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Saturday, June 18, 2016

"How did we get here?" An essay on the state of Republican politics, Pt. 2

Where to begin?
I almost think we're all of us Ghosts ... It's not only what we have invited from our father and mother that walks in us. It's all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can't get rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper, I seem to see Ghosts gliding between the lines. There must be Ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sand of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light."
Henrik Ibsen, Ghosts (1882), Act II
Jason Brennan, Against Democracy.  He is a epistocrat. P.S. voters are ignorant and irrational.  Furthermore “Politics is not a Poem.”  I agree with most of the debunking arguments in this book, but I am not convinced epistocracy ends up being better; Brennan’s examples of epistocracy include restricted franchise, plural voting, voting by lottery, epistocratic veto (the Senate, but more so), and weighted voting.  
Tyler Cowen, “What I’ve been reading,” Marginal Revolution, May 11, 2016


As an old North Carolina political joke used to have it, in the 1960s, Lauch Faircloth, then a member of the state transportation commission, was spotted on the VIP deck of the Hatteras Island ferry by a tourist down below, standing among the cars.

“How’d you get up there?”, the tourist hailed Faircloth, who boomed back, “Well, it all started back in 1948, in Governor Kerr Scott’s campaign...”

Somewhere a long time ago, shortly after the first time someone noticed another had more power than him, and money he didn’t, is how it all began. After convincing themselves they have more stuff because they were better people, the rich and powerful began to fret over the tetchiness, and numerical superiority, of the poor. That meant figuring out ways to keep them distracted and defanged.

In Stir Journal’s “I Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump,” editor Jonna Ivins starts the story with the importation of slaves to America, which supplanted the increasingly pricey indentured white servants’ market. In the process, it vastly increased income inequality among whites, and fostered antagonisms between blacks and whites as a useful means of social control.

Corey Robin starts his clock in the Age of Revolutions:
Since Trump began to pose a threat to the other Republican candidates in the race, many a pundit has claimed that he is not a conservative. He’s reckless and radical. He’s an outsider. He’s an extremist, a populist, a wild man with no respect for the rule of law or the rules of the game.

The same could be—and often was—said of earlier conservatives. Google “Reagan” and “radical.” You get more than 15 million results. Margaret Thatcher scoffed, “Whoever won a battle under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?” William F. Buckley Jr. proudly called his generation of conservatives “the new radicals.” Conservatives have always been partial to a little madness and a little mayhem, as their founding father, Edmund Burke, came to realize when he took up battle against the French Revolution.

Born with three strikes against him—bourgeois, Irish, Catholic on his mother’s side (and only recently converted to Protestantism on his father’s)—Burke was an outsider to the British establishment of the eighteenth century. Yet he went on to lead its campaign against revolutionary France. Outsiders like Burke or Thatcher—even Donald Trump, who’s never been a Republican, much less an officeholder—have always been necessary to the right. They know how the insiders look to ordinary people—and how they need to look.

The right has a task: against a revolutionary or reformist left’s claims of freedom and equality, it must reinforce the ramparts of privilege. From the French Revolution to the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement and women’s liberation, conservatives have always defended social hierarchies, doling out rights to the few and obligations to the many.

What Burke learned on his way to the counterrevolution was that the greatest enemy to the established elite was…the established elite. Most elites were timid, inept, unimaginative, rule-bound. “Creatures of the desk” was how he described them. Pencil-sharpeners and paper-pushers, they lacked “the generous wildness of Quixotism.” They were weak and spineless, too cozy in their comfort to crush their enemies.

To defend the established hierarchy, the counterrevolution would have to be as energetic and immoderate, as wild and unpredictable, as the revolution it sought to overthrow. “To destroy that enemy,” Burke wrote of the Jacobins, “the force opposed to it should bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts.” Zealotry, daring (“every little measure is a great errour”), and intemperateness: these were the qualities that were needed. “The madness of the wise,” Burke reminded his comrades on the right, “is better than the sobriety of fools.”

Though Burke believed in aristocratic leadership and spoke to and for a mostly aristocratic polity, he understood that conservatism had to appeal to the commoner. Otherwise, the lower orders would defect to the other side. In a liberal democracy, where the lower and middling orders have the vote and often bridle at their burdens, that is a difficult task. To make privilege popular, Burke’s successors have had to conscript these lower and middling orders into their armies of inequality.

