The End of Consensus

A conservative columnist argues the legitimacy of our system is in question.

A conservative columnist argues that the legitimacy of our system of government is in danger.

Daniel McCarthy argues, rather persuasively, that there is no hope for bringing back anything like the pre-Trump Republican Party. At least, not as a vehicle capable of winning the presidency. His reasoning goes to the very fabric of our society.

His latest column for the US edition of The Spectator is titled “Romney Republicanism could never win.”

Two maps tell the tale. The first is the obvious one, the map of states whose electoral votes Trump won, a map that includes states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that no other Republican presidential aspirant had won since the 1980s. But the second map is even more important — it shows not why Trump won but why the Republican party was doomed to lose without Trump and Trumpism. It’s the map of George W. Bush’s re-election victory in 2004, the narrowest re-election, in terms of presidential votes, in recent US history. Bush prevailed by just 16 electoral votes, which meant that had either Florida or Ohio gone to John Kerry, the Democrats would have won. And Bush won Virginia, a state with 13 electoral votes that has since moved firmly into the ‘blue’ column.

McCarthy argues that this is a function of an elite ideology that no longer appeals to blue-collar voters who aren’t persuadable by the GOP’s social agenda.

There is no market on the right or the identity-politics left for what anti-populist Republicans are advertising. The center ground that the Republican establishment of 15 years ago was built upon has disappeared, in large part because of the establishment’s own policies. The Rust Belt wasn’t going to vote Republican to get another war in the Middle East, but it might vote Republican if it meant keeping more jobs in the United States — and it did vote for Trump in that hope, among other reasons.

But, of course, Trump lost nationally by three million votes. His Electoral College win was essentially a fluke: an incredibly narrow margin in three states unlikely to be replicated. Still, McCarthy’s larger point may well be right: since George H.W. Bush’s landslide in 1988, there have been seven presidential elections. Republicans have won the popular vote only in that 2004 election and the Electoral College only in 2000 (with an asterisk), 2004, and 2016 (also, arguably, with an asterisk). Clearly, Americans aren’t buying what they’re selling.

But to fully understand where McCarthy is coming from, one needs to read his earlier column, “Impeachment is regime suicide.” For our purposes here, his view on the Trump impeachment is less interesting than his assessment of the zeitgeist.

What [comparisons with Nixon’s resignation over Watergate] overlooks is the reason why no one wins landslides such as Nixon’s in ’72 anymore: back then, even amid the Vietnam War and rising violence at home, there was still enough sense of unity in the country to produce a national consensus. That consensus was not just an agreement among voters of different regions, parties, and ideologies that they could all accept Nixon — by voting for him or simply by wishing well once he won — it was also an expression of confidence in the regime. There was an American body of opinion over and above the country’s obvious divisions, and that body of opinion exhibited faith not only in Nixon and the idea of the president as a leader for all Americans, but in the system of which Nixon and the presidency were a party.

[…]

In 1980, 1984, and 1988, Republican presidential nominees won big every time: 44 states went to Reagan in ’80, 49 in 1984, and 40 for George H.W. Bush in ’88. A national consensus was still possible, and Republicans were able to harness it until the end of the Cold War.

Democrats, meanwhile, controlled Congress the whole of this period, which was itself a sign of stability and consensus. The regular swings in congressional control that we’ve seen since the 1990s are a new phenomenon, a sign that the old consensus has dissolved.

McCarthy is viewing the past through rose-colored lenses. The divisions during the height of the Civil Rights era and Vietnam protests were pretty damned divisive—arguably moreso than the current period. Indeed, a major factor in the Watergate break-in and other malfeasance during the 1972 election cycle was that guys in Nixon’s orbit like Pat Buchanan and Gordon Liddy thought the United States was in the midst of a veritable civil war and that preventing the left from taking over the country justified any means necessary.

But I nonetheless think McCarthy is right that there was a national consensus that the system was legitimate and that Americans should rally around the elected President. Certainly, that was true in the early period of my own serious recollection of American politics: the Carter, Reagan, and Bush Sr. Presidencies. While the campaigns were always divisive, each of those men enjoyed a “honeymoon” afterward in which it was simply expected that Congress would work with the newly-elected President to enact parts of the agendas on which they campaigned.

That ceased being true with Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, which many if not most Republicans considered illegitimate even though he won fairly. And, with the short-lived exceptions of the rallies around Bush 41 during the Gulf War and Bush 43 after the 9/11 attacks, we’ve never regained it.

While I’ve long attributed this to a changed media environment that gave rise to what I’ve called the Permanent Campaign, McCarthy sees something else:

Why did it dissolve? In 1992, many of the issues that animated Trump’s victorious campaign in 2016 were already highly salient: there was a sense of disappointment and economic distress at a time — right after the Cold War — when Americans expected to enjoy a peace dividend and celebrate their success. Crime was on voters’ minds. Trade and immigration were pressure points in Pat Buchanan’s GOP primary challenge to George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot’s independent bid for the White House. Bill Clinton campaigned as a tough-on-crime governor sympathetic to blue-collar voters.

Already in 1992, the consensus that had seen America through the Cold War was under stress, and the American public gave evidence of having lost faith in the country’s political leadership. Bush was in a tough primary fight despite his sky-high approval ratings after the 1991 Gulf War. Perot was an eccentric businessman who pronounced a pox on both parties’ houses. Clinton won the White House with just 32 states and 43 percent of the popular vote. And two years later, the public’s discontent with the regime manifested in the legislative branch, as Republicans won a House majority for the first time in 40 years.

But those same Republicans misread their victory:

The Republican Congress’s impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 took for granted the possibility of a renewed national consensus — either one that could motivate a Senate supermajority to convict and remove Clinton (a tall order) or one that at least might lead public opinion to condemn Clinton after he survived impeachment. As it turned out, the GOP got it all wrong: not only was Clinton acquitted in the Senate, neither of the articles of impeachment received even simple-majority support in that Republican-controlled chamber. And Clinton’s popularity remained high.

To the extent that there was still a skeletal national consensus, it favored Clinton. Impeachment was a circus, but it wasn’t a national trauma. It cast no shadow over the next presidential election two years later. It was a dud that reaffirmed the stability of the American regime.

But, in McCarthy’s telling, trying to draw a lesson from the Clinton impeachment for today is even worse than doing so from Nixon’s resignation.

With Trump, everything is different. The 2016 election was a referendum on the regime itself. Trump resurrected the populist attacks on the country’s political and economic establishment that Buchanan and Perot had battle-tested in the 1990s.

Trump was no mere conventional Republican who happened to beat Hillary Clinton. He was a completely unconventional Republican who first beat the party’s own ideological standard-bearers during the primaries, in the course of which he often said things that no Republican had said for a generation or more. Trump’s message in the primaries and general election boiled down to: they screwed you. ‘They’ being the Bushes, the Clintons, the establishment in both parties, the warmongers, the trade-deal architects, the communist Chinese, free-riding allies, and more.

