Backlash insurance

by Henry on October 13, 2005

Kevin Drum poses a challenge to Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, who are guest-blogging with him this week.

it’s true that the activist base of the Republican party is pretty far distant from the middle of American politics, and George Bush recognized this in his first term, mostly steering a center-right course. However, in his second term it’s all falling apart, just the way conventional political science suggests it should. The more that Bush panders to the Republican base (Social Security, Terri Schiavo), the more he loses the support of Middle America. At the same time, the more he tries to tack to the center (Katrina, Harriet Miers), the angrier his base gets. Centripetal forces are tearing the Republican coalition apart, and suddenly Beltway buzz suggests that Republicans might actually lose Congress in 2006. This suggests two possibilities to me. The first is that conventional political science still has it right. It took a few years, but the radicalism of the Republican base is finally putting a stake through the heart of the party, just as you’d expect. The second possibility is that we wouldn’t even be talking about this if it weren’t for 9/11: Bush would have long ago lost control of his coalition and would have gotten clobbered in 2004. What we’re seeing today really is a special case, not a permanent realignment.

There’s an important point here – as I mentioned in my review of their book, I think that Hacker and Pierson overestimate the internal cohesiveness of the Republican coalition. And as Ed Kilgore notes today, many of the important “New Power Brokers” that hold the coalition together have been sorely damaged by the various scandals swirling around the Republican party. But there’s also an important part of Hacker and Pierson’s account that I didn’t really talk about in my review – the way in which the Republicans have successfully changed the rules of the electoral game through redistricting, and the more general way in which both Republicans and Democrats have shored up incumbent advantage and limited the number of genuinely competitive races. As this NYT article acknowledges, winning back the House is at best going to be an uphill battle for Democrats, and winning back the Senate is going to be harder still, even if the public are unhappy with the Republican party. This seems to me to provide a partial answer to Kevin’s point – even if the Republicans start to squabble among themselves, and even if the public aren’t happy with them, this won’t necessarily translate into the political sea-change that would be necessary to see them removed from power, precisely because of the kind of backlash insurance mechanisms that Hacker and Pierson talk about.

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Don Surber
10.13.05 at 10:29 pm

{ 19 comments }

1

Bruce Baugh 10.13.05 at 9:03 am

It also requires a Democratic Party offering candidates who recognize what the strong majority of the non-Republican-base public wants and who are willing to campaign for it. So far there’s precious little sign of that. The public at large can very strongly not want the Republican offerings and still not change parties if the Democrats remained wedded to “about the same, but less of it”.

2

asg 10.13.05 at 10:49 am

That’s just it — the Republican activist base may be alienated from the center, but there is little to suggest the Democratic activist base is less so. It wasn’t too long ago that Democratic activists were openly considering a revolt against the too-centrist-for-their-tastes DLC. They didn’t really go through with it, like the GOP base is right now with the Miers nomination, but it wouldn’t take much for them to reconsider. (Suppose Bush had nominated a fire-breather and the DLC opted to play ball — what would Kos have said then?!)

3

Grand Moff Texan 10.13.05 at 10:50 am

While polls show Americans wanting a Democratically controlled Congress (by only about 9 – 11 pts.) it really doesn’t matter. The Dem’s just don’t offer much of an alternative because too many of them are as whored out as the Republicans.

Furthermore, they’ve bought into the GOPs frame, and are afraid to offer an alternative even if they want to. The isolation of DC has reached Stockholm proportions.

The GOP coalition will hold together in the intermediate term for two reasons.
1) the fringe groups have nowhere else to go.
2) said groups have spent so long cultivating ignorance and superstition as positive virtues that they’re easy to punk over and over again. Just blame your failure to re-establish a Christian America (that never existed, that is neither constitutional nor biblical, that was never anything more than an advertising ploy anyway) is somehow the “liberals’ fault.”

In fact, that’s almost all of the content of the right wing media every day already. Already accustomed to calling inconvenient facts ‘biased,’ they now feel entitled to a whole separate facts. That’s what makes them useful to their betters.

In the meantime, their handlers will be
1) bashing the gays, just like they’re going to do here in Texas next month, and by
2) issuing phony terror warnings, as they’ve begun to do again.