Since the 19th century, nativism, nationalism and racism have been ideal recruitment devices. “With us the two great divisions of society are not the rich and the poor, but white and black” declared the slaveholder statesman John C. Calhoun; “and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” Men and women at the near bottom of society have little money and even less power. But no matter how low they are, they always can lord their status and standing over those even lower than they. As John Adams so brilliantly recognized in his “Discourses on Davila”: “Not only the poorest mechanic, but the man who lives upon common charity, nay the common beggars in the streets…plume themselves on that superiority which they have, or fancy they have, over some others.”
Heather Cox Richardson, a historian at Boston College, picked up the GOP story after The Great War:
[T]he current fights are only the fallout from a split that started in the 1930s, cracked open in the 1960s, and was complete in the 1990s.

We cannot understand the present without understanding that earlier rift.

The Republican Party split in two in response to the New Deal. In the 1920s, Republicans had embraced the idea that “the business of America is business,” as President Calvin Coolidge put it. But when the bottom fell out of the American economy, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt insisted that the government must stop the abuses that had created the crisis. During his administration, Democrats passed laws to regulate business and finance, as well as to protect labor and provide a basic safety net for Americans. But Republicans loathed these policies. They thought that the taxes necessary to support an active government would tie up capital that wealthy men would otherwise use to invest in the economy. They howled that the New Deal threatened freedom, made people dependent on government, ushered in socialism, and launched a class war that would destroy the nation. And voters reelected FDR in 1936 with more than 60% of the vote.

FDR’s continued popularity made many Republicans recognize that the party would die if it did not bow to the reality that Americans wanted activist government of some kind. One branch of the party, led by New York governor Thomas E. Dewey, accepted that reality, although its members wanted more freedom for business. But a reactionary faction, led by Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, insisted that the New Deal was un-American. The Republicans must not, they said, become a “Me-Too” party. When WWII ended, Taft’s faction joined with wealthy southern Democrats who hated the New Deal’s civil rights policies to try to roll back FDR’s legacy.

This split between the Taft Republicans and the moderates became a war when moderates from New York and New England helped General Dwight D. Eisenhower win the 1952 Republican nomination. The convention included fistfights. Taft loyalists insisted that the nomination rightly belonged to Senator Taft, and they never forgave Eisenhower for stealing it. They condemned the “Eastern Establishment” that had secured Eisenhower’s nomination. Those people were apostates, polluting the pro-business principles of the true Republican Party.

When Eisenhower developed his own version of the New Deal, Taft Republicans exploded. Eisenhower based what he called the Middle Way on the idea that “if a job has to be done to meet the needs of the people, and no one else can do it, then it is the proper function of the federal government.” Although he trimmed business regulation, he kept the upper income tax bracket at 91% and backed a national healthcare system (although he could not get it through Congress). He also supported the largest public works program in American history: the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act constructed 41,000 miles of interstate highways. The economy boomed in the Eisenhower years, and Americans liked Ike and loved the Middle Way.

That popularity infuriated Taft Republicans. An activist government had been bad enough under Democrats, but when a Republican also regulated business, provided a social safety net, and developed infrastructure, Taft’s supporters insisted that both parties had been hopelessly corrupted by communism. When Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy began in 1953 to investigate Eisenhower’s State Department for harboring Communists, Taft supporters cheered him on.

Chief among McCarthy’s defenders was William F. Buckley, Jr. In 1951, fresh out of college, he had launched a broadside at America’s post-WWII government. In God and Man at Yale, he argued against the Enlightenment idea that society improved as the public weighed fact-based arguments. The popularity of the New Deal over Taft Republicanism proved that truth did not win out in a free contest of ideas, he argued. Instead of pursuing “truth,” leaders must attack bad ideas like secularism and New Deal economics, replacing them with Christianity and individualism. In 1954, just after McCarthy’s downfall, Buckley and his brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell defended the disgraced senator. In McCarthy and His Enemies, they argued that America was divided in two. “Liberals,” by whom they meant all Americans who accepted the New Deal/Middle Way consensus, were destroying the country by ushering in Communism. “Conservatives,” who would return the country to strict Christianity and Taft Republicanism, must purge Liberals from the nation. In 1955, Buckley launched National Review to tell the “violated businessman’s side of the story” and destroy “national unity,” “middle-of-the-road” policies, and “bipartisanship.”  