Trump is no ideologue or political theorist, but he launched a comprehensive attack on the domestic and international liberal order. He campaigned against the system as it has existed since the Cold War ended.​

Trump’s enemies are not just the left, they are the ancien regime. Anyone who supports the political and economic dispensation of the post-Cold War era is apt to feel threatened by Trump and even more menaced by what stands behind him — a growing anti-consensus, a force that declares every center of power in this country illegitimate and antithetical to the well-being of the people.

Now, while that seems absurdly overblown, it was the message that many on the left—from Michael Moore to Bernie Sanders—was spreading before Trump’s victory. But McCarthy thinks most old-line Republicans have failed to understand it.

That’s why this impeachment attempt is radically different from the Nixon or Clinton episodes. There is no consensus to save this time; there is only an anti-consensus waiting to be radicalized.

Trump’s enemies have been in denial about this since the day he first declared for the White House — they have wrongly assumed that a healthy, old-fashioned, pro-establishment consensus must emerge out of sheer revulsion at Trump. Hence all the appeals on the part of anti-Trump pundits to Republican decency and conscience. They assume that, deep down, for all that Republicans are racists and deplorables, they still love the regime, and they will support it over Trump.

In fact, for most Republicans, certainly at the grassroots, the voice of conscience and their sense of decency command them to support Trump, in spite of his sins, against an absolutely illegitimate and malevolent regime.

Of course, for those of us who voted for Romney but couldn’t vote for Trump, it’s his Presidency that’s malevolent and illegitimate. He came to power at least partly through double-dealing with the enemies of the country and continues to play that hand now that he’s in office.

And we’re obviously in the majority. Trump’s approval seems to have a ceiling of 40 percent and a floor of 30 percent.

McCarthy argues that, given that such a large number feels so strongly that the system itself is corrupt, it would add fuel to the fire to remove Trump through the undemocratic means of impeachment. That the only righteous path is to beat him at the ballot box.

But, if McCarthy’s view is right, that chunk of the country will never view a “normal” Presidency as legitimate. If a Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren beats him fair and square in thirteen months—even by a landslide—they’ll still think it’s corrupt. And Trump will surely do his best to fuel that impression.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Society, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    “In fact, for most Republicans, certainly at the grassroots, the voice of conscience and their sense of decency command them to support Trump, in spite of his sins, against an absolutely illegitimate and malevolent regime.

    Of course, for those of us who voted for Romney but couldn’t vote for Trump, it’s his Presidency that’s malevolent and illegitimate. He came to power at least partly through double-dealing with the enemies of the country and continues to play that hand now that he’s in office.

    And we’re obviously in the majority. Trump’s approval seems to have a ceiling of 40 percent and a floor of 30 percent. ”

    James, you are talking about what a majority of Americans want while McCarthy is talking about what a majority of Republicans want. Even if you could reassemble the Republican party of a decade ago by returning people who left the Republican Party to become independents, a majority (possibly an overwhelming majority) of them would support Trumpism. It has little support outside of that group, so the majority of all Americans do not support Trumpism.

    “But, if McCarthy’s view is right, that chunk of the country will never view a “normal” Presidency as legitimate. If a Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren beats him fair and square in thirteen months—even by a landslide—they’ll still think it’s corrupt. And Trump will surely do his best to fuel that impression.”

    Unfortunately, the establishment Republicans bear much of the blame for that, by responding to Obama and Bill Clinton with scorched earth tactics. What needs to be repudiated is not just Trump, but Gingrich and McConnell.

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  2. steve says:

    “If a Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren beats him fair and square in thirteen months—even by a landslide—they’ll still think it’s corrupt. And Trump will surely do his best to fuel that impression.”

    Correct. This is why most Republicans still think millions of illegals voted for Hillary. Why so many want to believe that Ukraine helped Hillary. Why there was a big plot to keep Trump from gaining office and try to form a coup. Their team has been in office and controlled the DOJ and they still haven’t found evidence to support these conspiracies, but they just know they are going to come true.

    Steve

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  3. @Moosebreath:

    James, you are talking about what a majority of Americans want while McCarthy is talking about what a majority of Republicans want.

    I think this is correct. When McCarthy says that the 2016 election was “was a referendum on the regime itself” he’s wrong in a couple of ways. 1) It was a referendum on the GOP in the way in which Trump was able to capture the nomination, and 2) Trump lost the national referendum, and the regime won, by almost 3 million votes.

    We have got to stop talking like Trump represents the majority. He didn’t in the primary. He didn’t in the general election. The rules gave us Trump. I know everyone is tired of hearing me say it, but I don’t think even most readers here fully see why I am saying it, and I know that the broader public doesn’t.

    That is not to dismiss Trump’s support in the GOP–but I would also note that a lot of that is based not on some profound rejection or acceptance of anything, but it just: two choices lead to picking a team and sticking with it and all the motivated thinking that goes along with it.

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  4. McCarthy is missing the way in which the realignment of the parties in the 1990s is a huge part of the story. When he points out how the Democrats controlled congress through the period he is discussing, he makes that sound like part of a past consensus. To a degree, it was, but only because liberal Dems and conservative Dems had to work in coalition given that the south wouldn’t elect Republicans in large numbers until the 90s.

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  5. The good news, such as it is, is that yes, a whole lot of Republicans will stick with the next GOP president if that president is a Romney. Because, as I noted, the vast majority of people vote party and then talk themselves into supporting their guy ex post facto. And I would note, we have been watching this phenomenon in public since 2016 as elected Reps and commentators who were Never Trumpers have fallen in line. I know they are motivated by re-election, but they, just like your Uncle Bob, are also motivated by identity in the context of a binary choice.

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  6. Kylopod says:

    Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin didn’t go for what Bush was selling.

    Bush twice came within less than half a percentage point of winning Wisconsin, and won a larger overall share of the vote there than Trump did. He lost PA by just 2.4 points in 2004, and, again, with a larger overall share of the vote than Trump.

    It’s a fallacy to treat small shifts like this–even if they make the difference between victory and defeat–as evidence for sweeping statements about what types of Republicans can win. So far, only one Democrat has won the White House during the entire 21st century up to now, and he was helped immensely by a crashing economy, while the second time he was helped by being the incumbent after it had recovered from its free-fall. Romney may have been unexciting and establishment, but there’s no particular reason to believe Trump would have done better that particular year, or for that matter that Romney wouldn’t have won in 2016 when faced against the unpopular, damaged Democratic successor to Obama. McCarthy is treating each Republican’s support as static across time and circumstance.

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  7. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    the vast majority of people vote party and then talk themselves into supporting their guy ex post facto

    If that’s true, then what explains Trump’s rock-solid support? No other modern president seems to have enjoyed it, especially considering the nonstop scandals.

    I think “the system” goes some way towards explaining how Trump captured the White House, but more is obviously going on.

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  8. @Kylopod:

    treat small shifts

    Indeed, all of this is about the cumulative effect of small shifts, which we then treat as comprehensive.

    Again: if we had different rules and HRC had won either the plurality or if we had a run-off and she had to get 50%+1, we would be writing wholly different columns about the exact same country and electorate.

    Trump doesn’t have majority support in the country, never has and I can’t see how he ever will. This matters in this kind of analysis.

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  9. @Kit:

    Trump’s rock-solid support?

