as socially conservative as their elders?

                    They seemed to find all the young people who were very anti-SSM.

                    Now these young conservatives might be less churchy and somewhat more urban than previous generations of Republicans but they don’t seem any less socially conservative. And often in ways that seem downright throwback.

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                    • I think it’s important to remember that there are often two separate strands interwoven on these types of sites.

                      The first strand is what I might refer to as the True Believer Strand. The second strand is the Oppose For the Sake of Opposing Strand. Especially in the Age of Obama, that second strand has become a powerful voice, and it’s not always so easy to parse out what positions these writers actually believe, and which they are taking and drawing hard lines on just because they hate liberals and liberals don’t like those positions.

                      If HRC came out tomorrow for, say, a no-SSM constitutional amendment, a lot of these voices would cheer her on — but I suspect that an equal number would suddenly become very pro-SSM.

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                      • mentions Sonny Bunch below (I can’t believe that this is his real name but I digress.) Bunch seems like the trollish short who opposes things just to be the opposite of liberals.

                        This brings up the Cleek’s law observation: “Conservatives oppose whatever liberals are for. Updated daily.”

                        This makes me wonder, what are conservatives for? Why is their hatred for liberals so rabid? Will asked a non-trolling question on facebook a few weeks ago about who Democrats would want as the nominee if HRC is incapacitated in some way and needs to drop out of the race. One guy Will knows responded with a picture of the UC-Davis cop pepper spraying demonstrators. The caption said something like Be Liberal, Elsewhere.

                        This is quite an open (but honest) hostility against liberals.

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                        • People like the one in Will’s post are relics of the Cold War, where the Democratic Party’s liberalism was seen at best as being a mild form of communism. These people have so closely linked the full-throttled free market, private property, and America that anything that seeks to regulate the economy in any way is seen as evil.

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                    • Both the Federalist and WFB have people who favor SSM or at least not opposed to it. The National Review has run pieces in favor of SSM. And even among those who do oppose it, many oppose it on a somewhat different basis and one that is a lot less committed.

                      A biproduct of Bake Their Cake is that it has given them something to line up behind. For a while, at least. It’s been a bit of a setback in that regard.

                      But I’ve actually been kind of surprised by the number of writers like Sonny Bunch who say, quite nonchalantly, that they’re not especially opposed to gay marriage in principle. That’s different than it was ten years ago, and lays the groundwork to be even more different.

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            • This is right. The Republican problem isn’t necessarily that they are more socially conservative than the Democratic Party but that they are socially conservative in away that is alienating for a lot of people because their stance on LGBT issues or even premarital sex and light drug use. They don’t have to go all out hedonistic and everything goes but they need to find a broader version of social conservatism. Something more bourgeois.

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        • I think it’s also not the case that the Republican party is married to “harsh law and order politics.” Republican lawmakers and governors, especially at the state level, and with the guidance, blessing, and funding of the Kochs, are seriously digging into criminal justice reform. Perhaps Nebraska tells us they aren’t ready to abandon the death penalty, or perhaps it tells us only that the Governor of Nebraska isn’t on board with the criminal justice reform movement. But it is clear enough to me that a new generation of Republican lawmakers are willing to seriously entertain and proposed forms of punishment, interdiction, and rehabilitation for crimes that don’t involve incarceration.

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          • There are some Republicans interested in criminal justice reform but I think the evidence tends to show that most, including the Republican electorate, are still in the law and order and war on drugs camp.

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            • It’s not just “some Republicans” but “The State of Texas” and “The State of Utah”, at least in some contexts. Depends in part by what you mean “tough on crime” but “Right on Crime” has actually made some serious progress.

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              • I’ll make the cynical argument, that it’s a lot easier to be for criminal justice reform and other things when you know you’re going to win anyway.

                Also, most of the red states aren’t pushing this as criminal justice reform. They’re pushing it as saving the state money. Unfortunately, if you’re in a more purple or blue state, the way Republican’s think they can shift that 48% to 52% in an election is to basically paint the Democrat’s as tools of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and a bunch of angry thugs who want to come in and steal stuff from the suburbs.

                I mean, I regularly visit a site (rrhelections.com, formerly redracinghorses) that’s a pretty good elections blog from the right, mainly as a sort of a sanity check to make sure I’m being super pessimistic or optomistic about things.

                And frankly, compared to say, the National Review or even Federalist commenters, they’re all relatively sane and seem to be in the OT demographic (early 30’s to mid 40’s, educated, etc.), but almost all of them are very resistant to any kind of criminal justice reform and indeed, think a way to win back the suburbs is to attack the Democrat’s for being soft on crime.

                These aren’t dumb guys. Most of them didn’t buy into the poll skewing non sense and understood Obama was likely to win in the last few days of the election. But, on this issue, despite being largely around our age, they still write like mid-80’s Republican’s on the issue, which tells me, even among the intellectual base of the party, not everybody has bought into criminal justice reform.

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                • I don’t disagree with much of anything you say here, Jesse. As long as tough on crime is politically advantageous, they’ll probably go for it.

                  The more interesting things to me, though, are that they have an open mind otherwise and an indication that they may not stick with it if it’s a political loser. They’re not married to it, and it’s not something they seem to fear being primaried over.

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                  • The more interesting things to me, though, are that they have an open mind otherwise and an indication that they may not stick with it if it’s a political loser.

                    Eg, Jeb! on Latinos and immigration reform. (In his case, it’s not just political realities (aka, cynicism) but because he really believes he can get latino voters on board.)

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            • Modulo some regional effects. Assume approval of medical marijuana is a leading indicator. Here’s a population cartogram of the 48 contiguous states with states that have approved MM in green. Add to that a bill introduced by a Republican to legalize MM in Utah failed by one vote in their Senate this year, and the Republican governor there has now said he’s open to the idea, given adequate regulation. MM polls quite high in Wyoming (legalizing recreational use doesn’t) and NORML will probably have an initiative to legalize it on the ballot there in 2016.

              The NE isn’t a surprise, but the steadily greening west is almost as big a block of people, some pretty solidly Republican.

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                • Regional as well as individual states, I think. I don’t believe it’s an accident that red Arizona and blue California both decided to take redistricting away from their legislatures. I don’t believe it’s an accident that both red and blue states have passed serious renewable electricity requirements [1]. The governors of the eleven states in “Cain’s WSA” cooperate on more things through the Western Governors Association than any other group of regional states that I know of (eg, they are actively discussing a regional air fleet for fighting wildfires, including on federally managed public lands, because non-western Republicans in Congress keep threatening to cut the Forest Service’s fleet even farther).

