The Republican party is melting down and I would caution Americans who identify as Republican to take the time and effort to understand why. This trainwreck didn’t just happen–it was the end result of actions put into place decades ago…
In its simplest form, modern Republican conservatism was traditionally about less federal involvement in the states and corporations, and minimizing government spending (small government vs big government). During the Reagan era, Republicans embraced the idea of trickle-down economics and solidified themselves into protectors of the extremely wealthy, simultaneously supporting decreases in government spending on government subsidized facilities such as mental health hospitals, orphanages, etc. to offset the tax cuts Reagan gave to stimulate the economy. Reagonomics was a rocky road–while many people improved financially, the rich got richer and many, many Americans became disenfranchised due to a loss of government facilities and support. Further, the federal deficit grew from the billions to the trillions. Republican politicians new they would need more than the wealthy vote to maintain power, so they bolstered efforts to cultivate a larger voting base. They did this in two ways: anti-intellectualism and embracing “conservative values”. This is where the slippery slope begins, folks. They linked intellectualism to liberalism. They charged the media with being inherently biased (as intellectual liberals). They used vitriol and vehemence to emotionally appeal to white, evangelical Christians, not caring that they had no plan or process to back up their positions. They preyed on the uneducated, knowing they wouldn’t ask the right questions. Out of this, they gave birth to the Religious Right–a mixed bag of wealth, fundamentalism, bigotry and, above all else, an abhorrence toward critical thinking. They have nurtured a culture of blame. Blame immigrants, foreign countries, gays, blacks, Muslims, liberals–anyone different from yourself. Blame the President, but don’t look behind the curtain at the Republican controlled Congress that grid-locked the entire system. Perhaps, worst of all, they have preyed on those who have suffered from the recessions and the shifting economic landscape. They stir them up promising them they will bring their jobs back without truly talking about the realities of globalization and technological advancement–that it is here to stay and that we, as a people, must adapt and retool to find our place in this new world. Instead they encourage outrage, entitlement, and the lamentation of change without looking to viable solutions. They have floated obviously unintelligent people to champion their message such as Dan Quayle, George W. Bush and Sarah Palin and, now, Donald Trump. Perhaps, they did not think he would win the primary. Perhaps they thought they would be able to control him. Most likely, they just underestimated the chaos they had nurtured in their Republican constituency. Through their efforts to lock in the adulation of the uneducated and moralistic right wingers, they had unwittingly set the stage for Trump and opened Pandora’s box, out of which is climbing the absolute worst representations of the American people, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis, who insist that Trump’s people are their people. They believe that Trump’s popularity is a signal that the American people are primed to embrace their hate-filled beliefs.
Trump is the poster boy for authoritative speech without knowledge. Trump engages in vitriolic stump speeches devoid of of truth, evidence or intelligence, and, his followers rabidly sing his praises. From his first day in the primary, he has fearmongered, stirring up the people into a frenzy of isolationism, bigotry, misogyny and divisiveness. As his speeches, interviews and tweets become increasingly absurd-even dangerous, Republican leaders scramble to distance themselves from him, terrified that they will be forever branded by his persona. Other Republicans are terrified not to support him because they fear losing their own down ticket races. The entire party is careening out of control because they essentially chummed the waters and then let loose a dangerously unqualified and irresponsible candidate. The strategy they used to secure a consistent voting base backfired “Big League” because anti-intellectualism is actually a tenant of facism. Further, fascist regimes rise to power through propaganda, emotional/moralistic appeal, and instilling in their followers that they must protect against progressive change at all costs. Facists wield and exploit paranoia as a tool against potential detractors such as the media and academia. The Republican leaders of the past few decades would have perhaps avoided this catastrophic situation if they had been better educated in political and social philosophy.