    You mean with Republicans? That was what I was explaining with the sentence you quoted.

    Most voters cling mightily to their partisan identity. And the evidence shows how voters will, even when presented with hard facts, double down on that identity.

    At the moment, what a lot of Republican voters see is a Republican President being attacked by a Democratic House majority. How do you think they will react? Do you think that most people will look at the evidence, parse out timelines, research Ukrainian politics, or think through the problems with the president’s behavior? No, they will use the signalling device of the party label to rationalize that this is “all just politics” and move on.

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    Civil war? How, exactly? Where’s the headquarters of the racist rebellion? In 50/50 purple Florida? Kansas? Idaho?

    White terrorism? Sure. White males murdering brown and black and Jewish children? Yep. But the MAGA rats have all the problems their spiritual ancestors faced, and worse.

    The only Trump states without significant minority populations are places like Idaho, and Idaho is useless. What MAGAs would need above all is Texas. Texas:

    Texas’ white plurality is this close to being over, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. Any day now, it seems, the state is set to become majority Hispanic.

    According to the bureau’s 2018 population estimates, Texas has about 11.9 million white, non-Hispanic residents, compared with 11.4 million self-identified Hispanic residents. In 2010, the earliest year for which data is provided in the Census report, there were 9.5 million Hispanics living in Texas, compared with 11.4 million non-Hispanic whites.

    Add in 12% African-American, and the fact that all the major cities are majority minority, and Texas would have to fight itself before it could fight anyone else.

    What are the other big states where Trumpies have a distinct majority? Right: none.

    On the national level they’d face the problem that blacks, browns and Asians would be united, while whites would not be, so they can’t even look to a straight-up white vs. non-white fight. There would be a huge brain-drain favoring us. Corporations would have no choice but to favor us – the consumer of the future is not a 70 year-old racist in Alabama. Show me the major city white racists could take. Show me the research universities they would control, the media centers, the financial centers. The MAGA’s only ally would be 5,000 miles away in Moscow, whereas Canada and Mexico would be with us.

    We’re younger, richer, better-educated, better-positioned demographically and geographically. We can buy food overseas – we’d have an established currency and most of the major ports. They’d have no currency, no trade deals, no credit and nowhere to sell their agricultural produce or their oil.

    As for terrorism, show me where a terrorist campaign has managed to overthrow an established, wealthy country. This isn’t Afghanistan.

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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    We all know the Republican Party is broken, beyond repair I fear.

    Trump’s enemies have been in denial about this since the day he first declared for the White House — they have wrongly assumed that a healthy, old-fashioned, pro-establishment consensus must emerge out of sheer revulsion at Trump. Hence all the appeals on the part of anti-Trump pundits to Republican decency and conscience. They assume that, deep down, for all that Republicans are racists and deplorables, they still love the regime, and they will support it over Trump.

    I’m not sure where McCarthy is getting this. I and most of the Ds I know did not understand how broken the GOP really was until trump secured the nomination, which was long before the convention (the signs were there but in my case I was still thinking of the GOP too much in terms of all the Republicans I grew up around) but after trump became the GOP standard bearer we had no illusions whatsoever about what the GOP had become. I had hopes for specific individuals but not the party as a whole. When push came to shove most of those individuals disappointed and the rest of them abandoned the battlefield.

    I always thought trump’s re-election was unlikely given the way he won, and it has only become ever more farfetched given the way he has governed. But….

    What follows after this next election will be the result of all the “electoral fraud” seeds sown by the GOP over the years, their vote suppression schemes, their encouragement of 2nd Amendment solutions, the nativist appeals to “real America” and it’s grievances they pander too, their tolerance of criminal behavior in the current White House, and the authoritarian urges they have succumbed to.

    trump will have played a part too, but the GOP has been heading down this road for a long time.

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  12. @Kit: BTW, when I look at the graph you link to, what I see is historically low approval based pretty much exclusively on partisan approval. Also in the context of a good economy and no national crises.

    If we were in a room together, I could probably roughly explain each president’s graph as a combination of international events and the economy, Bush is easy: spike after 9/11 that predictably fades and then the mire in Iraq, Katrina, and the financial crisis. On Bush 41 you can easily track the Gulf War and then the recession. For Clinton, the tech boom, etc.

    I also see a president so unpopular that even a good economy isn’t helping him.

    What argument are you trying to make?

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  13. @Steven L. Taylor: Really, Trump has been blessed (or, maybe we have all been blessed) with no major crisis in his term.

    The economy has been steady (reflecting the trajectory it was on prior to his election) and there have been no major domestic or international crises. All of this sums to approval that is relatively steady. A more normal president under these conditions would have approval ratings north of 50, but Trump is not a normal president.

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  14. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Indeed, all of this is about the cumulative effect of small shifts, which we then treat as comprehensive.

    McCarthy never acknowledges that in his piece; he simply talks about which states were won or lost and ignores the margins or closeness of each state outcome. He then makes it sound like the outcomes can only be explained by the type of Republican who was running.

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  15. @Kylopod: To be clear, I agree with with this criticism.

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  16. DrDaveT says:

    @Kit:

    I think “the system” goes some way towards explaining how Trump captured the White House, but more is obviously going on.

    Agreed. And I think that ‘something’ is the RWNJ media bubble, so that there can now be no national consensus precisely because the two sides are working from two utterly dissimilar sets of ‘facts’. Until we admit that one team’s voters are working from a (flawed and blurry) sincere attempt to understand reality while the others’ have bought into a deliberately-constructed body of disinformation and lies, we’re not going to fix anything.

    The mainstream media have been understandably loath to take on the task of an outright fact war with the right wing. I fear they have waited too late, perhaps in hopes that GOP leadership would police their own. At this point, who could debunk the lies and be listened to by Trump’s base?

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  17. @OzarkHillbilly:

    We all know the Republican Party is broken, beyond repair I fear.

    But what does this mean in practical terms?

    A party is not, in my opinion, broken until such a time as it cannot win elections. There is no evidence or scenario in which the GOP is broken in that sense.

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  18. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    At the moment, what a lot of Republican voters see is a Republican President being attacked by a Democratic House majority. How do you think they will react?

    Well, a bit more like Democrats approval of Obama: he was attacked from Day 1, had no real scandals worthy of the name, but nonetheless suffered his ups and downs. Trump goes from strength to strength among Republican voters. That’s new, and I don’t think you can point to another time like this.

    I suspect that media plays a large role here: Trump is under attack, the country is under attack, only Republican leaders are legitimate. That’s new and that’s to stay.

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  19. gVOR08 says:

    Longer comment to follow when I have the time, but if we’re talking about building consensus, should we be using as an example another rich, entitled, lying white guy who is on tape voicing contempt for “47%” of the country?

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  20. @Kit:

    Well, a bit more like Democrats approval of Obama: he was attacked from Day 1, had no real scandals worthy of the name, but nonetheless suffered his ups and downs.

    The ups and downs were in the context of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and its aftereffects.

    I don’t really understand your argument/I am not sure you are reading the data correctly.

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  21. @DrDaveT:

    the two sides are working from two utterly dissimilar sets of ‘facts’.