                  [1] The states without such mandates are like Idaho, where 75% of in-state generation is renewable hydro, or like Wyoming, which looks really bad but two-thirds of their coal-fired electricity is consumed in Oregon and Washington.

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          • Perhaps Nebraska tells us they aren’t ready to abandon the death penalty, or perhaps it tells us only that the Governor of Nebraska isn’t on board with the criminal justice reform movement.

            A friend there tells me that a recent public opinion poll put support for getting rid of the death penalty at 58% in Nebraska. That’s probably within margin of error of the 30-of-49 vote to override the governor’s veto in the Unicameral. Some of it is that it’s straightforward to “primary” the governor and the AG from the right; the non-partisan aspects of the Unicameral built into the state constitution make it much more difficult to “primary” the legislators.

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        • American conservatives can’t seem to do this for some reason.

          The reason is two words: Fox News.

          Fox News has pretty much done irreparable harm to the Republican party by making the base as hardline as possible in their attempt for ratings. Fox News will probably go down in history as a cautionary tale of how to destroy your party.(1)

          And newly-minted pols, seeing the advantage of that system, have hurtled themselves as far right as possible, which might have been a clever idea if the Republican base was 60% of the population.Sadly for them, it’s 30%. At this point the lower ranks of the party are full of true believers, infected with a sort of fanaticism that does not actually match the *population* at all (Except the aformentioned Republican base.), and that’s going to take a *hell* of a long time to work its way out.

          It’s rendered the party unable to bend at all, leaving the only option I can see is to eventually break.

          (And by ‘Fox News’ I sorta mean the entire right-wing noise machine. But the party could live with fringe-y Limbaugh with a radio show, at least until Fox came along.)

          Their social conservatism and devotion to harsh law and order politics is alienating many young Americans, particularly young Americans of color. This is going to hurt them really soon.

          …soon?

          1) OTOH, it occupied an interesting unique position in media, where suddenly more television channels were possible, but before the internet. I’m not quite sure Fox News could happen even *now*. On the third hand, I’m not sure what would happen wouldn’t be even worse.

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          • American conservatives were unable to make peace with the 1960s long before Fox News existed. On a Facebook thread, there was a deeply mangled post blaming the Great Society for the break down of public morality in the 1960s and legalized abortion.

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            • American conservatives were unable to make peace with the 1960s long before Fox News existed.

              American conservatives *had not yet* made peace with the 1960s before Fox News was created and rendered them unable to ever do so.

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      • I don’t disagree with what you are saying here but I think Lee has a very strong and interesting point down below. The conservatives of Europe seemed to more or less accept defeat over the various social revolutions in the 1960s. Angela Merkl’s party is not to my liking but they don’t seem to have the rabid social conservatism of the Republican party. If I were a UK citizen, I probably would have voted for Labour but by American standards the Tories are great and true defenders of the welfare state.

        In the United States, the Republican Party (large parts of it) seems absolutely devoted to a complete dismantling of the New Deal. This makes the Democratic Party conservative in some ways because they are fighting for the preservation of programs that are between 80-90 years old.

        There is still a strong revanchist movement among American Conservatives including the younger ones. Rubio is decent on immigration. Paul is decent on criminal justice matters and anti-NSA stuff but he is still a firm Republican whose instincts are too blame taxes first. Look how Louisiana and Kansas are suffering through extreme ideological rigor about not being able to raise taxes.

        You mention Nebraska’s governor having a spat below and how is basically willing to violate the law to get his way. I think the authoritarian element of the Republican Party is large and going to get worse before it gets better.

        , why do you think European conservatives made peace with the 1960s in ways that American conservatives did not?

        BTW, Douthat is basically considered a joke by most liberals and usually mocked whenever he publishes something.

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        • The New Deal AND, well, everything from the 60s. Quite a few of them are still fighting over the sixties, and that was 50 years ago.

          I’m pretty sure the GOP would love to moderate. If nothing else, losing because they seem too extreme puts a real crimp in the agenda.

          But the problem is pretty simple: The base doesn’t want to moderate, and the base controls the primaries (which controls a lot of the shape of the party, even if the base doesn’t always get it’s way with big office candidates they’ve swung a lot of Senators and Representatives and State-level officials) and their reactionary base is big.

          It’s a local minima problem. Moderating will COST them votes before it loses them votes, which means they can’t move — even if there’s more votes on the horizon, they can’t get there because every direction is worse in the short-term.

          It’s a nasty, nasty, nasty trap they’re stuck in. And I do think that it will take a sizable upset to break them out of it. But I think as long as off-year patterns favor the GOP due to turnout, they’ll never moderate. And from the base’s perspective, why should they? They run extreme candidates in off-years and win. They run ‘moderates’ like Romney in Presidential years and lose. Solution seems straightforward.

          As to the point of the post — Rubio’s got absolutely no chance, whatsoever. He’ll be tossing aside any pretensions of moderation to court the base, and it still won’t do him any good. He’s not exactly a joke candidate, but…he’s not a viable one either.

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          • Here is how I see it:

            1. Big business types like the Koch Brothers are the ones who want to turn back and destroy the New Deal and dislike Climate Change regulations. Many or most of them probably don’t care about social issues like SSM, Abortion, etc.

            2. The Christian Fundamentalist base is getting older or dying but still has a good amount of blood in them. These people largely want to turn back the 1960s but probably like social security and aspects of the New Deal.

            3. There is also a handful of people like Art Pope who fit in categories 1 and 2.

            So you are right that all these groups are dependent on each other and just don’t know what to do. They have probably gerrymandered themselves enough to prevent themselves from the reckoning for a decade or so.

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          • , you have exactly described what is going on and why the GOP can’t change.

            What I think you’ve failed to mention, which is an important thing, is that the republican didn’t just magically become this way. They were carefully taught to be this way over the past two decades by Fox News and similar things. It’s not some *natural* thing.

            They run extreme candidates in off-years and win. They run ‘moderates’ like Romney in Presidential years and lose. Solution seems straightforward.

            …except they don’t actually come out ahead, vote-wise, even in off-years! They just get people elected because of the built-in state jerrymandering for the Senate (Plus weird turn-over patterns), and the deliberate (and going to change in 2020 unless Democrats are morons) jerrymanding for the House.

            But you’re right in that is probably the lesson the Republican base has learned.

            As to the point of the post — Rubio’s got absolutely no chance, whatsoever. He’ll be tossing aside any pretensions of moderation to court the base, and it still won’t do him any good. He’s not exactly a joke candidate, but…he’s not a viable one either.

