Thursday, October 1, 2009

How To Fix Republican Party Dynamics

It’s time for a little controversy. The media loves to portray the Republican Party as a narrow group of extremists. They love to accuse the party of being all white, male, rich, ultra-religious and angry at everything. Of course, none of this true. What the media has done is to pick out the most extreme voices from the various wings of the party and filter them through their own preconceived view of the party as fascist, intolerant, racists, and theologically based.

Hence, idiots like Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, (D-Fla.) say asinine things like “Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick,” when in fact it will be the Democratic plan that causes people to die for lack of available treatment. And toads like Gore Vidal say:
“Obama believes the Republican Party is a party when in fact it's a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred -- religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word 'conservative,' you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They're not -- they're fascists.”
Never mind that Obama and the Democrats are the closest thing to fascism this country has seen. Never mind that Obama is the first President to try to make people into non-people for legal purposes, or that the Democrats want to send you to jail if you don’t buy health care. They are the party of speech codes, of thought crimes, and forced association. They support confiscating private property for the public good and forced volunteerism in schools. They believe in industrial policy, the doctrine of too big to fail, the bailout, and of government seizing control of private corporations. They declare protesting against the government to be unAmerican, and they are big on indoctrinating children. The Republicans opposed all of this. So who are the fascists?

Who Are The Republicans Really?

Nevertheless, I find myself dismayed at the current state of the party. The party seems incapable of coming up with a coherent set of principles and it seems incapable of making headway with the 60% of voters it should be grabbing. Why is that? It’s called party dynamics.

Let me by cynical for a moment. The Republican Party is made up of six or seven groups that hinder each other. You would think they would be bound together by some common principles, but that’s not entirely true. Let’s look at the various groups and then talk about how they fit together and what this means for the party.

Here are the groups. But before anybody gets upset, realize that I have defined these groups according to the behavior of their leaders, not necessarily their members. And I did this because it’s the leadership that matters, because that’s what people use to judge the party, that’s what drives the agenda, and that’s who the party looks to when trying to satisfy the members of that group.
Big Business -- This group consists primarily of the representatives of large businesses. In sheer numbers, this group is infinitesimally small, but their ability to donate vast amounts of money to political campaigns has made them extraordinarily powerful. Unfortunately, they hold few, if any, Republican beliefs. Indeed, this group is concerned almost entirely with the issue of business regulation and trade, and they have little loyalty to the United States or the party. They will favor regulations that weaken their competitors and oppose regulations that weaken their own business, all without a thought to the effect on the rest of the country. This group also is notorious for giving equally to Democratic candidates.

Religious Right -- The other group that dominates the party leadership is the religious right. This group has significant influence far beyond their numbers (polls tend to show 3-6% of the population) because they provide a large number of the volunteers that staff the campaigns. They are concerned primarily with abortion and the relationship between Christianity and the public sphere, though they have recently begun to advocate environmental causes as well. This group tends to advocate increased government involvement rather than decreased government involvement, and often displays a tin ear for politics.

The Small Business Wing -- Usually standing in direct opposition to the Big Business group is the Small Business Wing. This is a good sized group within the Republican Party, though not nearly as influential as the Big Business group or the Religious Right. This group favors lower regulation and low taxes, though they are not above lobbying to preserve government subsidies.

Libertarians -- In many ways, this group is the polar opposite of the Religious Right and the Big Business wing. However, this group has all but destroyed its own influence within the Republican Party by leaving to form its own party (where they typically get around 2% of the national vote). This group favors smaller government, isolationism, and limited (or no) government involvement in social matters. In the last few years, this group has been obsessed with drug legalization, Iraq, and fearing the creation of a world government.

The Country Clubbers -- This is the group that dominated the Republican Party for decades. This group consists of people with no particular guiding philosophy and they were quite happy to be the minority party. They viewed the party largely as a social gathering rather than a political party, and these people tend to be rather moderate/left liberals. This group often expresses embarrassment at the other members of the party and is notorious for endorsing Democratic candidates.

Foreign Policy Hawks -- This group first appeared under Reagan, after the Democrats went soft on communism, taking on the label of neocons. Their numbers increased again dramatically after 9/11 when the Democrats chose to surrender to the terrorists. Apart from supporting a strong, interventionist foreign policy however, this group typically shares few other Republican beliefs.