    I think this matters, and not just because of RW media. We lost a common point of reference some time ago and that is also part of the issue.

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  22. wr says:

    It seems to me that the turning point was when the entire Republican establishment decided that Clinton’s election wasn’t legitimate — because Saint Ronnie owned the office of the president forever, and no Democrat was allowed to hold it.

    That was the first major step in the party’s now endless series of decisions that “whatever I don’t like is illegitimate and whatever I do like is commanded by the Constitution.” In fact, just as “conservatism” in its modern style has been defined as “the opposite of what a liberal does no matter what that is,” the Constitution now contains “whatever I want whenever I want it” — just as Article Two now reads “the president has unlimited power to do whatever he likes.”

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  23. Mister Bluster says:

    bless: to confer or invoke divine favor upon; ask God to look favorably on.

    If anything about Trump’s tenure is a supernatural blessing then I have one more reason to reject the divine.

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  24. Jay L Gischer says:

    I feel that the Republican Party does have a problem with it’s product. The Reagan formula – less government, lower taxes, government *is* the problem – doesn’t seem to be working as well as it did. I think the Great Recession exposed the fact that lots of people thought they government should help them in that situation, and it didn’t.

    It seems to me that Reagan fused the fiscal cons and the social cons together with this formula. “Government is the problem” works when you have many voters that feel that “activist judges” have “legislated from the bench” to make abortion legal. But they seem to be running out of things to outrage social conservatives.

    Conservative friends, even after they sort of endorse Trump in one breath, say he’s not really a conservative in the next. Sanders’ avowed socialist program got huge attention last cycle, and not just from the traditional Democratic left.

    I get the point that you are making about voting one’s identity, but at the same time, when we look over longer time periods, people do change.

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  25. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think this matters, and not just because of RW media.

    I’m genuinely curious to know what other causal force you see, other than RW media.

    I think there is an important qualitative difference between “we take different lessons from what happened in Vietnam” versus “millions of illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton”. The very act of fact-checking is now dismissed as a partisan (and therefore illegitimate) activity by both grass-roots GOP supporters and GOP office-holders. That’s the key asymmetry, IMHO.

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  26. @Jay L Gischer:

    when we look over longer time periods, people do change.

    Indeed.

    My point, however, is narrowly focused on a short period of time: from November of 2016 to now. Even people who might change dig in over the short term.

    Conservative friends, even after they sort of endorse Trump in one breath, say he’s not really a conservative in the next.

    And in the next breath will say that they still couldn’t have voted for HRC. And in the breath after that will talk about judges, low taxes, and the unemployment rate, among other things.

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  27. @DrDaveT:

    I’m genuinely curious to know what other causal force you see, other than RW media.

    To clarify, I was referring to the overall media environment’s fragmentation, which is not just a right wing phenomenon. When I was a child there were three network news program (max, depending on where you lived) and they all looked roughly the same. There was one newspaper (maybe two in a major metro area). We all consumed roughly the same pop culture and, therefore, had far more uniform world views.

    Cable news and talk radio in the 1980s and 1990s started to create different media universes. Then the internet gave us a thousand choices in the early 2000s and then social media allowed for algorithm-fueled delivery of what I want to see if even I don’t know I want to see it.

    It about the overall media environment.

    Don’t get me wrong, as I think that right-wing talk radio, FNC, and the like have had a hugely negative effect on the GOP, and indeed, Trump is in many ways the manifestation of all of that (really, the Ukraine thing is all of that stuff made manifest). I was just pointing out that in the broader question of political consensus it is not just a RW issue.

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  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I am unsure of what it means in practical terms. During Obama’s presidency it meant treating him as an illegitimate president to be thwarted at every legislative turn.

    broken until such a time as it cannot win elections.

    It has won the popular vote in a national election only once after GHWB. Considering that fact, by your definition one can at least see a few cracks in the party edifice. They only gained the WH via… What were your words? “Rules gave us trump.”

    Republicans can only seem to win in places where they can

    A) rig the rules, Georgia? Florida? North Carolina? Texas? Wisconsin? In each of those states (I am sure there are more) election rules were changed before elections, or enforced in a partisan manner, to insure a Republican win, and in the case of NC and WI the rules were changed after a Republican loss (overturned in court in WI)(unsure about NC) to re institute Republican control of state governance, or b) in gerrymandered districts (yes Ds are guilty of this too.) or C) states with majority rural populations (to a certain extent Ds /urban populations true too).

    Here in Misery, time and again we have had state amendments and referendums passed that the GOP has then turned around and tried to undo only to have the electorate again vote for said measure (example: Raising the minimum wage here)

    I may be overstating the case here, I won’t quibble if that is your point, I am a partisan after all. BUT… I don’t see DEMs willy nilly kicking voters off the rolls or redefining legal terms so they can ignore public referendums returning the vote to a disenfranchised populace or closing polling places in populated areas, or demanding proof of identity from citizens who can’t get it, or ad nauseum.

    Also, it may be unfair but I feel the need to point out that by your given definition there is only one unbroken party in Russia today. RT wins all the elections because they rig the rules too.

    ETA meant to close with a statement that we will see more fully what it means when one of 2 major political parties is broken before/ after 2020.

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  29. Teve says:

    Cable news and talk radio in the 1980s and 1990s started to create different media universes. Then the internet gave us a thousand choices in the early 2000s and then social media allowed for algorithm-fueled delivery of what I want to see if even I don’t know I want to see it.

    Acceptable conservatism in the era of the big three networks was Reagan, talk radio enabled Gingrich, and the internet gave us Trump.

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  30. @OzarkHillbilly:

    It has won the popular vote in a national election only once after GHWB.

    Indeed, an no one has hammered that point at this site more than I have.

    But, for a broken party, the GOP is doing rather well. It occupies the White House and controls the Senate.

    That is an odd definition of “broken.” (Not to mention governorships, state legislatures, etc).

    And without getting into arguments about rules, structures, and the manipulation thereof (of which my views are well known, I think), there is no sense in which the Republican Party is going to be replaced in the near term.

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  31. MarkedMan says:

    James, I’m surprised neither you or McCarthy noted an absolute demarcation as to when consensus died. In the Clinton years the Republicans, lead by Newt Gingrich, made a conscious decision that consensus was actually a negative. Gingrich’s 50% + 1 strategy was based on the Republican philosophy that if a vote looked like it would get one more Democratic vote than absolutely necessary it represented a lost opportunity so it was altered to contain more items offensive to Democrats but popular with Republican donors. This marked the end of budgets or crime bills or government reform acts passing with large majorities, i.e. the end of consensus. It wasn’t something that just happened because of societal change, but rather a deliberate choice by Republican leadership.

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  32. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And in the next breath will say that they still couldn’t have voted for HRC. And in the breath after that will talk about judges, low taxes, and the unemployment rate, among other things.

    Yeah, exactly. It falls on me as something that’s strange, and maybe a bit unstable, in an energetic sense. This isn’t a stable equilibrium.

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  33. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And in the next breath will say that they still couldn’t have voted for HRC.