As the economy worsens, preying on the fear, ignorance, and superstition of a desperate people will get easier, not harder. Do not assume that objective policy failure, or even factional tension, translate into political difficulties. The mythology is impregnable so long as succumbing to it is still considered the measure of decency, and not being an idiot is considered “shrill” and “hateful.”
.

4

Richard Cownie 10.13.05 at 10:58 am

In UK election coverage it’s usual to show a
“swingometer” which takes the swing in the vote
from the previous election and calculates the seat
totals that would result if that same swing occurred in each constituency.

It seems to me that the gerrymandering on House
districts must have led to many Republican-held
seats with a normally-safe majority of 55-60%,
while concentrating the Dem vote into even safer
seats. That’s a good strategy for Republicans in
normal times, but it isn’t a free lunch – if we
get a large swing to the Dems, say 10% or more,
then *all* those normally-safe Republican seats
could go Dem. Look at Paul Hackett’s close run
in a very red Ohio district for a pointer. And
with the combination of Iraq, fiscal insanity,
Katrina, the Miers nomination, and high officials
in all parts of the Repub leadership in legal
trouble (DeLay, Frist, Rove/Libby/others), the
conditions for such a perfect storm are gathering.

So my question is whether there’s any website
which shows such a swingometer for the House
elections, or similar analysis. I’m suspecting
that Repubs in the House may not just lose their
majority, but actually be decimated in the same
way as Conservatives in the UK and Canada were in the 90s.

5

BigMacAttack 10.13.05 at 11:19 am

As a registered Repuhblican who probably only votes Republican about 2/3s of the time(tops) I can confidently say you have no clue. None. None of you.

The break up the Republican party is a masturbatory fantasy by folks who appearently don’t even begin to understand conservatives and Republicans. That is it.

Bruce you couldn’t be more wrong. The middle section didn’t/doesn’t want to gut Social Security and they didn’t and probably still don’t want to nationalize health care. They want a free lunch and they want either a little more and/or a little less.

6

abb1 10.13.05 at 11:19 am

I think I agree with Richard. While it’s true that the Democrats are corrupt bastards, they’ve been very careful not to alienate anyone in the last couple of years and this tactic just may work in 2006 if the Republicans keep doing what they’ve been doing so far – which is a clear possibility.

The ‘uphill battle’ metaphor in the NYT article is a quote from the RNC chair, what else would you expect him to say?

7

Richard Cownie 10.13.05 at 11:45 am

“While it’s true that the Democrats are corrupt bastards”

I wouldn’t be quite that cynical myself. Power
corrupts: without power, you might as well be
honest. So there’s nothing in the current
Democratic leadership to compare with the scale of
the Abramoff scandals. They might *become*
corrupt bastards if they win power, but for the
moment I’ll take my chances with the possibly-corrupt-in-future
against the already-proven-corrupt.

8

Uncle Kvetch 10.13.05 at 11:49 am

I’d love to share at least a smidgen of Richard’s relative optimism, but it’s Grand Moff Texan who really sums up my own outlook, in all its dismal dreariness. I’ve been waiting for the Repub coalition of fatcats and theocrats to start fraying around the edges since Reagan’s first term. I don’t see it anywhere on the horizon.

9

roger 10.13.05 at 12:04 pm

There was an article in the Atlantic by James Fallows a couple months ago, a sort of fantasy of a new party coming into power in the U.S. in 2020. Fallows’ premise is, I think, correct. At the moment, the Republicans have such a lock on the Sunbelt and certain mountain states that it is hard to envision the Dems winning back the legislative branch.

Now, let’s grant for a moment that the Dems are the less corrupt and more progressive party — which I doubt. Still, this should pose some big questions for progressives who want to create some automatic identity between liberalism and voting Democratic. If liberalism really is a position about what government should and shouldn’t do, the obvious task is not to vote suicidally Democrat, but to make Dems more liberal and the G.O.P. more moderate — to take up an argument from the previous post about this book. I don’t really understand why the task of making the G.O.P. more moderate isn’t even considered. Bigmacattack is right — I don’t think G.O.P. voters particularly want to destroy the Social security system. And I think you probably could get more movement on national health care from within the G.O.P. than B. thinks — you could at the very least modify Big Pharma’s attempt to stifle competition in the drug market. In fact, that is just the sort of pro-capitalist position I think G.O.P. voters would go for.
I find the blind dismissal of the G.O.P. rather incomprehensible.