Populists -- This group is relatively new to the Republican Party, and likely won’t stay within the party. This group is marked by a severe anti-intellectualism and is currently awash in all manner of conspiracy theories.

The Middle Class Values Wing -- Finally, we come to the largest group within the Republican Party. This group easily dominates the party membership, but has little influence within the party because it has no leadership and its members don’t volunteer. This group generally favors smaller government, less regulation, a strong foreign policy and defense, and limited government involvement in social matters. However, this group is not doctrinaire and will go against each of these beliefs whenever it thinks that the particular cause is a good one. Thus, for example, it will favor regulations that it sees as protecting the public and it will support tax increases for pet projects. Moreover, this group cuts a middle ground between the Religious Right and the Libertarians on social issues. Thus, for example, this group generally dislikes abortion and will impose restrictions, but does not favor banning abortion.
This is the group that competes for power within the Republican Party, and therein lie several problems.

Why Is This A Problem And How Do We Fix It?

So let’s talk about the problems posed with this alignment. First, this is hardly a unified group. On almost every issue, there is direct disagreement within the party. You want lower taxes? Big Business doesn’t, the Middle Class Values Wing doesn’t if it means they don’t get a new highway, and the Religious Right doesn’t if it means we need to cut aid to the poor. Want a strong foreign policy? The Libertarians and the Big Business guys don’t. And so on.

Far be it for me to tell the Republican Party what to do, but let me suggest that sometimes less is more. And when some of your members are keeping you from developing your philosophy, particularly where those members have proven themselves not to be loyal to the party, you should cull them:
• Drop the Big Business Wing. They’re whores -- they don’t love you. Trust me on this, they will still give you vast amounts of money even if you stop acting like their lap dogs. And right now they oppose everything that every other Republican group supports.

• Drop the Country Clubbers. They’re in the wrong party, they don’t like you. There is always room for dissent within a party, but there is never room for treason, and these guys are treason personified. Anyone who ever endorses a Democrat should be banned from any representative position with the party.
Further, a party cannot let itself be associated with the crazies or the unacceptables. Just as the party had to force out the racists in the 1980s, i.e. David Duke, the party needs to disassociate itself now with the populists (and the crazier libertarians) before they become associated with the party brand. If the party does not do this, it will lose the middle class, the educated class, and the sane. The populists have discredited every single movement they’ve ever infiltrated, dating back to the 1890. This time won’t be any different.

At the same time, the party needs to bring back its natural allies. In this regard, the party should woo back the Libertarians. Don’t bring back the kooks, but bring back the rational ones. And how to do that is simple. The Republican Party needs to rethink its recent total disregard for civil liberties. The left has handed us a wonderful chance to become the party of free speech, free religion (all religions or even no religion), free association, and rule of law. We can become the sole protectors of private property rights, and the other rights delineated in the Constitution.

The party also needs to learn that because it does contain competing views, taking an all or nothing approach is unacceptable. The party has become unbalanced in its power structure and it must re-learn the art of coalition building and consensus if it hopes to build a stable party and to attract the full 60% of people who consider themselves conservatives. To choose the beliefs of one group over the rest as THE beliefs of the party will doom the Republicans to remaining a minority party.

Indeed, what we need right now more than anything is a leadership (not leader but leadership) (1) that can create a credible strategy for attracting the 60% of voters who fall into the conservative category and can explain the wisdom of that strategy to each of the groups identified above and get them to see that wisdom, and (2) that is not afraid to stand up to these groups when they overreach (and to throw out the ones mentioned above).

We don’t have that right now. In fact, we’re not even close. Most party leaders fall into these categories themselves and can’t see the bigger picture. If they can’t do this, then it’s time we auditioned some new leaders.


LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I agree with your thesis. I would like to expand on it just a bit. Big business is a problem, but it becomes a huge problem when we are talking about big corporations. Big private businesses (or closely-held corporations) do tend to respond to consumer interests and popular opinion more than the faceless, mindless, loyalty-less giant corporations. Frankly, I'd like to see big corporations and unions forbidden to partcipate in politics at all, but I can't think of a constitutional way to prohibit it.