    I think this is the key, at least for the non-deplorables. What exactly is it that they fear from a Democratic administration that makes Trumpism seem like a lesser evil? Vague warnings of ‘socialism’ don’t count — what specific outcomes do they think are both plausible products of a Dem administration and worse than what we knew we were getting with Trump (much less what we now know)?

    I think it matters whether GOP voters are afraid of the actual factual Democrats, or afraid of the fictional Democrats in their heads. Democrats today have the ‘advantage’ that they know the actual factual Republicans are even worse than anticipated.

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  34. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Indeed, an no one has hammered that point at this site more than I have.

    I know it Steven believe me I know it. And I know well your POVs on “rules, structures, and the manipulation thereof (of which my views are well known, I think)”, and I’m not talking about it being replaced any time soon, that’s not going to happen.

    I’m talking about the GOP’s lack of respect for the very principles of democracy, constitutional norms, and the scorched earth tactics they apply to any form of governance.

    That is an odd definition of “broken.”

    And to repeat myself, “by your given definition there is only one unbroken party in Russia today. RT wins all the elections because they rig the rules too.”

    I think we have a fundamental difference of opinion on what constitutes a functioning political party.

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  35. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But, for a broken party, the GOP is doing rather well. It occupies the White House and controls the Senate.

    That is an odd definition of “broken.” (Not to mention governorships, state legislatures, etc).

    One of the ways in which Trump’s worldview converges with that of the GOP today is in his reducing everything to the absolute zero-sum of winning and losing. Not only is he unable ever to admit to losing (a symptom of his pathological narcissism), but he’s always dividing the world into winners and losers, always claiming to be the former while calling those he wants to attack the latter. In 2017 he referred to terrorists as “losers.” In Trump’s value system, that’s the worst insult a person can get.

    In 1987 Roger Ebert made this prescient observation: “…in his autobiography Trump states, quite simply, that money no longer interests him very much. He is more motivated by the challenge of a deal and by the desire to win. His frankness is refreshing, but the key to reading that statement is to see that it considers only money, on the one hand, and winning, on the other. No mention is made about creating goods and services, to manufacturing things, to investing in a physical plant, to contributing to the infrastructure.”

    There’s nothing intrinsically “Republican” about this, but it’s where the the GOP has ended up today. If you point out that their party is broken, the statement means nothing to them as long as they’re maintaining power. For a lot of GOP voters, it doesn’t even matter what they do with that power (you think all Trumpists really care about tax cuts and judges?), it just matters that they have it, and the libs don’t. It’s less about policy than the pure dominance game (and it’s striking that so much of the policy they do focus on involves trying to tear down Obama’s legacy). They’re acting out a cathartic revenge fantasy, and Trump is to them the perfect vehicle for it.

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  36. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You seem to be arguing that we are forced to pick a team, and that we tend hold firm short of “international events and the economy”. You could, you say, roughly explain past presidents with these two variables. Then again, you do say that, given the economy, a normal president would have support over 50%. Isn’t this a sign that something’s amiss with your analysis?

    If Democrats are not responding to the economy, then why? I’d say that it’s because of toxic domestic politics. The economy would really have to boom for Trump to start peeling off support, but at just what heights we’d need to reach for this to happen will forever remain a mystery.

    And if D’s are responding to toxic domestic politics, then it only stands to reason that R’s must be too. Obviously, not all Republicans were fully onboard with the program during the election. But in my opinion, they are now. Lock her up? Kids in cages? They like what they see, and that’s the reason Trump’s support is so stable. In fact, the constant scandals, scandals which would have rocked any previous presidency, help sustain his support. People haven’t talked themselves in to supporting Trump — they are fully behind him. That bodes ill for the future, because there’s no going back to tofu Romney after having gorged on Trump Steaks.

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  37. Teve says:

    @Kit:

    That bodes ill for the future, because there’s no going back to tofu Romney after having gorged on Trump Steaks.

    SEAN HANNITY / BROCK TURNER 2024!

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  38. @MarkedMan:

    James, I’m surprised neither you or McCarthy noted an absolute demarcation as to when consensus died. In the Clinton years the Republicans,

    But more importantly (or, perhaps not coincidentally) 1994 is the clear moment of party realignment wherein Southern Dems started being Reps en masse. This restructured the party system.

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  39. @OzarkHillbilly: If you mean broken morally, especially as it pertains to certain democratic values, that is a different discussion (and I wouldn’t disagree).

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  40. mattBernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But, for a broken party, the GOP is doing rather well. It occupies the White House and controls the Senate.

    That is an odd definition of “broken.” (Not to mention governorships, state legislatures, etc).

    THIS!

    Its why I roll my eyes at all the predictions of the death of the Republican party.

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  41. @Kit:

    You seem to be arguing that we are forced to pick a team, and that we tend hold firm short of “international events and the economy”.

    More or less, yes.

    For the most part, voters have two choices: R & D. They choose and then tend to stick with their choice–often using rationalization to support their choice ex post.

    Then again, you do say that, given the economy, a normal president would have support over 50%. Isn’t this a sign that something’s amiss with your analysis?

    No.

    I am saying that responses to the question “Do you approve of the job the president is doing?” is predicated first on partisan ID and then other factors.

    But in my opinion, they are now. Lock her up? Kids in cages? They like what they see, and that’s the reason Trump’s support is so stable.

    You cannot reduce this to two cherry picked examples of some of the worst behavior.

    Some approve because of taxes. Other because of abortion. Yet another for a basket of reasons.

    I am not defending his defenders, but it is absolutely the case that you can’t do what you are doing, which is assume the worst of your adversaries, especially when we are looking at mass public opinion.

    You asked about the relative stability of his support. I think it is a function of partisanship and lack of other opinion-shifting items, such as economic and international crises. I think that as the impeachment issue grows the numbers are likely to get worse. And if the economy continues to slow, it will likewise shift.

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  42. @DrDaveT:

    What exactly is it that they fear from a Democratic administration that makes Trumpism seem like a lesser evil?

    For a family member of mine, it is taxes as a philosophical issue (it has motivated this person as long as I can remember).

    For a colleague of mine, it is abortion (and some other social issues, but especially abortion).

    And so forth.

    We can say that they are wrong or that they are prioritizing the wrong things or whatever, but they sincerely hold the given beliefs. And their positions are not irrational. If abortion is really one’s number one priority, voting for Trump makes sense over voting for HRC (as does endorsing McConnell’s behavior).

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  43. @mattBernius: And, as I also harp on, the party will adapt when it needs to because of the open nature of nominations via primaries.

    The incentive for third party formation of the type needed to challenge the exiting duopoly is nearly nonexistent.

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  44. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am saying that responses to the question “Do you approve of the job the president is doing?” is predicated first on partisan ID and then other factors.

    Yes, and one of those two factors was a strong economy that should influence Democrats, and which you admit does not. I think that’s a weak point in your analysis. I certainly wonder what will happen with impeachment–my first guess is to think that it will not move the needle unless Trump really has a meltdown. A slowing economy will be a real test, but I suspect it will not change enough over the next year to make a real difference to the average consumer. Let’s see…

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  45. @Kit: You asked why it has been so stable. Trump was polarizing from the get go and did not even win the popular vote. He started off in the hole in a very polarized environment.

    He is historically unpopular.