            I’m not sure *any* Republican has a chance. Half of them seem to be totally fucked at the start, and the other half, as you say, are going to have to play the ‘pander to the base’ game so hard they’re going to lose the general.

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        • This is a really, really good question, and the answer is I haven’t the first damn clue. :)

          Some stabs in the dark, though:

          1. Political geography: US state system has allowed social conservatism to grow more than Europe’s less federalist countries.
          2. Issue salience: European conservatives may have chosen to focus on other issues, perhaps due to the wartime experience.
          3. Religiosity: America has been more religious than Europe for a long while, so there is a more robust foundation for old ideas in the US.

          I wouldn’t know how to rank those factors, or whether they’re remotely close to right, off-hand.

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          • A lot of European countries are more federal than Americans think. Germany, Spain, Austria, Belgium, and to an extent Italy have weak to strong federal elements. Switzerland is even more federal than the United States. The conservatives in these countries made peace with the 1960s. I don’t think there is a particularly strong link between federalism, centralism, and the strength of social conservatism. Ireland is a centralized European state but remained more socially conservative than the others for decades. They didn’t even really go through the 1960s at all from what I can tell.

            The strongest determining factor seems to be religiosity. Ireland remained a country of devote church-going Catholics for decades as other Europeans were becoming post-Christian or Christmas-Easter Christians. Ireland also remained much more socially conservative than other European countries. The only reason why I’m not entirely sure of this is that European religiosity began to decrease rapidly in the 19th and 20th centuries, long before Europeans and European politically parities became more socially liberal than Americans.

            As to issue salience, European conservatives did rally against the changes of the 1960s when they occurred just like American conservatives. The difference was that when they lost, they accepted it and moved on.

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      • Burt Likko: the ranks of all voters motivated by socially conservative issues, get squeezed out of their support base.

        I think this is something of a rock & a hard place for the current republicans. Those hardline social conservatives are probably not a huge voting base, but they are a financial one. A reformed party that is less concerned with pandering to SoCons would probably win a lot more swing votes, but would raise less money.

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        • I think this is actually wrong. The deep pockets of the party are among the most indifferent to social issues, which is why they line up behind Jeb and Mitt while Huckabee and Santorum candidates struggle to raise money.

          The strength of the social right is their ability to turn out, and the networks they have to convince others to turn out.

          I think the fear that they will stay home is overstated, but that’s at least the perception. And like the fear of being primaried, it will be the perception until it isn’t anymore.

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      • they are going to reform themselves into conservatives. This is a process by which they seek contemporary solutions to contemporary problems, not a process by which they simply shift left on the spectrum. This is what “forward” looks like on the right. Maybe the results of the process aren’t to your taste, but it’s a good thing that it’s happening, because our system of government and our Manichean political culture requires a contest of viable ideas in the public forum to propel the molding of public policy to meet present challenges.

        This is exactly right, . A lot of people on the other side of the aisle look at movement and think it doesn’t actually count until or unless it turns in to something that they could support. But they’re not the target audience.

        And to some extent, we’re talking about a party that remains competitive. From a pure political perspective, it’s unclear on what order the change needs to take place. It probably doesn’t need to be enough to appeal to most of the readership of Ordinary Times.

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    • “Walker might be primarily known for his Union busting ..”

      And for being a red-meat social right-winger to achieve his economic goals, which go far, far beyond union busting.

      Walker is nothing but a hard-right guy with good skin.

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  5. You are totally in the bag for Rubio, aren’t you, Dan? (That’s a good-natured ribbing, of course.) all the same, this post deserves a feature picture of Henry Clay and a promotion to a more prominent spot on the front page because the historical analogies are so good — and unexpected, given that a) Republicans are usually analogized to Tories, not Whigs, and b) at least the more vocal conservative pundits seem to insist that the GOP commands a popular majority (in whatever terms one wishes to frame that).

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    • I’m… sort of in the bag for Rubio, but not entirely.

      1. I think Rubio gives the Republicans the best chance to win.
      2. I think that Rubio has been the most encouraging candidate, in terms of addressing the Republicans’ structural issues on policy.

      But…

      1. I’m not a huge fan of his speaking style. I know it works for him, but I dislike the constant connections to biography, as a personal preference.
      2. I’m concerned about his foreign policy positioning so far; he is more hawkish than I would like.

      I am still in wait-and-see mode, technically, though if the Oregon primary were today, I’d vote for Rubio.

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      • I agree that what the Republicans need is “someone like Marco Rubio,” for the reasons you mention. What they have, however, is the actually existing Marco Rubio, an all-too-obvious beneficiary of Republican-style affirmative action: young, cute, conservative empty suit with no ability to sway the ethnic group from which he has been too quickly promoted, who gets no slack from the base when he tries, and folds like a cardboard suitcase in a rainstorm when the base barks.

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        • That’s been a real problem for the GOP — their “not a white guy” bench is pretty shallow, and the people they push forward seem to be Peter Principle folks. Jindal is currently making a complete fool of himself, for instance. The search for an opponent for Obama when he was a Senator landed on Alan Keyes, for Pete’s sake….

          Like or hate Hillary, she’s not running so the Democrats have a female at the top of the ticket. Warren didn’t have people trying to draft her because of her gender. Nor did Obama get the nod for his race (it undoubtedly played a role in getting him his first big moves on the national stage, as a Senator, but he had the raw talent to do it.

          Rubio at least feels the least like an attempt at tokenism.

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  6. Witnessing the Republican administrations in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Kansas, I would argue that the current base of the party- the downticket officials, candidates and the party activists- don’t see the problems the way Dan does, and therefore don’t see the solutions as the same.

    “Republican focus on marginal rate tax cuts has been caricatured as tax cuts for the wealthy and does not poll well. Really, stagnant take-home pay and income insecurity are the main issues…”

    OK, I agree with that, and you agree with that. Do Scott Walker, Sam Brownback or for that matter the party faithful agree with that?

    All I ever hear is that MOAR tax cuts will solve the stagnating take home pay issue, any day now, for reals.
    That and building the dang wall, this time with alligators and sniper towers. And further cuts to TANF and SNAP. And ending the onerous regulation that makes us like North Korea. And more police to stand up to the massive out of control crime wave sweeping American cities, and allowing God back into the classroom where teachers are free to teach the controversy of the failed theory of evolution and drug testing welfare recipients and most importantly more funding for our hollowed out paper tiger of a military, so we can stand up to ISIS and show them whose God is really the true God.

    But yeah, going with a younger face who isn’t so sweaty is probably a winning strategy. Maybe he and Sarah Palin can twerk onstage and get those kids today excited about the party.