The "Country Clubbers" are what we used to call the "Rockefeller Republicans." Entitled, privileged, and the core of the RINOs. They should be invited to leave at the earliest possible time.

Big corporations and country clubbers share a very dangerous value. They both love unrestricted immigration in order to get cheap labor. Their opposition to illegal immigration is token at best. Corporations don't care how deleterious the effect of huge numbers of immigrants with no concept of freedom, constitutional government, or individual responsibility can be. But since they have no particular loyalty to America, they don't much care. Country clubbers are so isolated from reality that they feel they are above the average American's worry about his job, his ability to support his family and to survive high government taxes. That's why God invented expensive creative accountants and offshore bank accounts (as if the average American has access to either).

Small business is the heart and soul of America, and Obama, with the help of the RINOs, is killing it. I agree that they are not above seeking or maintaining government subsidies, which is bad, but we all act badly occasionally when self-interest is involved. On the whole, this group, along with what you call the middle-class values segment, represent what America was and should be. Any future candidates, for President especially, must understand these groups and encourage them with real action, or America is lost.

You and Jonah Goldberg have both nailed the left: liberal fascists.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Immigration is just one issue that bothers me with the Big Business guys. There isn't an international treaty they don't support because they don't want to face any tension dealing with foreign markets, they support heavy taxation, they want the government taking over things like health care, equalizing our regulations with the rest of the world's, etc. And they have no loyalty to the party.

I think you're right on the clubbers.

I think that each of the remaining groups have things to offer, but a couple need to learn to work with the rest. They all want to define themselves as the "true conservative", but that's just wrong -- conservatives come in many flavors. That said, there are common values, and those are the values we should agree upon first and foremost. Yet, too much time is spent fighting over the things we don't agree upon, and that is what keeps us from attracting the 60%.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: You've nailed the major problem with the party right now. The majority is weak, the minority is strong and vocal (and entrenched), and we conservatives have to learn to live with our differences. You and I are both conservatives, often disagree on fine points, and we haven't killed each other yet. Conservatives have certain common goals which we have to work towards (protection of the Constitution, religious freedom, individual rights, industriousness, strong national defense, low taxes and government off our backs and out of our lives). Everything else is process, and that's where we have to learn to live with our differences.

ScottDS said...

I realize the Religious Right in and of itself consists of several subgroups, from the media friendly Rick Warrens to the "9/11 was caused by gay people" Dobson/Falwell crowd.

While I'm not that religious myself, I have no problem with religious people, nor do I take offense at nativity scenes or "In God We Trust" printed on our currency, etc. (That atheist who wants to sue to get rid of the slogan needs to get a life!)

But I have to admit some of these people scare the hell out of me! I realize some of these folks never had much power to begin with and that the media tends to focus on the nutjobs but it would be nice for our elected officials to disavow these people when they say stupid things.

(I don't want to get into this but the whole Terri Schiavo event reeked of pandering to these people. However, I realize this issue is way more complicated and that religious conservatives weren't the only ones who wanted the feeding tube put back in.)

Writer X said...

Andrew, you are absolutely right that the current party leaders fall into these various categories, causing confusion and anger among the majority of Republican voters. Myself, included. I'm going to disagree with you slightly in that I think we do need a leader (as well as leadership). I just wish I knew who. Right now, interestingly, it's the Republican people (that middle class values wing) who seem to be leading the Republican politicians.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I actually don't disagree with you on the leader. I am all in favor of a leader emerging. We certainly need someone to challenge Obama and to start sending a unified message to the people.

BUT my concern with just getting a leader, is that it leaves the leadership in place and unreformed. The leadership needs to be fixed more than anything, or the problems with the party will just continue to fester -- I guess I could have been clearer.

So I'm not really disagreeing with you at all, I just don't want to see the party pick a leader and then avoid the other reforms.

I also agree with you that the current uprising is coming from the middle class group, and I would add that the other groups don't know how to handle this. Which is very promising to me. Nothing brings change like fear.

CrispyRice said...