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  46. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    For a family member of mine, it is taxes as a philosophical issue […] For a colleague of mine, it is abortion […]

    Note that what these positions have in common is that they are about process, not about outcomes. It doesn’t matter to them which policy is better for America in the long run, or which one will lead to more freedom/happiness/prosperity/whatever. The goal is to prohibit disapproved behavior, no matter where that leads. Worse yet, the grounds for disapproval are not subject to argument or refutation — they are axioms, not theorems.

    I have commented on this before, but I haven’t really seen any acknowledgement or discussion of this distinction, or its implications for future polity.

    We can say that they are wrong or that they are prioritizing the wrong things or whatever, but they sincerely hold the given beliefs. And their positions are not irrational.

    I agree that they are sincerely held beliefs, but beliefs that cannot be affected by new information are the very definition of irrational. That’s not a condemnation of all such beliefs — my belief that torture is evil and never justified would fall in that category. From a practical point of view, though, it is important to distinguish issues where you might convince some people to change their views from issues where the views are immune to reasoned argument. If the GOP base is reduced to people who (to a first approximation) only have those kinds of views, that has important implications.

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  47. michael reynolds says:

    The weighted polling average on Nate Silver’s site has been 53 to 42 since forever. The gap is never better for Trump than 10 points, never worse than 13 points. There are maybe – maybe – 5% undecided. But the intensity numbers favor the anti-Trump side. So what we can hope for is not some sudden collapse – Trump is a white supremacist and the racists will stick with him because he’s a racist and that’s what they want him to be. A polling ‘win’ for us will not likely look like 75/25, but more like 58/38.

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  48. @DrDaveT:

    Note that what these positions have in common is that they are about process, not about outcomes.

    I am not sure what you mean. The one wants lower taxes, the other wants to limit abortion. Those are about outcomes.

    But, the point is not whether they are right or wrong (as you acknowledge). It is about the way in which beliefs drive behavior.

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  49. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The one wants lower taxes, the other wants to limit abortion. Those are about outcomes.

    The one wants lower taxes as an end in itself, regardless of what that does to the economy or the nation. The other wants to limit abortion, regardless of what that does to peoples’ lives overall. They are invested in the means as if they were ends, independent of any consequences.

    Classical liberalism would look at taxation levels and abortion policies as potential tools of the State to achieve broader goals, and would evaluate them analytically and empirically for their effectiveness and side effects, the way you would evaluate a medicine.

    The people you describe are not looking at taxation levels or abortion policies as proposed medicines whose pros and cons should be assessed. They are essentially refusing the medicine on moral/ethical/religious grounds that are not up for debate, even if that condemns the patient to death or disability. (As I said before, this is how I feel about torture, so I recognize the situation.)

    I see a sharp qualitative difference there, where you apparently do not. I’d be curious what other people think.

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  50. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The one wants lower taxes, the other wants to limit abortion. Those are about outcomes.

    Just to expand on my earlier comments: I’m willing to bet that the relative who wants to limit legal access to abortion would hold fast to that opinion even if there were overwhelming evidence that limiting legal access to abortion leads to more abortions (and more deaths in general) in the long run. I’m not claiming that this is actually true; I’m saying that your relative’s position is not contingent on it being false. It’s not really about reducing abortions (outcomes), it’s about not sanctioning abortion (process).

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  51. @DrDaveT:

    The one wants lower taxes as an end in itself, regardless of what that does to the economy or the nation. The other wants to limit abortion, regardless of what that does to peoples’ lives overall. They are invested in the means as if they were ends, independent of any consequences.

    Isn’t that the essence of any policy disagreement? Part of the disagreement being about consequences?

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  52. @DrDaveT:

    The people you describe are not looking at taxation levels or abortion policies as proposed medicines whose pros and cons should be assessed.

    I reject this assessment. If person X thinks lower taxes are good for reasons Z, Q, and Y they may be right or they may be wrong, but that have reasons for their position. Same with abortion.

    But the point I am making is that people do make political choices based on these kinds of issues and dig on their partisan choices. It really doesn’t matter if they are right or not or whether you like the way they reach their conclusions. I am trying to provide an explanation for political behavior. I am not trying to normatively defend a specific decision.

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  53. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You asked why it has been so stable. Trump was polarizing from the get go and did not even win the popular vote. He started off in the hole in a very polarized environment.

    He is historically unpopular.

    I asked why Trump’s support was so stable and that’s your answer? Because Trump was polarizing from the start, his level of support was by definition pinned? Sorry, but I just cannot follow that.

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  54. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    the clear moment of party realignment wherein Southern Dems started being Reps en masse.

    Not sure what you mean here? Is it that this was the time when Southern Democrats left the party and became Republicans?

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  55. @Kit: I tried to explain above. I am sorry if my explanation was unsatisfactory. I never said it was “pinned.”

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  56. @MarkedMan:

    Not sure what you mean here? Is it that this was the time when Southern Democrats left the party and became Republicans?

    The 1994 “Republican Revolution” was the culmination of a process at the national level of conservative southerns shifting from the Democratic to the Republican Party (it started slowly in the 1960s, but was a trickle for a long time). It fully penetrated the state level in the early 2000s.

    We don’t discuss enough the degree to which party behavior in the US was shaped by the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Republicans were anathema in the South from the 1870s until ~1990s this is why there seemed to be so much consensus in the Congress prior to the last several decades.

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  57. Teve says:

    @DrDaveT: I have Kentucky Trumper relatives who vote in every election, national, state, and local, based on who promises to cut taxes. They have not the slightest idea what any budget is, they know all the tax money goes to lazy blacks who sit on the couch all day instead of getting a job, and talking to them is like talking to a brick wall.

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  58. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I reject this assessment.

    Then we will have to agree to disagree on this.

    If person X thinks lower taxes are good for reasons Z, Q, and Y they may be right or they may be wrong, but they have reasons for their position.

    Would that it were so, but in my experience this is simply not true. Or, rather, sometimes the ‘reasons’ are atomic and axiomatic, not involved in any grander scheme of goals and not susceptible to empirical or logical refutation. Religious beliefs are the obvious example, but they are not by any means the only example. (I’m discounting purely selfish reasons, such as people who wouldn’t mind higher taxes on other people…)

    I encourage you to ask your abortion-opposed relative under what circumstances they would conclude that legalized abortion is the lesser of two evils.

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  59. @DrDaveT: You are basically saying that people who disagree with you have no legitimate reason to hold the opinions they hold because they didn’t reach those decisions the way you would like for them to have done so.

    In so doing you are also presenting yourself as a Vulcan-like logic machine who can’t possibly think the way your opponents do.

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  60. Keeping in mind that it is highly likely we agree more than we disagree, on a personal level, on the policy issues under discussion.

    Also keeping in mind that my initial point was about political behavior, not whether or not that behavior is defensible to someone else.

    And, as much as I would like political behavior (or human behavior in general) to be utterly rational, we all know well that it isn’t.

    Back when I would have been far more pro-lower taxes, I had reasons. I have reasons now as to why I think those old positions were wrong.

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  61. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You are basically saying that people who disagree with you have no legitimate reason to hold the opinions they hold because they didn’t reach those decisions the way you would like for them to have done so.