And so, from the Taft Republican faction, Movement Conservatism was born.

Movement Conservatives fought to take control of the party from moderate Republicans. Movement Conservatives stood firmly against taxes and government activism, but they built their power by adding racism to their anti-government crusade. They argued that tax dollars redistributed wealth from hardworking white people to undeserving people of color and women. This argument proved a winner when Movement Conservative Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s only five states in 1964–aside from his home state—were in the Deep South. In 1968, Nixon captured Goldwater voters by adopting the Southern Strategy to assure white southerners that the days of federal enforcement of civil rights were ending. In 1980, Reagan began his general election campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been murdered during Freedom Summer, and told the crowd, “I believe in states’ rights.” The message was unmistakable. He also used the image of the “Welfare Queen,” a black woman who stole tax dollars by making fraudulent welfare claims, in winning the presidency.

With a Movement Conservative in the White House, the faction’s leaders tied the Republican Party to tax cuts, the deregulation of business, and the end of social welfare policies. Then, when even racism did not produce enough popular support for their economic policies, leaders welcomed evangelical voters into their movement, promising them conservative social legislation in exchange for their votes.

In the 1990s, Movement Conservatives forced moderate Republicans out of power. Even seemingly moderate George H. W. Bush had promised “No New Taxes” and rescued his failing 1988 campaign with the Willie Horton ad dishonestly linking an African American murderer to Democrat Michael Dukakis. But when Bush did, after all, accept tax hikes in 1990, Movement Conservatives skewered him. From then on, Movement Conservatives attacked any party member willing to entertain the idea of tax hikes, government regulation, or social policies as a RINO, a Republican In Name Only. They moved such apostates rightward by threatening to run primary challengers to moderate incumbents who tried to buck them. In the twenty-first century, Movement Conservatives erased moderates from the party.

Today’s split in the GOP, then, is really a fight among members of the Movement Conservative faction that currently dominates the party. And its leaders themselves created this crisis. To cripple Barack Obama’s attempts to resurrect government activism, they put their traditional rhetoric about racism and communism into overdrive. It has torn apart their uneasy coalition. Obama warned them. In 2010, he told the House Republican caucus that “if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.” But Movement Conservatives kept running in 2010 and afterward on the promise that they would repeal or destroy Obama’s legislation and the president himself. And when the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and the separation of powers made that impossible, their supporters grew even angrier.

Now the party has splintered. National Review, the midwife of Movement Conservatism, pines for a true believer, but it cannot find one. The party’s “establishment” wants to continue its pro-business policies, and expected to nominate Jeb! only to see him crash and burn at the hands of an insurgency. The establishment is now scrambling through its JV line-up to find a candidate.

Party leaders never cared much about the social issues they promised to evangelical voters, but that bargain has now come home to roost with the candidacy of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is a Christian Dominionist eager to make America a Christian theocracy.

And then there is Donald Trump. His policies have no ideological coherence, but certainly he is not a Movement Conservative. Rather, he is a salesman appealing to the electorate that Movement Conservative rhetoric has created. Those people have been dispossessed by the economic policies that have redistributed wealth dramatically upward since 1980. They are angry, and have untethered their hatred of minorities and women from the Movement Conservative rhetoric that pushed opposition to taxes and government activism.

Movement Conservatives deliberately overturned a moderate American consensus in favor of government activism by appealing to the nation’s basest prejudices. Their movement is now collapsing under its own weight. With the death of that movement, the party, and the nation, has an opportunity to make a New Deal and resurrect a Middle Way.
While working on my task, figuring out how we are where we now (no mean feat, as the location changes daily), where we are in politics fell into place for me after lunch on March 11, 2016.
“I’ve seen this before,” I thought, reading about the riot at a Donald Trump rally in Chicago. Then, at The Huffington Post, Howard Fineman pulled the file out of my memory:
America usually thrives on change, but once in a generation we're overwhelmed by the pace of it -- and our politics go haywire.

