The Leaderless GOP

The Republican Party is not really a thing.

Two stories highlighted today at YahooNews exemplify a point that Steven Taylor and I have both been stressing about the nature of American political parties.

The first, from Tim Reid of Reuters (“Exclusive: Dozens of former Bush officials leave Republican Party, calling it ‘Trump cult‘”):

Dozens of Republicans in former President George W. Bush’s administration are leaving the party, dismayed by a failure of many elected Republicans to disown Donald Trump after his false claims of election fraud sparked a deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol last month.

These officials, some who served in the highest echelons of the Bush administration, said they had hoped that a Trump defeat would lead party leaders to move on from the former president and denounce his baseless claims that the November presidential election was stolen.

But with most Republican lawmakers sticking to Trump, these officials say they no longer recognize the party they served. Some have ended their membership, others are letting it lapse while a few are newly registered as independents, according to a dozen former Bush officials who spoke with Reuters.

“The Republican Party as I knew it no longer exists. I’d call it the cult of Trump,” said Jimmy Gurulé, who was Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in the Bush administration.

Kristopher Purcell, who worked in the Bush White House’s communications office for six years, said roughly 60 to 70 former Bush officials have decided to leave the party or are cutting ties with it, from conversations he has been having. “The number is growing every day,” Purcell said.

Their defection from the Republican Party after a lifetime of service for many is another clear sign of how a growing intraparty conflict over Trump and his legacy is fracturing it.

The party is currently caught between disaffected moderate Republicans and independents disgusted by the hold Trump still has over elected officials, and Trump’s fervently loyal base. Without the enthusiastic support of both groups, the party will struggle to win national elections, according to polling, Republican officials and strategists.

The second, from Annie Karni and Mike Baker at the NYT (“An Emboldened Extremist Wing Flexes Its Power in a Leaderless GOP“) starts off amplifying the first story:

Knute Buehler, who led Oregon’s Republican ticket as the candidate for governor in 2018, watched with growing alarm in recent weeks as Republicans around the nation challenged the reliability of the presidential election results.

Then he watched the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol in horror. And then, to his astonishment, Republican Party officials in his own state embraced the conspiracy theory that the attack was actually a left-wing “false flag” plot to frame Trump supporters.

The night after his party’s leadership passed a formal resolution promoting the false flag theory, Buehler cracked open a local microbrew and filed to change his registration from Republican to independent.

But, as the headline suggests, there’s a major plot twist:

His unhappy exit highlighted one facet of the upheaval now underway in the GOP: It has become a leaderless party, with veterans like Buehler stepping away, luminaries like Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio retiring, far-right extremists like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia building a brand on a web of dangerous conspiracy theories, and pro-Trump Republicans at war with other conservatives who want to look beyond the former president to the future.

With no dominant leader other than the deplatformed one-term president, a radical right movement that became emboldened under former President Donald Trump has been maneuvering for more power, and ascending in different states and congressional districts. More moderate Republicans feel increasingly under attack, but so far have made little progress in galvanizing voters, donors or new recruits for office to push back against extremism.

Instead, in Arizona, the state Republican Party has brazenly punished dissent, formally censuring three of its own: Gov. Doug Ducey, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of former Sen. John McCain. The party cited their criticisms of Trump and their defenses of the state’s election process.

In Wyoming, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., headlined a rally Thursday to denounce Rep. Liz Cheney for her vote to impeach Trump. Joining Gaetz by phone hookup was Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son, who has been working to unseat Cheney and replace her with someone he believes better represents the views of her constituents — in other words, fealty to his father.

In Kentucky, grassroots Republicans tried to push the state party to pass a resolution urging Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, to fully support Trump in next month’s impeachment trial. The effort failed.

And in Michigan, Meshawn Maddock, a Trump supporter who pushed false claims about voter fraud and organized buses of Republicans from the state to attend the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, is running unopposed to become the new co-chair of the state party. While marching from the Ellipse to the Capitol on Jan. 6, Maddock praised the “most incredible crowd and sea of people I’ve ever worked with.”

The common theme is that the Republican Party is currently being dominated by what were formerly fringe elements and the Old Guard isn’t happy about it. But, really, the story is that “the Republican Party” isn’t really a thing. Or, at least, it’s not one thing.