    Please, that’s unworthy of you. Re-read what I said above, including the parts about torture.

    I’m saying that there are two different mechanisms that people use in deciding policy positions. One has to do with what kinds of policies are acceptable and what kinds are unacceptable in and of themselves. For me, torture is unacceptable — not because it isn’t effective at achieving long-term policy goals, but because it is in and of itself evil. I am willing to limit America’s future possibilities in order to preserve it as a nation that does not torture.

    The other kind is the only kind you seem to recognize: policy positions that are chosen because they advance higher-level or longer-term goals. These can be debated productively, and can be reversed through new empirical discoveries. The analogy with medicines is useful here — if we learn through science that mercury-based treatments have side effects that are worse than the diseases they treat, we can decide to stop advocating for mercury-based treatments on that basis.

    The empirical question, then, is whether people who oppose taxation (or other behaviors of “big government”) or abortion rights do so for reasons of the first type, or the second type. I interpret your “I reject this assessment” as saying that you believe they are all of the second type — not held for their own sake, like my views on torture, but rather held in support of some higher goal, and subject to reversal given the right empirical evidence of ineffectiveness or nasty side effects.

    If that’s the case, we’ll have to agree to disagree. Again, this is not about correctness — a point I keep trying to make with my comments on torture. It’s about axioms versus theorems; ends versus means; necessary versus contingent positions.

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  62. Blue Galangal says:

    @DrDaveT: If I follow your and Steven’s arguments correctly, I think you may have hit on something. GOP/Trump policies are largely centred around owning the libs. As many have frequently pointed out here and elsewhere, current GOP policy positions are based on what Trump says they are at any given moment, which are in turn based on owning his enemies (conflated with “libs”) and self-aggrandisement.

    It doesn’t really matter that sex education and access to abortion curtails abortion rates or how much evidence is shown. It doesn’t even really matter that the logical outcome of a personhood law relegates women to second-class status. The outcomes are immaterial because “abortion is wrong.” It’s okay to murder an abortion provider because “abortion is wrong.”

    Regarding taxes, propaganda has resulted in “low taxes = good” as an article of faith even for those people (say, in eastern Kentucky who need access to affordable health care). Low taxes are the end, in and of themselves, and the consequences/outcomes of low taxes for millionaires are disregarded.

    Agricultural policy in Germany and Japan is more centrally planned than in a country like the US, for policy and societal reasons. Take zoning in the exurbs around US cities. Majority white exurbs welcome the new growth fleeing those brown people and integrated schools, and rezone the heck out of the land around them, adding substantially to their population (and tax base, such as it is) but not planning how to accommodate the growth in population as far as services (education, water/sewer, power, even cable lines). The outcome of the unchecked rezoned growth is a city too large for its services and its tax base but taxes can’t and won’t be raised because low taxes = good. This has happened in several communities around Cincinnati and it’s… insane. Kids walking to school for 2 miles on roads with no sidewalks because we can’t raise taxes to pay for buses, God forbid. Parents organizing carpools – but not voting to raise taxes to pay for buses.

    In two countries I have firsthand knowledge of, Germany and Japan, each looked at their landlocked country – and I acknowledge that the history of the US has been in large part predicated on the frontier and the vast open spaces as a sidebar – and understood that unchecked construction/growth was not the best outcome for their society as a whole. Further, a diversity of farming and smaller farms had outcomes that contributed to the economy, to a stable agricultural base, to health and welfare, etc.

    I’m not sure that anyone in the US is actually capable of thinking beyond the next quarterly earnings statement, and that includes agro business, with an agricultural secretary who literally thinks and says that small family farms are economically unviable. That would be an outrageous pronouncement and grounds for resignation/firing in many other countries. Here, I’m not even sure anyone noticed. And – as you say – no one is thinking about the outcome of this assertion or this philosophy at all.

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  63. @DrDaveT:

    I interpret your “I reject this assessment” as saying that you believe they are all of the second type — not held for their own sake, like my views on torture, but rather held in support of some higher goal, and subject to reversal given the right empirical evidence of ineffectiveness or nasty side effects.

    I find your entire framing problematic, because I don’t think you have the basis to categorize these various issues the way you are doing.

    Beyond that, no view (even yours on torture) is held for its own sake and without regard to any other value or issue.

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  64. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: If I were going to describe the broken state, I would say that the Republicans are no longer capable of either leading in the goal of forming a consensus or acting as a minority balance in achieving that consensus.

    Either is more damaging to the country than the ability/lack thereof to win elections. And if those qualities do not represent broken, then the term may well be useless.

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  65. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I reject this assessment. If person X thinks lower taxes are good for reasons Z, Q, and Y they may be right or they may be wrong, but that have reasons for their position. Same with abortion.

    True enough, but the “reasons” still exist in a vacuum where alternative reasoning, evaluation of results, cause/effect relationships don’t matter and aren’t considered. The reasons serve as articles of faith rather than as reasons. In that sense, no, they don’t have reasons; they have dogma.

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  66. @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    And if those qualities do not represent broken, then the term may well be useless.

    Again, it depends on precisely what you mean by “broken.”

    To me you are telling me the car is “broken” while I am watching it drive from place to place.

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  67. @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    True enough, but the “reasons” still exist in a vacuum where alternative reasoning, evaluation of results, cause/effect relationships don’t matter and aren’t considered. The reasons serve as articles of faith rather than as reasons. In that sense, no, they don’t have reasons; they have dogma.

    First, let me note again, my original point was about political behavior. As such, it really doesn’t matter as to the quality of the position that motivates that action.

    Second, the problem I am having with this assessment, and with @DrDaveT is that the nature of the position you are taking is that your opponents are inherently wrong and therefore are essentially invalidating any chance that they might have a cogent reason for their positions (and, there is the implication that your positions aren’t dogmatic or irrational).

    I have no problem pointing out how an argument is wrong or why a position is problematic. But there is a preemptive “I know best and they don’t” to the whole conversation that I find to be a problem.

    But, again, I don’t have to think that someone’ else’s views on taxes or abortion are well thought out to recognize the way in which those view clearly motivate their voting behavior.

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  68. @Steven L. Taylor:

    the “reasons” still exist in a vacuum where alternative reasoning, evaluation of results, cause/effect relationships don’t matter and aren’t considered.

    BTW: this may be true, or it may not be true. But can’t you see how asserting the above is condescending and presumptuous because you have asserted it simply based on a declaration that Person X vote Republican mainly because of taxes and Person Y does so mainly because of abortion. You don’t know anything else than that, but you are so confident that they are using “alternative reasoning” and that “cause/effect relationships don’t matter and aren’t considered.”

    You don’t know anything more than two policy areas, and you can conclude the above?

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  69. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Second, the problem I am having with this assessment, and with @DrDaveT is that the nature of the position you are taking is that your opponents are inherently wrong

    Please stop saying this. It isn’t true. If I believed this, I’d also have to believe that my own objections to torture are “inherently wrong”. I feel like you are deliberately ignoring most of what I said and distorting my position here. The distinction I am making is not between correct and incorrect, or good and evil — as I have made clear above.

    you have asserted it simply based on a declaration that Person X vote Republican mainly because of taxes and Person Y does so mainly because of abortion.