    Edited to add: I note that the one candidate who seems to attract the most excitement among these droopy drawered kids nowadays is Bernie Sanders, the Socialist fossil, who is only slightly more popular than Ellizabeth Warren, everyone’s favorite grandma in tennis shoes.

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    • There are schools of acting that work well no matter the age (if you doubt that politics is a performance…).

      The Democrats can’t even explain what the hell happened between the early 1980’s and now. Let alone how to fix it. (rearguard actions are not fixing it, more ground is lost by the week)

      Give the Republicans a chance, they can’t do worse!

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    • I agree with this. I think that a big problem for the reformacon movement is that they might be pretty small in number. The best reformacon journalists tend to write for dreaded enemy publications like the New York Times (Brooks, Douthat) and Slate.

      My mom will never vote Republican but she really likes David Brooks. I suspect she likes Brooks because he reminds her of the Republicans that she used to know. Republicans like Jacob Javits. Javits used to be the Republican budget guy in the Senate but he was primaried out by D’Amato for being too liberal in 1980. D’Amato was able to stay on until 1998 when he got too conservative for New York. I don’t see New York getting a Republican Senator anytime soon. I will grant that a Republican Senator from New York is more plausible than a Republican senator from California though.

      By contrast, the young writers at the Federalist and the Washington Free Beacon seem to have fully embraced Buckley’s command to conservative is someone who stands “athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” They are quite outsider their generation on issues like LGBT rights and the rest and often seen as jerks and pretentious and arrogant. They seem like entitled douchebros to their Democratic counterparts and we feel like their attitude is “What do you mean I can’t make fun of people for being LGBT?”

      Every now and then you will see someone like Conor F who seems to care about civil liberty and just can’t understand why conservatives aren’t screaming against NSA overreach or police brutality. He doesn’t seem to get that these views might make him an outlier in conservative circles even among young conservatives.

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    • I agree with all of this. Most Republican voters and politicians like their party the way it is. All power to them for this but they are eventually going to face the same problem Labour did during the 1980s. Most of the Labour Party electorate really liked their real-deal socialist party even though they were getting hammered at the polls for seventeen years. Even Margaret Thatcher’s extraordinarily unpopular poll tax didn’t lead to a Labour victory. It took Tony Blair’s modernization and moderation of Labour’s socialism to make Labour electorally viable.

      The GOP does not need to modernize as fast because certain features of the American political system and society give them a lot more protection than the Labour Party got. They are going to lose appeal to more and more young voters on social or even economic issues. Most voters of color do not like the GOP and will probably never vote for them again. Republicans might retain the Senate and House but the Presidency is going to become an elusive goal soon.

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      • Imagine how Scott Walker might respond to a post like this, advising his party to reform and adopt the Dem playbook…

        “I ran a direct assault on the core of the Democratic coalition- public employee unions, college students, people of color and women on assistance, and I challenged the very concept of the New Deal.
        The Dems nationalized the issue, and threw everything they had at me, and I beat them 3 different times, and am now poised to become the Republican standard bearer for the Presidency.
        Reform? You reform when you are failing- Another failure like this, and I will be the most powerful man on Earth.”

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          • Republicans – as far as politics and the government go – are pretty miserable right now. The base is frustrated with the party’s failure to take a hard line and the moderates are frustrated by the extremists.

            Lots of reasons for this. A lot of it coming down to the presidency they don’t have. But a lot of it relates to the last presidency they did have, which set the stage for this in various ways. (It took the subsequent absence of the presidency for this to blow up, though.)

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            • The problem with the GOP is that they are in the ideology trumps facts part of the process.

              The Democratic Party was there once upon a time. Now it is the GOP’s turn.

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              • The problem isn’t even that. You can triumph ideology over facts all damn day long if it’s a popular ideology – I mean, I’m sure many of our neoliberal and libertarian friends on this blog despair at the lack of people, especially those in the manufacturing sector, accepting the facts of the glory of unlimited free trade – but the real problem for the GOP is their overwhelming ideology on things that are not that popular – low taxes on rich, no regulations on corporation, and opposition to LGBT rights.

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  7. “Clinton ran an ad that described Gore and himself–before anything else–as part of a “new generation of Democrats.” ”

    And it’s important to keep in mind how huge a deal this was. There’s a *reason* the Animaniacs opening has Bill Clinton playing a saxophone.

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  8. First things first, , which is that this was just an awesome post top to bottom.

    Past that, though — and someone may have already addressed these in the comments — a few points:

    1. There obviously needs to be more than just this for the GOP to win the White House. Rubio is mid 40s, yes, but so too is Cruz, Jindal, and Walker. Two of those four could never, ever win the White House.

    2. This is my own personable bug-a-boo, but I think either in addition to (or instead of) the age thing, the GOP should make an effort to nominate someone non-partisans find likable. Over the past ten to fifteen years they seem much more concerned with getting someone who can toss the base red meat than getting someone a person on the fence might connect with.

    I have said this before here, but Ms. Clinton isn’t really likable to non-partisans the way her husband was. The GOP has been gifted a real opportunity this year; I’m very curious to see if they’re going to take it, or if they’re going to squander it away playing Who Can Be The Most Red State.

    3. On your own point about age, I wonder if the GOP is at an inherent disadvantage because of their demographics.

    4. Lastly, there is this: If the GOP wants to make better inroads nationally with younger voters they are going to need to soften their position on a lot of social issues they currently seem unwilling to let go of, and they’re going to need to do a better job of stepping in an policing their own yahoos (something the Democrats currently do a far better job of these days). You can clone a 40 year-old JFK, make him declare GOP, and put him atop the ticket, but if he’s drawing hard lines on gays, saying America needs to be a Christian country, and sniggering about how ladies can only pay attention to shopping for shoes it’s not going to matter much to voters under 40 that he’s young and full of vitality.

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    • Over the past ten to fifteen years they seem much more concerned with getting someone who can toss the base red meat than getting someone a person on the fence might connect with.

      How do you define “they”? I assume not the people who nominated GWB, McCain, and Romney…

      On your own point about age, I wonder if the GOP is at an inherent disadvantage because of their demographics.

      It would seem so, in presidential election years anyway. But it’s not clear whether the disadvantage is insurmountable even without a party pivot.

      they are going to need to soften their position on a lot of social issues they currently seem unwilling to let go of, and they’re going to need to do a better job of stepping in an policing their own yahoo

      On the first point, I think this is true but people have been saying that since I was a kid. There may actually be a wolf this time, but there is a reason this argument isn’t resonating as much as a lot of people think it should.