We haven't been this unsettled since the Sixties (actually 1963 to 1975), when the nation was torn by assassination, war, race, corruption and generational change. In presidential politics, the year 1964 produced conservative GOP nominee Barry Goldwater, who horrified the party's establishment; 1968 produced George Wallace, the race-baiting Alabamian who terrorized both parties; and 1972 featured Richard Nixon, who left town two years later after being caught trying to shred the Constitution.
Richard Nixon was a brilliant pol, and a paranoid one. Who he wanted to destroy, he first set out to isolate, then vilify. His November 3, 1969 speech, in which he called on America’s “silent majority” to back him against the hippies and leftists who opposed his policies in Vietnam, was when he launched his attack.
Then, having long hair was a threat to social order. Or black. Today, it’s being gay. Or black.
NIxon’s 1970 congressional midterms campaign was a referendum on the past, on the America of Easy Rider vs. the America of The Lawrence Welk Show (a 2008 profile of Trump advisor Roger Stone, who came of age in Nixon’s dirty tricks crew, included this story: “The reason I’m a Nixonite is because of his indestructibility and resilience,” Stone said. “He never quit. His whole career was all built around his personal resentment of √©litism. It was the poor-me syndrome. John F. Kennedy’s father bought him his House seat, his Senate seat, and the Presidency. No one bought Nixon anything. Nixon resented that. He was very class-conscious. He identified with the people who ate TV dinners, watched Lawrence Welk, and loved their country.”)
There were “real Americans” and “enemies”, some of whom then went on a list. Unprompted by the candidate, placards reading, “The Silent Majority Stands With You” have become regulars at Trump rallies.
Another of Nixon’s exceptional insights was that he could co-opt George Wallace’s declaration- after he lost his first race for Alabama governor as a moderate- that he’d “never get out-niggered again.” Nixon’s innovation was in turning that sentiment into code and seducing Southern Democrats into leaving their party of birth in droves (Georgia congressman Tom Price describe the process more daintily: “It took a Goldwater race in 1964 and then a Nixon appreciating that the Republican Party had a constituency broader than what had been conventional in the past”).
One of his senior advisers, John Ehrlichman, laid out one piece of the strategy in a 1994 interview with Dan Baum, who was writing a book on the War on Drugs:
“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Though recent press stories about the Ehrlichman comment have treated it as a revelation, it was, in fact, a reboot of policies going back thirty years. As Maia Szalavitz wrote in 2014:
Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (and an appointee of his uncle, Treasury Secretary Andre Mellon), was one of the driving forces behind pot prohibition. He pushed it for explicitly racist reasons, saying, “Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men,” and: "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."

The main reason to prohibit marijuana, he said was “its effect on the degenerate races.” (And god forbid women should sleep with entertainers!)

Although it sounds absurd now, it was this type of propaganda that caused the drug to be outlawed in 1937—along with support from the Hearst newspapers, which ran ads calling marijuana “the assassin of youth” and published stories about how it led to violence and insanity. Anslinger remained as head of federal narcotics efforts as late as 1962, whereafter he spread his poisonous message to the world as the American representative to the U.N. for drug policy for a further two years.
As late as 1986 Ronald Reagan was praising Anslinger as “The first Federal law-enforcement administrator to recognize the signs of a national criminal syndication and sound the alarm.”
There have been spasms of renewed expansion and tightening of drug laws every decade since, and the result has been the same: a disproportionate number of convictions of African-Americans. As a method of voter suppression, it is one of the best, since felony convictions remove the right to vote until- and if- it is restored. Even better, it can be re-revoked.
Now, as 2016 unfolds, drug addiction has been retooled by Republican elites seeking to reconnect with its angry white base. Jason Stanley, a Yale philosopher, uses this change as an exemplar of the Luntzification of democracy (about which, more below):
Citizens of the United States are quite taken with the vocabulary of liberal democracy, with words such as ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, which conjure key democratic values and distance the nation from the Old World taint of oligarchy and aristocracy. It is much less clear, however, that Americans are guided by democratic ideals. Or that ideology and propaganda play a crucial role in concealing the large gap between rhetoric and reality.