    Where the hell did you get that idea?

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  70. @DrDaveT: The second part was directed at @Just nutha ignint cracker‘s comment specifically.

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  71. @DrDaveT:

    Please stop saying this. It isn’t true. If I believed this, I’d also have to believe that my own objections to torture are “inherently wrong”. I feel like you are deliberately ignoring most of what I said and distorting my position here. The distinction I am making is not between correct and incorrect, or good and evil — as I have made clear above.

    This has become one of those conversations that I suspect we could better settle in person.

    And we can let it rest for the moment.

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  72. @DrDaveT: BTW, the reason I think you think that they are wrong inherently is because of this, which was at the start of the thread:

    Note that what these positions have in common is that they are about process, not about outcomes. It doesn’t matter to them which policy is better for America in the long run, or which one will lead to more freedom/happiness/prosperity/whatever. The goal is to prohibit disapproved behavior, no matter where that leads.

    This strikes me as dismissive (also, I find your process v. outcomes categories problematic).

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  73. R. Dave says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think you and DrDaveT may be inadvertently talking past each other here. It seems to me that DrDaveT is really just saying that when a political position is based on a deontological first principle, it’s not likely to change in response to counterarguments based on consequentialist reasoning, so to the extent the left/right gap in the US reflects a true disagreement over first principles, we’re pretty much screwed.

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  74. gVOR08 says:

    I don’t want to fisk McCarthy, although someone should ask:
    – Why would an anti-Trump R automatically duplicate Romney’s 2012 map?
    – What, exactly, are non-populist Rs advertising?
    – What was this national consensus that enabled Reagan and HW?
    – While supporting D congresses?
    -Did crime just happen to rise to the top of the agenda?
    – Shouldn’t Movement Conservatism and race enter into this discussion?
    – I do give McCarty credit for recognizing that Trump ran against the GOP establishment as much as anything else.
    – And that the ancien regime is largely Republican. If only about 50 years ancien.

    But McCarthy does have a glimpse of reality. Of late I’ve been re-reading Chris Hayes 2012 book, The Twilight of the Elites which seems apt to our current situation. James subtitled this post “A conservative columnist argues the legitimacy of our system is in question.” Indeed it is.

    Hayes starts by discussing the opening decade of the century. Let me very briefly summarize:
    – “The financial crisis and the grinding, prolonged economic immiseration it has precipitated are just the most recent instances of elite failure, the latest in an uninterrupted cascade of corruption and incompetence.” And prior to that:
    – The Supreme Court handed an election to W using tortured logic they wouldn’t stand behind.
    – Nineteen guys with box cutters defeated our massive security apparatus and we went into endless wars.
    – Enron collapsed, showing itself to be an elaborate fraud enabled by the most trusted accounting firm in the world.
    – New Orleans flooded.
    And then the financial system collapsed.
    – And Washington bailed out Wall Street, but no one else.
    Since then we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia invaded Ukraine, the Brits have gone off their nut, half of Eastern Europe has gone fascist, and we elected Trump. And we’ve done nothing about Global Warming or accelerating wealth concentration, despite that they’re staring us in the face.

    The fact is, the Trumpskyites and the Bernie Bros are correct to feel the establishment is at best incompetent, and likely corrupt. We had better deal with it. And not by pretending it ain’t so.

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  75. @R. Dave:

    I think you and DrDaveT may be inadvertently talking past each other here.

    This is almost certainly he case.

    It seems to me that DrDaveT is really just saying that when a political position is based on a deontological first principle, it’s not likely to change in response to counterarguments based on consequentialist reasoning, so to the extent the left/right gap in the US reflects a true disagreement over first principles, we’re pretty much screwed.

    This actually helps. I think some issues (such as abortion) do fall in this camp, and perhaps, yes, we are screwed as a result.

    I am not sure that things like taxes fall in that category.

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  76. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: There was certainly a time when I supported lower taxes purely on principle: that the government simply shouldn’t be taking so much money away from people who had earned it. Similarly, I opposed abortion in much the way that you (and I) oppose torture. I’m not sure why that’s any less a legitimate basis for policy—and therefore partisan—preferences than consequentialism.

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  77. @James Joyner: Indeed. Further, 0ne would expect that a given person’s views (and therefore the motivation of their partisan voting behavior) is a mix of principles based on a notion of right and wrong and a series of consequentialist assumptions. But, of course, those two things bleed into one another. A lot assertions of right and wrong are based on assumed consequences of given acts. And a lot of right and wrong are assessed by looking at the consequences of actions.

    What I know for sure is that most people, even well education ones, don’t neatly put their positions cleanly into those two categories, and hence my difficulty with much of the above discussion.

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  78. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    There was certainly a time when I supported lower taxes purely on principle: that the government simply shouldn’t be taking so much money away from people who had earned it. […] I’m not sure why that’s any less a legitimate basis for policy—and therefore partisan—preferences than consequentialism.

    It isn’t. Obviously.

    But in the real world, we were sold low taxation levels based on trickle-down economics.

    If people died from lack of treatment (because they couldn’t afford health care), we were told they were all lazy rather than simply unlucky.

    Similarly, “abortion is murder,” “life starts at conception,” etc., but IVF for good, Christian couples is OK.

    It’s not the principles themselves that are illegitimate (even if I personally think that they are quite wrong), it’s the fact that 95% of those who professionally propagate these principles are liars.

    How can voters hold legitimate preferences if they are systematically lied to regarding the consequences and trade-offs of their positions?

    That, I think, is the question.

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  79. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Similarly, I opposed abortion in much the way that you (and I) oppose torture. I’m not sure why that’s any less a legitimate basis for policy—and therefore partisan—preferences than consequentialism.

    Again, for the fourth time: I am not making any claims about the legitimacy of such positions. I don’t know where Dr. Taylor got that, and it’s poisoning this discussion. I am making claims about how you need utterly different strategy and tactics if the voters you are worried about aren’t motivated by consequences. You can’t reason someone out of a belief that taxation is theft or that abortion is unconscionable by pointing to the adverse social consequences of low taxes and anti-abortion laws. If you want their votes, you need a different tactic. (Or, in some cases, you need to recognize that you can’t get their votes without compromising your core principles, so switch to trying to minimize how energized they are to get out and vote.)

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  80. Andy says:

    Yes, I think the old consensus is gone and it’s pretty clear it was not sustainable.

    That doesn’t mean that a new consensus cannot form nor does it mean that Democrats are destined to rule America while the GoP remains mired in infighting and nativism.

    However, I think the fundamental problem is the one Steven has written about many times here – the party’s lack of power to control the direction of the party itself. The GoP, in particular, is a vessel that can be captured by whatever faction can win in the primary process. The Democrats have a broader base but are heading in that direction too.

    This is not a system that is conducive to developing consensus-based majorities – rather, it’s a system that is primed to reward narrow but well-organized interests.

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  81. @Andy: This is especially true when political institutions (e.g., Senate, EC, etc.) reward narrow constituencies at the expense of majority preferences.

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