      On the second point, though I am inclined to agree it’s not clear to me what the party can really do that it isn’t doing. There is clearly a problem in that area, but I think it’s a problem of a somewhat different nature.

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      • “How do you define “they”? I assume not the people who nominated GWB, McCain, and Romney…”

        For all the memory holing current day Republican’s like to pull, Bush still had an approval rating around 70% among conservative Republican’s on the day he left office. After all, he had to get that 30% approval rating among all people from somewhere.

        But, Bush attacked McCain in 2000 from the right. McCain went right in the primaries to win them. Romney went right during the primaries to win them.

        Yes, they’re moderate in compared to the rest of the 2012 or 2016 nomination field, but compared to even the 2000 nomination field, they’re all far right, including McCain and Romney.

        The real problem when it comes to ‘yahoos’ isn’t so much that some random city councilman says something dumb, it’s that you can usually find something a prominent national politician has say that’s close to that _and_ the various national politicians refuse to drop the hammer on the local guy because frankly, a lot of their base thinks like the local guy.

        Also, when Democrat’s say dumb things, it’s usually about policy. And a lot of times, that stated policy position is the opposite of the Democrat’s actual official policy. In addition, a lot of the Republican dumb things are attacks on people (usually non-white, non-rich, non-straight people, or some combination of the above) as opposed to Democratic dumb things, which may be false or silly, but aren’t hateful.

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      • I don’t necessarily include GWB, though I do think Rove carries much of the blame for the party’s strategy decision to play to the right and not the center. As to the others, McCain was pushed to nominate Palin to run on the ticket, and Romney was forced — even past the primaries — to parrot social conservative positions that I never believed he agreed with just to get the base to vote with him. I still believe, based on his own past works, that the whole 47% speech isn’t something he ever thought was true, but rather something he felt pushed to tell true believers behind what he thought were closed doors.

        “On the first point, I think this is true but people have been saying that since I was a kid.”

        And since I was a kid as well. The thing is, though, conservatives HAVE softened on these issues since I was a kid. We just don’t notice it because they’ve softened, and we now think that softened position is what conservatives believe. (The obvious example is interracial marriage being made legal, which was very opposed by conservatives when I was kid.)

        “On the second point, though I am inclined to agree it’s not clear to me what the party can really do that it isn’t doing. ”

        They can come out strongly against people who say moronic things and either make those people walk them back, or distance themselves from them. And I don’t mean a waffling, I’m not going to condone what they said but I’m not really going to address it either response.

        There are some exceptions to this, obviously, but for the most part GOPers are terrible at this. Over the past two administrations they’ve been fine with metaphorically tarring and feathering anyone they’ve arbitrarily decided wasn’t a “real conservative,” but someone makes an abhorrent racist or sexist comment and suddenly Reagan’s 11th Commandment becomes the most important thing ever.

        I think that takes a toll with non-red meat voters over time.

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        • George W Bush, of course, ran expressly as a compassionate conservative (who spoke Spanish) which is partly why I bring him up. The big right-pivots he took, on foreign policy and gay marriage, were actually popular positions at the time rather than meat-throwing. It was seen as an opportunity to move the country to the right. Short-sighted in the case of SSM, though. The war was undermined primarily by its own lack of success.

          McCain wasn’t forced into picking Palin. He very much wanted her. It’s easy to forget this now, but she was considered a reformist. She became a right-wing icon because that’s what everyone wanted her to be and she was happy to play the part.

          Romney wasn’t forced to do anything. I remain convinced – as I was at the time – that absent a true threat he would have won the nomination had he run as Mitt. And with a true threat, I tihnk he would have lost despite his meat-tossing. That was a mess of his own creation. Remember the first debate where he did more of the “Mitt as Mitt” thing and people around here thought it might cost him base support? It cost him zero.

          The GOP roundly criticized Akin, pressured him to get out of the race, and failing that lent him very, very meager financial support (and did so before polling told them it was a lost cause). To this day, though, people assume tacit approval and that it’s fair to suggest that Akin is pretty representative of the party because he got 30-something percent of the vote in a primary.

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        • I would say that of course they will soften in time on these issues, and at the same time, the left will find new issues to throw at them.

          That is simply the nature of a two party system.

          Conservatives are by definition a lagging indicator, while liberals are a leading indicator. Left leaning blogs and pundits will come out and say conservatives need to change, but right now they are dominant at the state level, even picking up governorships in solidly blue states and have both the house and Senate. And I am not seeing enough changes at those levels coming up to move the balance of power (I doubt that they will hold the Senate unless they take the presidency.)

          What I am seeing in comments such as these are people who would like to see the right change in ways that are acceptable to them, which to me speaks of dissatisfaction with the Democrats and the desire for an additional place for those who wish to dissent on that end.

          They might not pick up the presidency for quite a while, but that might not be a bad thing for style of governance.

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    • Thanks! I agree that it’s not as simple as “Nominate young guy and win!” But I think that substance-wise, the GOP can (mostly) hold onto its policy positions on social issues, with a couple of exceptions:

      1. Regardless of what Anthony Kennedy decides, they have to come up with policy positions that deal with the changing public perception on gay marriage. It is absolutely a millstone for the party’s efforts at attracting younger voters right now.
      2. They have to moderate the tone. (The fact that Republican Senate candidates ran behind Mitt Romney in a lot of races in 2012 should be a warning sign for the GOP.)

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      • Gay marriage is just part of it. The GOP’s policies on contraceptives, abortion, abstinence only sex education, and other matters are really turning off millions of women. You can not be repugnant to an entire gender and hope to be successful politically.

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        • I think I am a bit more sanguine about where the GOP has to go. I look at Cory Gardner’s success in Colorado last year as illustrative. Still anti-abortion, but presented his positions in a way that wasn’t seen as anti-woman, regardless of what Udall tried to campaign on.

          From an electoral perspective, I just don’t think the GOP can abandon social conservatism. There aren’t enough gettable votes without social conservatives.

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  9. Just checked in on the comments here. As always, lots of good ones! Should be able to respond to some tonight.

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  10. I think there are lot of things that we don’t have solid numbers on.

    1. I see a lot of reports that say that the GOP has a Demographic problem and their base is literally dying. How true is this? The Silent Generation (too young for WWII, too old to be hippies) are very conservative. They are also dying. Boomers seem split pretty evenly. What is the demographic split among Generation X? Rubio, Cruz, Ryan, and Walker are all youngish and can be around for a long time? How about millennials? There are young GOP congresspeople and they seem just as conservative as their Silent Generation counterparts.