As I observed on Twitter this morning in instant reaction to the first of these reports, “It’s not clear what this means in practice. Have they joined the Democratic Party, the only other viable political party in our system? Are they forming an alternative party? The report doesn’t say.”

I don’t mean that as criticism. It’s just that “leaving the Republican Party” really has no meaning in and of itself.

Using myself as an example, while I have lived in more than my fair share of states, I’ve never been in one that had party registration. Still, I identified with and regularly voted for Republican candidates for most of my political life.

I was increasingly disenchanted with the GOP well before the rise of the Tea Party, or even before Sarah Palin was selected as John McCain’s running mate. But, for all intents and purposes, I remained a Republican, voting for the party’s nominees.

While I voted in the 2016 Republican primaries to signal my displeasure for the seemingly inevitable nomination of Donald Trump, I was for all intents and purposes an ex-Republican that cycle, in that I was sure that I wouldn’t vote for Trump. Because of a deep-seated enmity for the Democratic nominee, it took a long time for me to decide to vote for her but, ultimately, I did.

I don’t think of myself as a Democrat, for both tribal and ideological reasons, but I’m for all intent and purposes a Democrat these days, having voted for their presidential nominee for two straight cycles and exclusively for their nominees for Congressional and gubernatorial races as well.

The former Bush officials had more stature in the GOP than I do but their “membership” is equally meaningless. If they’re, to coin a phrase, Former Republicans in Name Only—that is, continuing to donate to and vote for Republicans while bitching about it—they’re, for all intents and purposes, still Republicans. If they start organizing for and voting Democrats while refusing to wear that mantle they, like me, are for all intents and purposes Democrats. And if they sit on the sidelines and pout about how things used to be when Reagan was still alive, they’re simply non-factors.

Now, it’s possible that they’ll try to start up an alternative party. For reasons we’ve beat to death here over the years, that’s all but doomed to be Quixotic.

Conversely, though, the censures and condemnations of the Old Guard Republicans who have dared to speak out against their beloved cult leader by New Establishment Trumpists are similarly meaningless.

Liz Cheney was just re-elected to another two-year House term. Unless she’s defeated in the 2022 primaries, she’ll be the Republican nominee in another two years whether the Wyoming Republican establishment likes it or not. And, so long as those in the Congressional Republican Caucus allow it, she’ll retain her leadership role.

The same applies in spades to Mitch McConnell. He’s just secured another six-year term. It’s possible that his caucus will take away his leadership position. But he’s been around long enough and is shrewd enough a politician that he’ll almost certainly push no further than he can get away with.

There’s no theoretical reason that a more moderate faction with a more optimistic and broader appeal couldn’t emerge and take the party-in-government back over. Certainly, it would be able to attract elite donor support. It’s just not at all clear what message would animate such a movement.

Because of that, the Trump/Tea Party/Freedom Caucus/populist wing of the party is likely to remain ascendant for awhile. They have managed to animate the base of primary voters, who have voted out or scared into acquiescence most of the Old Guard.

The Establishment has some influence over who it promotes and funds but, ultimately, no control over which candidates get nominated. The bottom line is that “the Republican Party” is largely whatever people who show up to Republican primaries make it.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Politics 101, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies 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. Sleeping Dog says:

    In many respects it is not unusual for a party to be leaderless, consider who led the out of power Rs after 08 and the Dems after 16. What happens in that case is the establishment exerts control till another natural leader, be it a future presidential nominee or the party takes back one or both houses of Congress and the leadership in Congress speaks for the R party. What is unique here is that the inmates are running the asylum and they’ve rejected the establishment.

    As a Dem, it would be nice to sit back and watch this train wreck play out for the party, but with the real possibility that the Rs could take one or both houses in 22 despite a Q platform…

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  2. Jay L Gischer says:

    Yeah, it matters less that they change their registration or let a membership card expire than it matters how they vote, work, and donate to. The craziness will continue until people like them stop voting for it.

    After all, I never voted for that craziness. So it isn’t up to me.

    1
  3. MarkedMan says:

    In the sense you are describing (and it is an entirely valid one) both the Dems and Repubs are leaderless – by design. At the national level*, Party officials don’t have any significant power to choose one candidate over another, sanction members who get out of line, or completely cut off funds to a candidate who doesn’t reflect the Party values. This state of affairs means there can be no actual leader. It didn’t used to be this way and was deliberately brought about over the course of decades.