You know, I like to think I'm one of those "rational Libertarians." I've never gone over for full-fledged libertarianism because they really are too single-issue minded for me. I'm more a big-picture person - get the government out of the way, except for the few things we need to have a safe society, and then let people their lives.

Why is that so hard?

I know, because it doesn't leave any room for politicians to have power over anyone, and they can't stand that. And it doesn't leave room for anyone to impose their view of how we "should" live on the rest of us. Ugh.

Writer X said...

Andrew, agreed. Just having a leader without the reforms is a waste, but the right leader (again, no clue on who that is) could provide leadership and reform simultaneously. I cringe when I see who wants to run for the Republican Party in 2012. No one very inspiring. Yet. But I'm nothing if not hopeful.

Writer X said...

Oops, hit "publish" too soon. Sorry.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, You sure know how to touch upon difficult topics. LOL!

There is perception and then there is reality.

The kinds of people you are talking about are not at all reflective of the vast majority of the religious right, who are themselves not reflective of the vast majority of religious people who are on the right -- who simply want to go about their lives and not feel like the government has decided that you can be anything except Christian.

But rather than break down the religious right, let me ask you a question. Do you think that anyone in the United States honestly wants a return to slavery? And if you do, do you see anyone else listening to them?

If you go into the black communities, you will hear that garbage on the radio, in the newspapers and spoken among the populus. They talk about slavery, they talk about Republicans committing genocide against blacks. It's all horsesh..t, but there are many people who have a vested interest in keeping people afraid of their opponents -- demonization.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I'm not inspired yet either, but there is still time. In fact, this is the moment that anyone who wants it should step up to the plate. There is a vacuum waiting to be filled -- and you snooze, you lose.

That said, honestly, I feel that our pool of candidates is very, very weak at the moment. I am concerned that so few of the possible candidates strike me as super competent. Of course, the Democrats don't either. It's like we had a generational shift and we got a bunch of duds.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

It's a testament to this blog that, despite my limited knowledge of such things, there are always little morsels for me to digest and expound upon. :-)

No, of course I don't think anyone wants to bring back slavery.

I know he overdoes it sometimes but I've read various articles by Andrew Sullivan and others who use the term "Christianists" to describe these kinds of people. And good call on demonization.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew and WriterX: Here's my two cents on leadership. We have 'em. They haven't stepped to the front yet, but we have potential leaders. But as you say, a leader leads, and that includes whipping the troops into line. Which leads me to:

We have got to stop looking for another Ronald Reagan. A leader like that comes along once in a lifetime, and we're spitting into the wind by expecting to come up with another one. Reagan lite would still be better than anything anyone else could come up with. And one of the things a leader does is say "my way or the highway." I don't think George Shultz, an old guard Republican and Reagan Secretary of State agreed with Reagan on much of anything, but he knew he could do what he was told, enroll others in the program, or toddle off into the trashbin of history. Reagan made it clear his "leaders" would lead, and lead correctly, or they would be replaced by people who could. That's what we're looking for. And in my opinion, that will come only in the form of a successful governor who has adhered to conservative principles. Spare us Senators and House Members who couldn't lead a horse to water.

AndrewPrice said...

CrispyRice, Rational libertarian, good call. But, again, within the current leadership structure, you will run into opposition from several other groups.

You put your finger on part of the problem. The other part is that when people see a problem, they want a solution. And the easiest way to feel like a problem has been solved is to pass a law to fix it. Thus, politicians will alway err on the side of more legislation than less.

It's like legislative creep. Solving that may not be possible.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Scott! LOL!

Guys like Sullivan get famous by being outrageous. If he was more rational, people wouldn't listen. So while he may be entertaining, he's hardly someone you want to rely on.

And there really has been a war waged against the religious right by the left and the media. I think their particular venom comes from the fact that it used to be the religious left until they abandoned the left and came to the right.

All that said, there certainly are things to criticize about the leaders of the religious right, and there is certainly room to disagree with some of their goals. They and the libertarians, for example, are polar opposites on many issues.

But the idea that they want to remake us into a Christian version of Iran is just ridiculous.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I agree that Reagans are rare, but I think he is the ideal that conservative candidates should shoot for. The problem is that they draw the wrong lessons.