    2. How much is gerrymandering going to allow the GOP not to deal with reality for a while? I am more or less convinced that some people know they have a demographic issue coming up but their attempt to deal with it is not moderation but to politically neuter Democratic politicians from being competitive. This is the reason we are seeing so many voting rights cases or districting cases. If the GOP wins the Arizona legislature case, they can really screw over Democrats for seats in Arizona and in other states that try to be balanced. This will probably lead to the GOP losing more seats in blue states like California though. I can see an attempt to gerrymander Issa out of office. His district is only slightly in the R column as is.

    I suspect Dan is about my age and he probably knows more socially conservative 20 and 30 somethings than I do but I have no idea about the demographics of my generation.

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    • There are always going to be conservatives in every age group. The GOP congressional delegation isn’t suddenly going to become all 90 year old white dudes in a few decades. (More than they already are! Zing!)

      The problem is the split in the young vote. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/11/05/as-gop-celebrates-win-no-sign-of-narrowing-gender-age-gaps/). Even in 2010 and 2014, big Republican years, the DNC still won the youth vote by ten points. Notice the generations in which the GOP won big – in short, they’re dying.

      That’s not to say, the GOP can never win more of these voters. There’s even some evidence the GOP won the white vote among the under 29 set in 2014, but the problem is, if the GOP stays the way they are, they’re going to need even more massive swings among their older voter base as it gets smaller to retain any type of control, even in midterms.

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      • Romney won the age group 40 and up. It’s going to take a long time for all of them to die off, and remember the Boomers (50ish-70ish in that election depending on your definitions) are huge and living longer than ever.

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      • Yeah, but the problem is they’re eating their seed corn. Once you’ve locked into a particular party, it’s hard to shake you free. (This goes for ‘independents’ too, who are partisans who just like to avoid the label, by and large).

        Democrats might not, for instance, excite millennials. (I have no idea if they do or don’t). But seeing the GOP keep doubling down on gay bashing to keep the Boomer-era voters happy cements an image of the GOP as a party for homophobes, as moral scolds or otherwise vastly out of touch.

        Millennials might not vote regularly for 15 or 20 years, but that whole time they’re just gonna carry the notion that “Republican = homophobe” in their mind. It’s gonna be a weight against the GOP reaching them.

        And there’s two ways of doing that — there’s the very, very, very slow method of just…not bashing gays for 15 or 20 years. Or there’s the fast, big break (say, CRA for the Democrats). The GOP can’t afford the fast, big break. Boomers vote. The 18 to, say, 35 set not so much. Not so much yet, at least.

        But every year they gay-bash one more time, or flare up another big no-no to the younger voters — that’s another year lost. Another year of damage done.

        And when the Boomers die off and it’s time to sell them down the river, and people turning 30 or 35 and starting to vote regularly look at the GOP — how is the GOP gonna make a big break with their past? The CRA, for instance, was politically painful right then. There were two big sides, it was divisive, and the Democrats paid a huge political price.

        It was a genuine sea change, because the Democrats paid cash for it (so to speak). But what’s the GOP to do? “Yeah, we’ve been using gay bashing or immigrants or the healthcare you guys like so as tactics to scare up the old folks to vote or give money, but we’ve change our minds. Totally serious, guys. We love the ACA and we married a gay couple last week”

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          • I am totally convinced they peaked in 2009 or 10, and they’ve been declining since. I’m guessing the people who make an industry on their beliefs would like Clinton to run to re-inflame their corrosive fervor. And there are several such industries — publishing, mail-order herbal medicines, camo and dress fashions, foods, guns and ammo.

            When I look at the numbers, the markets seem like they peaked in the few years after Obama got elected, and while those markets are still bigger than they were a decade ago, when they were in a growth state, they’re no longer growing, they’re declining, and they have been ever since Sarah Palin* began to look foolish.

            *I suspect, now, Palin’s big sin was sending her children to government school.

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        • What you’re describing is 20-40 years of Democratic dominance. Do you think that’s what’s going to happen? I find the notion of 20 years of uninterrupted rule by a single party to be exceptionally unlikely (at the national level – the state level is a different matter).

          I think the “lock” created by partisan independence is not as strong as you are suggesting, and not as strong as those who actually identify with a party. From one election to the next, how you voted in the previous election – even if you describe yourself as independent – is highly predictive of how you vote in the next.

          What’s less clear is how true that is over time. A lot of the people I know who are functionally Republicans who describe themselves as Independents are people who used to be functionally Democratic even as they profess that they’ve always been “independent.” And vice-versa.

          I suspect at some point, in a relative worse case for the GOP, “New Republican” will be the equivalent of “New Labour.”

          A lot of people who want to knock down the Myth of the Large Middle overcompensate, creating a myth of intractable partisanship.

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          • At the Presidential level, why not? Between 1968 and 1992, the GOP won 5 out of 6 Presidential elections.

            One can make the argument that right now, we’re in the middle of a 20-year run of Democratic dominance – a Democrat has won the at least the polarity of the popular vote 5 out of the last 6 elections.

            I’m not saying the GOP can’t win a Presidential election. I’m not even saying necessarily a Republican can’t win in 2016. But, I am saying the modern Republican party can’t be a party that consistently wins or even comes close to winning national elections.

            It’s not even a big shift. Be a little nicer to gay people, be a little nicer to brown people, don’t want to completely destroy the welfare state (hell, most people will even accept lots and lots of limitations against people “that don’t deserve it”, even mild liberals), and the GOP would be fine.

            But, as long as the primary electorate wants complete opposition to any kind of redistribution going to people unlike them (ie. non-old white people), is opposed to any kind of immigration reform that doesn’t make it impossible for undocumented Hispanic’s to become citizens, and thinks the “pink police state” is coming to shut down churches and take away children from their parents if their not pro-LGBT enough.

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            • And yet right in the middle of it, they lost. Yeah, it took Watergate, but my suspicion is that even without it they would have lost in 1976 or 1980.

              I’m not saying the GOP won’t need to change. I’m just responding to the argument that change won’t be enough (until decades after the change).

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                • Yeah, I was going to point this out – despite a disastrous scandal that led to the first resignation in American history, and a cloud hanging over the entirety of American politics, Ford still came within a couple of states and a percentage point of winning the election.

                  So yes, if the emails come out and Hillary emailed a middle finger to the embassy in Benghazi while being in a secret lesbian relationship and actually buying bling with Clinton Foundation money, yeah, the GOP has a pretty damn good chance of winning.