So, what can be done now? I am not a Republican, but I believe bi-partisanship is a necessary apparatus to our political system. I think they must fully denounce Donald Trump and make it clear to their constituents exactly why he is not their standard-bearer. They need to accept their losses, own their mistakes, and reform the party. They need to drastically pivot their path away from this trajectory that has set the stage for fascist ideologies to take hold. The Republican Party may have imploded, but it is their responsibility to make sure America is not destroyed along with it.
10 thoughts on “How the Republican Party’s Strategy Backfired”
Awesome, Rachel! I’m so glad you’ve created a blog.
I’d encourage you to look into Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy for more on the attempt to garner the white working class vote. Very interesting stuff.
Thanks for your wonderful writing and insights!!
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Can you also take a look at some of the failings of the democrat party strategy?
That’s a good question, Eyreka. There are other other circumstances that came together to create the current sociopolitical landscape. My post was looking particularly at the self-inflicted breakdown of the Republican Party, but let’s speak to how the Democratic strategy also contributed to the situation.
During the administration of Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the Democrats formed the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to develop a strategy toward increasing their voter base by embracing more “big tent” policies that appealed to moderates. Bill Clinton’s administration represented this in the form of “New Democrats” and “Third Way” politics, which basically relied on the idea of triangulation to find common ground between progressives and moderates. The DNC also began to employ a 50 State Strategy in subsequent campaigns–trying to appeal broadly enough (at least early in the campaign) to garner the majority in all states regardless of political leanings. So, in a nutshell, starting in the mid-80’s the Democrats began moving to the center, and even beyond. This has left many progressives feeling lost and misrepresented by their party, and even raised questions among all voters about the Democratic Party’s commitment to their platform. We saw this come to fruition with the popularity of Bernie Sanders.
The popularity Sanders, as a proponent Democratic Socialism, was somewhat suprising. Of course, a lot of that is due to milennials that don’t have enough experience to know that his progressive platform would not likely survive the general election. Further, even if he were to make it to the Oval Office, he would never get his policies passed through Congress. He would be hamstringed by Congress even worse than Barack Obama. As a progressive, myself, I agreed with much of Bernie’s campaign, but I voted for Hilary in the primary because I saw it as a pragmatic decision. One thing that could be gleaned from the popularity of the Sanders campaign is that progressives want their voice heard and their party back. In response, the Clinton campaign is moving leftward and incorporating some of Bernie’s policy proposals. It will remain to be seen how well the Democrats have listened and if they will begin to champion the progressives more over the next 4-8 years.
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A succinct overview of where the GOP be. And you surmised the consequences of the Reagan Revolution economically. And while I certainly think Trump’s appeal is authoritarian, I’m not so quick quick to see his “movement” as fast forward nativism quick timing a rerun to european type money/muscle fascism.
Marching further into the second cut of political weeds, I see that “Trump Train” as American “revanchist” running full bore backwards… chugging past the Goldwater Yankee/Cowboy war of 1964, to link up with the Dixiecrat splinter of 1948. (which is why another commenter this post is correct to suggest a nod to the Nixon/ Kevin Phillips Southern Strategy)
Nice post. Great to read a thoughtful and considered political effort.
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Thank you for your comments. Larissa and Doug are both correct to bring up Nixon’s Southern Strategy as this is an example of a direct initiative by the Republicans to attract southern white voters who were upset by desegregation in the post-Jim Crow 1960’s. This is of particular interest because this also marked a party shift in the south from predominantly Democrat to predominantly Republican.
For readers who are not familiar with revanchism, it is the political manifestation of the will to reverse territorial losses incurred by a country, often following a war or social movement. I believe Doug is using the term in the social sense. I agree with him that this is the motivation for many Trump supporters. When I wrote of tenets of fascism, though, I believe that revanchism is a part of that. I am concerned about a sociopolitical climate, desired by Trump supporters, that reflects nearly half of the 14 tenets of fascism as outlined by Lawrence Britt. While I agree that it is very unlikely that these people are actively pushing for “European type money/muscle fascism”, I am worried that many of these supporters don’t quite understand what they are embracing.