When you look at Reagan, you see a man who spent considerable time refining his craft. He had a life before politics, he learned to speak in public, he spent years giving speeches for GE developing his philosophy, he gained government experience at the state level, and only then did he step forward.

So many today either think it's their turn because they've spent a life in politics and they want to move up before they retire OR they aren't willing to learn the craft of politics or to develop the philosophical underpinnings that should guide them. Instead, they think "hey, I'm conservative and telegenic" that's good enough. But that's not good enough.

MegaTroll said...

You make some really good points. The party does seem to be "unbalanced" and I never did understand how the big corporate guys fit with everybody else. Plus, I think it's time we dumped the RINOs too.

StanH said...

Conservatism, this is where I begin in deciding who to vote for. Like CrispyRice I tend to be Libertarian light. As a business owner for twenty seven years, and having suffered through good times and bad times, in my mind government is as useless as teats on a boar hog. I believe in small government, low taxes, but this is where I separate from the Libertarians, I believe in a strong defense, you turn your back on crazy people at your own risk.
As far as leaders are concerned my choice in the last election was Mitt Romney a brilliant man and if he had of run with the same tenor as his concession speech we’d be talking about a President Romney. I don’t know if she will run, but I really like Sarah Palin I believe she’ll be a force to reckon with, maybe Romney – Palin. The Rockefeller Republicans have always been a blight on the Republican party, as was stated up-thread the sooner they exit the party the better.

Individualist said...


Could not agree more about Big Business. The only reason they get in bed with Politicians is to influence them. The meme that they abhor democrats due to regulation is a farce. The more regulation the greater the barriers to entry and the greater the market share for thew big players. The TARP funds consolidating banks and the government practically forcing bank mergers is a good example.

They also serve as a useful tool for the Dems. By allowing themselves to be portrayed as 19th century robber barons and stating they are Republicans they give the left a useful straw man. Thus we are to blame for the bad effects of legislation they paid the democrats to pass. For all the talk by dems of "Corporate Welfare" when did they specify who was getting the money and how in the public debate. In 1994 when Gingritch tried to stop the Farm Subsidies going to ADM was not they left crying about the poor farmer.

Even this movie by Damon and Soder.. sorry I gorget the last name focuese solely on the Corporation. It never once goes into the subsidies, the regulation, how the government itself is involved in price fixing by paying farmers to dispose of crops. There is no attempt to make the logical connection that maybe the collusion by the government with ADM has led to a corporate atmosphere that promoted the corruption we saw in those executives. Big Business is not with us, they just want to play the part for TV.

I hope the Tea Parties fosster candidates that may finally have the guts to do something aobut the subsidies. We'll see......

CrisD said...

Andrew, great post!

Big business contributes to both parties anyway, I believe!

And the Country Clubbers I grew up with jumped ship with Clinton and never came back. I believe they are embarrassed that conservatives in the party are anti-abortion.

The problem with largest portion of the party--the middle class Republicans is that they have been hoodwinked and are mad. Other issues are general decline in education of population and moral decay. As you describe, there are pockets of voters who are passionate about a conservative but issues but one or two issues do not a platform make.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, As you put your finger on, people rarely fit squarely into these groups -- though the leaders of these groups would have everyone believe that we do because it builds their power.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, Thanks. You're absolutely right about Big Business. We get tarred with their sins, but they really aren't Republican. Big Business splits their money between the parties, giving to both with a slight advantage to whoever controls the Congress. They are not interested in politics or the country, they only want to use government power to help their bottom line.

And in exchange for that support, both parties give them exactly what they want. The only difference is that we get tarred for everything they do wrong because we are called generically "the party of business".

The Republicans need to break free from these guys.

AndrewPrice said...

Mega, Thanks. There is no reason to let the RINOs stay in the party, as they don't support the rest of the party.

CrisD, Thanks. Sadly, there are still Clubbers. I'm thinking Maine in particular. And you're right, when one group dominates the party, it ceases to be a welcoming place to other types of conservatives. If we're going to reach that 60%, then we need a broad-based conservative appeal to pull in each of the conservative groups we can't just adopt one group's goals (and we need to drop the non-conservatives who muddle the message and make us liberal-lite).

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