In truth, the Old World systems have proved extremely difficult to shrug off. In their 2014 paper, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page argue that, as in an oligarchy, ordinary US citizens have no ‘substantial power over policy decisions [and] little or no independent influence on policy at all’.

Moreover, the US regularly subscribes to a form of managerial aristocracy. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder successfully replaced the mayors and city councils of several cities with ‘emergency managers’ supposedly able to negotiate financial emergencies better than elected officials. In the current presidential race, Hillary Clinton advertises her managerial expertise via the language of policy, while Donald Trump parades his via the language of business. Neither language is democratic. Neither invites self-governance.

Why is there no outcry about these oligarchical and aristocratic methods? Is it because plutocrats have power over the mechanisms of representation and repression? Is it, in short, about power? In my view, power can’t explain why voters are so enthusiastically voting for the very people who promise the least democratic outcomes. Nor are Americans knowingly rejecting democratic ideals. Instead, I see an anti-democratic ideology at work, inverting the meaning of democratic vocabulary and transforming it into propaganda.

Consider the example of mass incarceration in the US. Black Americans make up around 13 percent of the population, but around 40 per cent of country’s ballooning prison population. Even if we assume, falsely, that black American crime rates justify this disparity, why is the state so punitive? Shouldn’t citizens instead be motivated to address the underlying socio-economic conditions that lead to such dramatic differences in behavior between equals?

In The New Jim Crow (2010), Michelle Alexander argues that a national rhetoric of law and order has long justified mass incarceration. President Richard Nixon used it to crack down on black Americans under the cover of an epidemic of heroin use; this continued in the 1980s, as a merciless ‘war on drugs’ whose victims were all too often black men. In the US, the ideology of anti-black racism takes the view that blacks are violent and lazy, thereby masking the misapplication of the ideals of law and order.

Compare the ‘war on drugs’ to the current heroin crisis among middle-class white Americans, which has led to a national discussion of the socio-economic distress facing this class. Law and order doesn’t come into it. ‘The new face of heroin’ is new because, unlike the old face, it calls out for an empathetic response, rather than a punitive one. Now that heroin is ravaging white communities not black ones, the language of law and order (deemed appropriate to keep blacks in their place) has been retired. More significant still is that while the ideals of law and order preclude their unequal application, the propaganda of law and order does not: Americans were thus prevented from seeing the disguised gradient of law and order by racist ideology.
That the rejiggering of crime as an instrument of social control remains a favorite tool of GOP lawmakers is borne out by Kentucky’s experience in late 2015. When outgoing Democratic Governor Steve Beshear issued an executive order restoring the voting rights of Kentuckians convicted of nonviolent felonies, incoming Republican Governor Matt Bevin promptly rescinded the order. One hundred thousand Kentuckians were re- and dis-enfranchised in a little over a month.
When Virginia Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order restoring voting rights to 200,000 in April 2016, the Republican Party sued him to overturn it. NRA chief Wayne LaPierre told his faithful at their May conclave:
There’s no limit as to how far the elites will go to put Hillary into the White House. They’re even allowing convicted felons the right to vote, including violent rapists and murderers. Sounds outrageous but it’s true. The Democratic-led Maryland General Assembly did it for 44,000 ex-cons. In Virginia, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, Hillary’s longtime bag man, did it for 206,000 convicted felons. Tentacles of the Clinton machine are out registering those felons right now. They’re releasing them and then they’re registering them. Heck, when they sign their release papers, they might as well, at the prison door, be standing there giving them a Hillary Clinton bumper sticker. It’s unbelievable.
Chris Cox, the group’s chief lobbyist, also called out Clinton and Democrats who have expressed support for allowing citizens who have completed their sentences to vote.
“You fought to give voting rights, voting rights, to violent felons and crack dealers,” he said. “We fight for the innocent people they terrorize.”
Democratic lawmakers in states like Virginia and Maryland have made efforts this year to restore voting rights to ex-offenders who have completed their debt to society. Because of laws passed after the Civil War with the intention of preventing black people from gaining political power, an estimated 5.85 million people across the country can’t vote because of current or previous felony convictions. Roughly one in 13 African American adults is disenfranchised.
Kentucky, where LaPierre was speaking on Friday, is one of three states with the strictest felon disenfranchisement laws in the country. State law prohibits returning citizens from casting a ballot for the rest of their lives unless they get a rare pardon from the governor.
Because returning citizens do tend to vote for Democratic candidates, NRA leaders are not the first to allege that Democrats are allowing them to vote for political gain. Donald Trump, who the NRA endorsed Friday, has called Virginia’s rights restoration decision “crooked politics.” And Republicans in the state legislature are planning to sue to stop the new voters from being permitted to cast ballots, claiming that Gov. McAuliffe issued the order as a political favor to Clinton.
Studies show that ex-felons who have their voting rights restored are less likely to return to prison. Former inmates who lost their voting rights, many of them for non-violent drug offenses, have told ThinkProgress they feel like “less than a citizen” and “less than human.”
While LaPierre and other NRA leaders criticize efforts to reintegrate people into society, they have no problem allowing former “violent rapists and murderers” from obtaining firearms. Though the group often claims that federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from obtaining a firearm, the NRA and NRA-backed lawmakers have fought for legislation to allow ex-felons to regain their gun rights.
Different states have different processes in places for ex-felons to regain their gun rights — much like voting rights — and Republican lawmakers have tried in recent years to loosen those gun laws. Last year, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) proposed an amendment to allow all ex-felons to petition the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for restoration of their gun ownership rights. “America is a land of second chances,” Buck said on the House floor in support of the legislation. “One mistake should not define your future.”
But the past is a fickle place, alternately condemned and eulogized. So roiled were the 1960s that, in a decade, both parties veered from hubris-fueling electoral success to existential election day defeats. As Joshua Mound recently wrote in The New Republic,
The GOP’s response to Goldwater’s landslide defeat couldn’t have been more different from the Democrats’ reaction to McGovern’s. Whereas the Democrats shifted away from McGovernism towards tepid centrism, Republicans ultimately embraced Goldwater’s radical conservatism, paving the way for Ronald Reagan’s eight Goldwater-esque years in the White House. Most importantly, the parties’ divergent responses to sweeping defeat at the ballot box explain a great deal about the state of American politics today, especially the Democrats’ inability to effectively counter either the expanding extremism of the GOP or the increasing economic inequality and persistent racism that Republicans’ Goldwater-tinged radicalism has facilitated.