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                  • Ford had the advantage of being completely disassociated from the scandal, though. That’s why I say 1976 or 1980. He might have won in 1976, but I’m skeptical he (or his party) would have won again in 1980 for a lot of the same reasons that Carter lost.

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                    • A Republican victory in 1976 would definitely lead to a Democratic victory in 1980. This means that the 1980s would primarily be remembered by the presidency of Edward Kennedy, the most likely Democratic candidate in alternative universe with two Ford terms, and would be very different in terms of everything.

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                      • Wait, so you’re saying if Jimmy Carter had lost he’d have prevented two terms of Ronald Reagan and replaced them with two terms of Ted Kennedy?

                        Wow, the Simpsons was right. He really *is* history’s greatest monster.

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                        • I’m not really sure who the Democratic Party would nominate if Ford won a second term. I do know that if a second Ford administration turns out like the Carter administration than the Democratic candidate is posed to win. Ted Kennedy seems like the most likely choice. An eighties dominated by Ted Kennedy with a Democratic Congress would be nearly the reverse of what happened. At the very least, the AIDS crisis might have been handled better.

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                          • I think Ted was a lousy candidate in a way that his brother’s weren’t, which is why I don’t think he would have gotten the nod. I think his misbegotten primary challenge demonstrated this, which is why he never ran again. (Though somebody who was alive then can tell me different and I couldn’t really argue.)

                            Kolohe, I would think Vice President Dole would have had more of an inside track than George Bush. Disagree? My guess is that either Bush or Dole as the nominee would have gone down in defeat. Reagan himself might have been able to pull it out on account of his being a “Different Kind of Republican”… but by and large I think it would have been a Democratic year.

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                    • Didn’t the pardon hurt Ford pretty badly when it came to Watergate?

                      In the big picture, Republican dominance from 1968-1988 is definitely more impressive than the current Democratic run. If a Democrat pulls 500 electoral votes, I’ll bet on rapid changes on the other side.

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                      • It is, but I would argue:

                        1) The 1976 loss gave the GOP a chance to reboot that wouldn’t have been there without the loss, and that 1981-92 was different than 1969-76

                        2) Ford had the advantage of incumbency. Even though I think Ford might have won in 1976, comparing how President Ford did to how Vice President Ford would have done is hard. (Though if no Watergate and Nixon had dropped dead of a heart attack instead, Ford definitely would have won in ’76.

                        Also, though this doesn’t get a number, I am skeptical that we’re going to see anyone rack up the EC totals that Reagan did for a very, very long time.

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          • No. Actually, I think the Republicans will fragment and the Democrats will realign leftward, losing a lot of centrists over the fence. A counter-lurch, so to speak.

            But it won’t be anytime soon, not until the “Win/loss/win/loss” on-year/off-year pattern breaks. Because each off-year rewards extremism.

            I thought 2006 and 2008 might have done it, but it got blamed on Bush personally.

            That’s the trap the GOP is in. The party cannot break with the extremist base. And the extremist base is getting increasingly unhappy because extremists are winning and moderates are losing. (Except every 4 years….).

            I mean look at Hillary. She’s an accomplished Democratic politician, she has a sterling resume — but she’s not generating excitement for anything other than ‘getting a female President’. Democrats by and large expect her to be competent, technocratic and probably more centrist than they prefer. But polling shows her doing incredibly well against a GOP field that is polling about the best it ever will. (In short, the clown car, fratricide, and oppo research has not started). A lackluster, but competent Democrat (who does not suffer from the inflated poll numbers of an unknown and un-attacked) is basically smacking the virginal, full-of-glowing-potential-un-hindered-by-facts GOP field. (That’s not sarcasm. That’s just how it is early in a cycle. It’s all upside, nobody’s downside has appeared. That doesn’t last).

            FYI: The studies have shown the “not identified with a party” voters are, reliably, just as partisan as those who identify with one. Substantially, there’s no difference. Once they’ve voted in a few elections for the same party (which they do), they’re just as tied in with the ‘team’ as anyone else.

            Mind you, they’ll have a handful of crossover votes, but ‘independent’ is more a label than a fact.On big elections, they’re reliable. Their turnout varies more than their votes do.

            So no, I don’t think 20 to 40 years of Democratic rule. What I expect is another few cycles of crackpot off-years and increasingly extremist figures getting tossed into the spotlight (generally due to being elected from R+20 districts in off-years), until finally some critical mass of loss is hit and the GOP cracks up.

            Which will lead to a re-alignment.

            I can tell you this, though: It won’t be 2016. It won’t be 2020 unless the GOP takes a bath in 2018. And it certainly won’t be Rubio leading the way.

            Because right now the GOP reformist movement is a thin coat of paint over “All we’ve got is tax cuts, guys”.

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              • I do think (and this is some long term forecasting), down the line around 2032 or so, there will be an election where you get an ‘Americans Elect’ style candidate of a ‘moderate’ Democrat and a ‘moderate’ Republican (or Republican turned Independent) supported by all the Very Serious People in the Beltway whose for all the tough choices supposedly loved by centrists across the nation, and then the Beltway will be shocked when that centrist gets only 7-10% of the vote.

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              • Or and I’ll add a third party candidate could be successful, but it won’t be a centrist technocratic candidate ala Bloomberg or whomever the God King of the week that David Brooks thinks should rule us, but a populist right-leaning type of candidate who is frankly, probably anti-corporate, but also anti-immigrant, anti-welfare (“for the wrong people”), and anti-regulation.

                Ie. the candidate of parts of the southern and western white working class. In other words, the candidate for the laid off pipefitter or mechanic in South Carolina or the guy who works on the oil derrick in North Dakota, not the upper middle class programmer in suburban Colorado.

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            • Except the realignment you refer to can’t occur if voters are actually locked in after a couple of cycles.

              The good polls account for “leaners” when it comes to party identification. The pseudo-independents you talk about are then accounted for. Then you have another 8-17% of the population that doesn’t lean exclusively one way or the other[1]. And you have people actually shifting from one category to another over time[2]. That’s one of only two ways that realignment occurs (the other being demographics).

              [1] Even Jon Chait, in an argument trying to minimize the important of the swing vote, pegs the number within this range.

              [2] Which does happen. According to this poll, some 10% of people who leaned in one direction within the last five years now lean in the other direction. And here’s[3] a poll tracking partisan identification, including leaners, that shows shifts over time.

              [3] And yeah, that 48% number should scare the crap out out of Republicans. The numbers aren’t perfect, of course, and there are probably some conservative voters who don’t even pretend to lean Republican, and there are also some Democrats who vote Republican and Republicans who vote Democratic in any given election. But this is political science. The shifts cannot all – or all within a margin where exceptions are insignificant – be explained in that people identifying differently but functionally voting the same way.