10

save_the_rustbelt 10.13.05 at 12:45 pm

The GOP has never been as unified as you might think, there just haven’t been any good alternatives.

Anyone wonder why Bush barely won Ohio, where Dems haven’t won anything in more than a decade?

There is plenty of economic disenchantment but running Kerry (with Theresa and a Gulfstream) didn’t do the job (plus the campaign was a Bob Shrum cluster-mess).

Unless the Dems can build a bridge to the pro-life blue collar vote, the Red states will stay Red. The only other hope is that Bush continues to break everything he touches.

The Dems also hurt themselves when they come up with lame crap like “there is no problem with Social Security.”

11

Richard Cownie 10.13.05 at 12:48 pm

“I don’t really understand why the task of making the G.O.P. more moderate isn’t even considered. Bigmacattack is right—I don’t think G.O.P. voters particularly want to destroy the Social security system. And I think you probably could get more movement on national health care from within the G.O.P. than B. thinks—you could at the very least modify Big Pharma’s attempt to stifle competition in the drug market.”

Sure, but how ? To get any power in the current GOP
you need the support of either big business or
the religious right, and preferably both.
To make the GOP more moderate on social policy
you have to fight the religious right; to make the
GOP more moderate on economic issues you have to
fight big business. The views of GOP voters just
don’t make any difference, unless and until enough
of them switch to the Dems.

12

abb1 10.13.05 at 12:57 pm

Richard, the Democrats are corrupt bastards, the Republicans are far worse, out there in a different league. And I don’t think you can say that the Democrats are without power; individual Democratic politicians do have a lot of power. And they sell off.

13

Maynard Handley 10.13.05 at 5:13 pm

How was it that rotten boroughs were removed in the early 1800s? Does the politics that managed to get that through have any lessons for trying to rid the US of gerrymandering?

14

Clark 10.13.05 at 5:25 pm

Someone please explain to me how Miers speaks to the political center? Was it the point she converted to Evangelicalism or do you simply think that the center merely wanted a woman?

I honestly don’t see Miers making much sense across the board. It’s understandable that the right doesn’t like her. It’s understandable that the left doesn’t like her. I just don’t follow the thinking that the center does. She seems to have little to offer.

Regarding the candidates Democrats offer though, I tend to agree. I think in last years election Bush was amazingly week. It took a candidate like Kerry to lose. Exactly why Democrats do this honestly escapes me.

15

derrida derider 10.14.05 at 12:20 am

“… a Democratically controlled Congress … really doesn’t matter. The Dem’s just don’t offer much of an alternative because too many of them are as whored out as the Republicans.”

Like hell it doesn’t matter. Bush, Cheney and co. would have probably been impeached by now for a range of scandals if the congressional committees were controlled by his opponents rather than his friends. And on policy, being both over-cautious and beholden to a wide range of interest groups is far preferable to being crazily wrong and being beholden to a small set of interest groups.

16

Bruce Baugh 10.14.05 at 1:36 am

Bigmacattack, what I mean is that the public is in favor of ending the disastrous war in Iraq, supporting the reconstruction of the areas affected by Katrina, expanding public-supported health care, and pro-abortion in most cases, among other things. Few of which the Democrats will touch.

17

abb1 10.14.05 at 7:03 am

Don’t miss this new excellent (and relevant here) piece by Werther: The Two-Headed Monster.

18

Grand Moff Texan 10.14.05 at 8:34 am

dd:

I guess that’s where we disagree. Biden, for instance, is a wholly owned subsidiary of MBNA. He’s a senior Democratic senator. In reality, he’s the same as a Republican corporate whore, just without all the superstitious and jingoistic accessorizing.

Yes, the Demo-whores would’ve gone after the Republi-whores, and we would all make popcorn and have great fun watching it, but what would really result?

They all swim in the same sewer: money = speech, therefore policy = a commodity. The rest is just advertising. Until the DNC has been wrested from the clutches of the DLC, there are too many Democrats who are as bought and paid for as the whole GOP.
.

19

abb1 10.14.05 at 9:03 am

Stil, there’s a significant difference between a whore and a demented crack-whore. For some people it may be a difference between life and death.

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