From the beginning of his career in the U.S. Senate, Barry Goldwater tapped into a rich vein of movement conservatism dissatisfied with the moderate Republicanism of Dwight Eisenhower, which Goldwater denounced as little more than a “dime store New Deal.” Supported by big donations from rabidly conservative businessmen like Roger Milliken and Fred Koch, and smaller sums culled via pioneering use of direct mail from John Birch Society sympathizers and upper middle class professionals in fast-growing Sunbelt suburbs, Goldwater finally captured the GOP nomination in 1964, after having privately cooperated with a “Draft Goldwater” challenge to Nixon, Eisenhower’s vice president, for the nomination in 1960. When Goldwater bellowed “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” during his ’64 RNC acceptance speech, he was speaking for the conservative Republicans who had longed for years to take over the party.

With the help of William Baroody, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, and libertarian University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, Goldwater put together a platform that within a few decades would become the template for every GOP presidential campaign that followed. Goldwater promised a bellicose foreign policy that would confront Communism, opposition to civil rights legislation grounded in “states’ rights,” antagonism towards organized labor, rejection of the welfare safety net, and antipathy towards the “moral decay” allegedly wrought by liberalism. In a sharp break from Eisenhower’s “green eyeshades” balanced-budget Republicanism, Goldwater also promised budget-busting tax cuts aimed at upper-income individuals and businesses, which Friedman suggested might not only pay for themselves with higher growth, but might also, according to proto-“starve the beast” logic, “put steady and effective pressure on Congress to hold down spending.”
The GOP, with its roots in fear of the other; envy; and racism, has had to work ever harder to pull its multiplying outliers together ever more tightly: movement conservatives, Reagan conservatives, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, national security conservatives, neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, Christian conservatives, constitutional conservatives, reform conservatives, and something consultant Mary Matalin called “full-spectrum conservatism” (before she became a Libertarian), which, one assumes, is not treatable under Obamacare.
Next to its Southern Strategy of the 1970s, which offered a welcome home to segregation-minded ex-Democrats, the GOP’s next smart move came as it recovered from Watergate. Author Sarah Posner explains,
The evangelical-Republican alliance, while certainly formidable and enduring, has suffered from growing tensions. Chief among them are inflexible ideological litmus tests on certain issues, such as abortion and gay rights, while internal disagreements over political issues like immigration, as well as core theological concerns, were shrugged off.