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              • Except the realignment you refer to can’t occur if voters are actually locked in after a couple of cycles.

                The research indicates that after you vote for a party for two or three elections in a row, you are a solid voter for that party (whether you call yourself a partisan or not) absent some major event that causes you to rethink your position.

                They don’t leave easily. However, sharp shocks — like a sudden massive shakeup — do it. It forces people to reassess. (To use the awful boiling frog metaphor — as long as parties change slowly, their voters tend to rationalize it away even as they disagree more and more. But a sudden spike? That causes people to leave).

                2005 and 2006 shook the GOP tree, causing a lot of people to leave. But to get people to look at them again, to shake lose Democrats or independents who have solidified their views on the GOP?

                They don’t seem willing to shake things up like that, and I really blame the off-year wins. Those form a cushion that keeps the GOP from realigning and taking advantage of a ton of openings the Democrats are offering them.

                In short, the GOP has to offer something new and radical (well, radically different for the GOP. It could be something as age-old as populism) to make people look at them again. Instead they’re just offering Reagan’s 1980 playbook, with a side order of culture war meat and/or Christian fervor. (Or the Democrats have to visible screw the pooch themselves).

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                • And even then, the resignation is more in sorrow than in anger. The attitude is usually more of “I didn’t leave the party, the party left me.” Andrew Sullivan is a clear case of this especially when he got into “And now let me curse the Democrats for no particular reason…” He could never get over his psychological loathing of the Clintons. He clearly wanted to be a Republican but found no home for him that party.

                  Interestingly and revealingly Chait did not announce that he was leaving the Democratic Party and liberalism over the pushback he received on his P.C. essay. This is not the first time Chait found himself in trouble over writing something with his own side. He wrote a piece about race that got him trouble in January 2014 I think. Yet Chait remains ever the happy warrior for the Democratic Party and fully willing to mock Republicans with all his sarcastic glory.

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                • The question is whether or not the tree can be shaken. Now you’re saying that the Republicans are choosing not to do it. My argument was with the notion that they can’t. I agree that it’s not going to happen without a significant reason.

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                  • Ah, I see.

                    I think that, right now, they can’t — two reasons: Gerrymandering really, really, REALLY safe GOP seats and the off-year wins for the Senate and state-level offices.

                    To shake the tree means losing those elections — short-term losses for long-term gains.

                    They’re not yet at the point where that’s a choice they can make, mostly because it’s not “one guy” calling the shots. There’s no CEO of the GOP.

                    The situation has to get bad enough that there are enough GOP voices demanding things get shook up, willing to eat the losses to fix the root problems.

                    And those safe seats and off-year, turnout based wins? Those are keeping the root problems muted.

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        • I don’t know about the seed corn thing. Say what you will about the current crop of people running for president, most of them would make reasonable vice-presidents (as in it would not be terrifically surprising for any of the non-cranks (Trump, Carson) to show up as the other name on the ticket).

          A lot of those names could, in fact, blossom into real first names on a presidential ticket.

          Now, also, imagine if Hillary went out and, for whatever reason, was no longer a viable candidate. From (example I’m comfortable giving) to (example I’m uncomfortable giving), there are a handful of things that could happen and her candidacy could implode. Who replaces her? Can you come up with five names?

          Because I can come up with 5 reasonable names for VP for the Republican party. I’m pretty sure that you can as well. (Again, not people you’d necessarily vote for, just people that would make sense to be standing behind the candidate on any given cover of Time Magazine.)

          Say what you will about the Republicans, they’ve got a surprisingly deep bench for some reason and the Democrats don’t. Maybe things will be different in 4 years, of course…

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            • My opinions on the viability of Biden and Brown the latter hold them in less esteem than you seem to (though, yes, I’d vote for and campaign for and donate to a Biden run).

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          • It seems to be a regular thing when in power versus out of it. The last three vice presidential picks after eight years in power: Sarah Palin, Joe Lieberman, and Dan Quayle. Look back a bit further and you get Bob Dole and one of those Henry Cabot Lodges, and that’s not so bad. But not only are the most recent three unimpressive, but I don’t remember any great candidates being passed over for the position. (John Kerry? Tim Pawlenty?)

            On a sidenote, it’s interesting to ponder an alternative timeline where a certain Wisconsin election had turned out differently, and Russ Feingold is the challenger from the left instead of Bernie Sanders.

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            • Hrm. I’d want to crunch the governor numbers for those elections as well.

              If you see governorships as representative of anything 4-8 years down the line, Republicans are in better shape than the Dems and appear to be even ascendant.

              But that’s if you see governorships as representative of anything.

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                  • Well, that’s the conventional wisdom, yes.

                    So does that mean that states that elect governors in non-presdential years tend to elect more Republican governors, since older conventional wisdom of GOP is older voters?

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                    • Insofar as off-election years are the relevant criteria, I know I’d say yes to that. But I also tend to think the GOP “build locally and project nationally” strategy is paying big dividends as far as governorships are concerned. Which is a bit of a different issue, seems to me.

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                      • It’s worth pointing out that strong Republican performance is not ordained by some Higher Power. There’s 2006, of course, and a House Seats lost in 1998,1990. 1986, and 1982.

                        Makes for a 5-5 record, which is one better than average. I guess if you break it down into Great-Good-Bad-Disastrous it looks like 3-2-4-1, which looks a little better than 50/50. And if we want to say that history starts with the Clinton Era instead of the Reagan one, Republicans are 4-2 or 3-1-1-1… so there’s an advantage, but that’s not all that’s at play.

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                        • No, but when you consider the national percentages of the McCain and Romney campaigns given how phenomenally disastrous they were it makes you feel like divine intervention can’t be taken off the table. :)

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          • Because I can come up with 5 reasonable names for VP for the Republican party.

            LeBron James is playing with backups, and I can name all of em.

            So I think the question is now many starters does each party have. Rubio? (Ehhh, sure.) Jeb!? (Goes without sayin, amirite?)

            So that’s two to the Hill’s one. But it’s Hillary, baby!

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  11. Dan,

    Have you read “Rise and Fall of the White Republic” by Alexander Saxton? His is a cultural history of race, and how the system of Whigs vs. Democrats evolved into the system of Republicans vs. Democrats. I think it’s one of the best books I’ve read on 19th century politics. It’s kind of dense reading at times, and Saxton does have a pretty firm (but not in my opinion annoyingly so) Marxist orientation, but I enjoyed it.

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