For more than 30 years, religious conservatives have been a loyal and, crucially, a predictable voting bloc for the Republicans. This resulted in a lasting deal for Republican candidates: Pledge fealty to the “Christian nation,” promise to ban abortion and (at one time) same-sex marriage, and evangelicals will form an essential and reliable segment of your voting base.

Evangelicals have forgiven past favored candidates for their sins. Ronald Reagan deviated from the movement’s standards on divorce, but he was adept at using religious language, such as “shining city upon the hill.” George W. Bush had an imperfect past, but was redeemed, in evangelical eyes, through religious salvation. In 2004, as 78 percent of white evangelicals voted for George W. Bush, they made up 36 percent of the Bush vote.
The chapters now playing out are from the Book of Newt Gingrich. A political science professor turned pol, Southern Baptist hypocrite turned Rex Mottram Catholic, he has always struck me as fitting the explanation I once heard of the intellectual mass murderer, Pol Pot: the perfect combination of Marxism and French rationalism.
Norman Ornstein, one of the few analysts who saw Donald Trump coming, explained the Gingrich Gospel in a May interview at
Back in 1978, when I first came to AEI, Tom Mann and I set up a series of small, off the record dinners with some new members of Congress. And one of them, Newt Gingrich, stood out right away. As a brand new member of the House, he had a full-blown theory of how Republicans could break out of their seemingly permanent minority, and build a majority.

And over the next 16 years, he put that plan into action. He delegitimized the Congress and the Democratic leadership, convincing people that they were arrogant and corrupt and that the process was so bad that anything would be better than this. He tribalized the political process. He went out and recruited the candidates, and gave them the language to use about how disgusting and despicable and horrible and immoral and unpatriotic the Democrats were. That swept in the Republican majority in 1994.

The problem is that all the people he recruited to come in really believed that shit. They all came in believing that Washington was a cesspool. So what followed has been a very deliberate attempt to blow up and delegitimize government, not just the president but the actions of government itself in Washington.

And Republican leaders, like Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor, were complicit in this. I think when Republicans had their stunning victory in 2010, Cantor et al thought they could now co-opt these people. Instead, they were co-opted themselves.

Andrew Prokop: What's interesting to me is that, here and in your book, you've told a very Washington-centric, Congress-centric, and elite-centric story. But Trump had very little support from these Washington Republicans and elites. So how do you end up with the voters abandoning what their elites wanted?

Norm Ornstein: In the process of Republicans winning these short-term, midterm victories, a couple of important things happened. One is, they’ve almost precluded their capacity to build a broader base for the party that could actually compete for majorities. Since the largest base from which they exploited this anger is in the South, that’s now the base of this party. The South has a very different set of attitudes and approaches to policy on the whole from the rest of the country, but it's also the most anti-immigration and nativist, though of course it's not alone in that.

Second, if you delegitimize government, and make every victory that occurs partisan and ugly, and then refuse to implement the policies to make things work as much as you can but instead try to undermine them, and you cut government funding, and you freeze the salaries of people in government — well, then eventually you’re gonna have a public out there that basically says, "Anything would be better than these idiots."

So when you get a Donald Trump, who is contentless, and knows less about policy, domestic or international, I would say, than any candidate in the last 50 years — including Pat Paulsen, the comedian — you have a large share of the public who say, "You know, the people who know about policy were the ones who fucked all of this up! And how could Trump do worse?"
The last Great Wave of Crazy to overtake the Republicans was, of course, the Tea Party. The establishment response to them was another attempt to placate, steer and co-opt them, leading down the chutes as they so long led the evangelicals. Thus we saw groups like FreedomWorks “astroturfing” the grass roots. Former House leader Dick Armey, a post-Congress lobbyist, stopped wearing ties and donned a cowboy hat to show his solidarity with the movement he was not really part of.
At heart, the Teabaggers were, and are, just the elderly, racist rump of the migrated Southern Democrats of the 1970s, and what animated them was missed- or ignored- by the GOP. Jonathan Chait explains them this way:
Anti-Trump Republicans fall into two broad categories. One category reviles the nominee for having exposed and exploited deep strains of nationalism, anti-intellectualism, and bigotry on the right. For instance, Robert Kagan calls Trump “the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker.”
The other category persists as seeing Trump as a strange mistake, a non-ideological figure, or even a liberal. This account does not explain why Trump decided to invade the Republican primary rather than run as a Democrat, but it does conveniently absolve the conservative movement of all his sins. An example of this latter school of thought comes from National Review editor Rich Lowry, who blames Trump for diverting the tea party from its sincere concerns about the Constitution:

“He has, for now, managed to do what the Democrats and the media have been attempting for most of the Obama era: to kill off the tea party as a national force. By dividing it, eclipsing it and making its animating concerns of limited government and constitutionalism into after-thoughts, Trump has neutered a heretofore potent vehicle against Big Government.”

Lowry is repeating the story mainstream conservatives like to tell about conservatism during the Obama era. That story is that President Obama’s domestic agenda violated the Constitution — perhaps not the actual written text of the Constitution, because then the Republican-appointed majority of the Supreme Court could have stopped him, but certainly the broader spirit of the Constitution, which is about preventing liberals from passing big laws conservatives hate. They were animated by the spirit of what they called “Constitutional conservatism.” This was a new movement that connected abstract beliefs about limited government with the vision of the Founders. Writers like Charles Krauthammer lauded “a popular reaction, identified with the Tea Party but in reality far more widespread, calling for a more restrictive vision of government more consistent with the Founders' intent.” The influential Republican intellectual Yuval Levin enthused in 2011:

“[T]he Tea Party has focused on restraining government. It originated in outrage about federal bailouts, and has directed its energies toward pulling back the cost and reach of the state. It has asked for fewer government giveaways, not more. It has even given voice to a tight-money populism, criticizing the Federal Reserve for inviting inflation — a far cry from populists of old. And the Tea Party has also been intensely focused on recovering the U.S. Constitution, and especially its limits on government power (and therefore on the public’s power) — another very unusual goal for a populist movement.”
The image of a mass army of principled constitutionalists agitating to carry out Paul Ryan’s domestic-policy vision, while irresistibly useful as conservative propaganda, was a fantasy all along. The backlash against Obamacare did not rest upon any abstract theory about the role of the state. It drew its power from the fear that subsidized (private) insurance would come at the expense of the (single-payer) health care that old people love. Activists flooding health-care town halls in 2009, the core of the right-wing populist revolt, denounced mythical “death panels,” and Republican messaging focused on the (actual) Medicare cuts to finance a program that's “not for you.”

Researchers Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin closely studied the tea party and found its members driven by something very different than a passion for small government. “Opposition is concentrated on resentment of perceived federal government ‘handouts’ to ‘undeserving’ groups, the definition of which seems heavily influenced by racial and ethnic stereotypes,” they wrote in 2011. “More broadly, Tea Party concerns exist within the context of anxieties about racial, ethnic, and generational changes in American society.” They also found that, contrary to the myth that deficits obsessed tea-party activists, “In interviews, Tea Partiers who talk about immigration control regularly mention the security of the US border with Mexico, suggesting that their primary concern is with Latino immigration.” A 2013 close study of Republican voters by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner reached similar conclusions: “the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities.”

The white racial identity, the fear of social change — all of these things perfectly predicted Trump’s rise. But conservatives ignored these findings because they implied that the tea party was not a movement of amateur enthusiasts for the Lochner Constitution, and that the fierce conservative antipathy toward Obama did not arise out of Obamacare’s particular design features or the legislative tactics by which it passed. The tea party was an ethno-nationalist revolt against Obama rooted in fear of social change. Conservative leaders pretended this revolt was a demand for their agenda, but the dissatisfaction of the base implies that the conservative agenda was never the thing that motivated it. Trump hasn’t hijacked the tea party. He’s un-hijacked it.

Which brings us, finally, to 2016.

Tomorrow: Crazy Like A Fox News Channel

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