    But in the other sense of “leader”, meaning a “most powerful amongst the powerful”, I challenge your basic premise. Trump is clearly that leader. Yes, there are Republicans who are grousing about the boss but, as your post suggests, if they absolutely cannot tolerate him they quit the party. Those that remain don’t challenge him. If that isn’t proof that Trump is the boss of the Republican Party, I can’t imagine what can be.

    *Of course, state and local level parties are different and some of them do have actual power.

    1
  4. R. Dave says:

    Does anyone happen to know whether/how “the Establishment wing” of the GOP could retake control of the nominating process – e.g., via superdelegates or some other mechanism? How/when are the rules for the process amended? Note, I’m not talking about political feasibility here, just what the administrative mechanics would be to do it if the will was there.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s just not at all clear what message would animate such a movement.

    This is the essential problem. Granting all the structural barriers to a third party, the ‘Old Guard’ doesn’t stand for anything but servicing big business. The intellectual bankruptcy of the GOP and the conservative movement created the vacuum filled by the Trump Cult. There won’t be a ‘return to’ because there’s no there to return to.

    Let me pose it as a question: what is it that so-called conservatives, the ‘Old Guard,’ want? What are their policy goals? Democratic proposals. . . but less? Less action on climate change? Less stimulus? Less of an effort to rein in police? Less immigration reform? I honestly have no idea what they want.

    This aimlessness mirrors the aimlessness in the Trump Cult which has zero actual policy goals beyond ‘we want cult leader back!’ Belligerence is not a policy. Lies are not a policy.

    The only party that has actual, real world policy ideas is the Democratic Party. We won the ideological battle. So called conservatives in the US are where communists were in the USSR after the wall came down. Their big ideas turned out to be nonsense. Trickle down economics is the new collectivized agriculture.

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:

    *Of course, state and local level parties are different and some of them do have actual power.

    Only so long as Trump stays off Twitter.

    1
  7. DrDaveT says:

    Let me pose it as a question: what is it that so-called conservatives, the ‘Old Guard,’ want?

    They want what moderate conservatives have always wanted — namely, to declare that today (or possibly yesterday) has realized the perfect amount of human progress, and thus should be sealed in amber for all time without further change.

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  8. Andy says:

    It’s a bit disconcerting that moderates are choosing to leave instead of fight for control. The GoP isn’t going anywhere and the Democrats are not interested in welcoming disaffected GoP moderates with any policy bones.

    If moderates cede control of the party to the Trumpist faction, take their ball and go home, then I’m not sure what they think the endgame will be. Are they assuming that a Trumpist GoP faction will keep losing which will eventually allow moderate elements to become ascendant in the party once more?

    That’s the way things have worked in the past when a party got its butt kicked in national elections – it was forced to reform to become competitive again. But this feels different. People aren’t calling for party reform, they are quitting. I’m not convinced that strategy will work this time.

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  9. MarkedMan says:

    @R. Dave:

    Does anyone happen to know whether/how “the Establishment wing” of the GOP could retake control of the nominating process – e.g., via superdelegates or some other mechanism?

    Just to note, the Dems are now significantly closer to this state of affairs, essentially eliminating the super-delegates. This was at the behest of Bernie and his sore-loser campaign. Hillary beat his sorry ass without needing a single superdelegate vote but Bernie pretends that’s the only reason she won. It’s his version of Trump’s “millions of illegal immigrants being bused in to vote” alternate reality.

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  10. Teve says:

    @Andy: Dude none of the 27 GOP moderates in existence think they have any hope to fight for.

    4
  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    disaffected GoP moderates with any policy bones

    Who are these moderates with policy bones that inhabited the GOP? I honestly can’t think of one. What policy has the GOP been successful in implementing? Tax cuts? Cutting pollution controls? Further incentives to drill for oil? Even if you count these as successes the actual bills were written by lobbyists, not by GOP staffers and certainly not by GOP office holders. Starting with Reagan the GOP has denigrated people with actual policy experience, and that attitude got turned up to 11 by Gingrich and Co. Why would anyone interested in policy in the past 30-40 years have joined the Republicans?

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  12. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan & Teve:

    The point is there is a large and very real constituency of voters who are nominal Republicans but not Trumpists. Who do they vote for if Trumpists take complete control of the party without even a fight? That’s the salient question in my view.

    2
  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    I am fairly sure that it is this process – this very thing, driven by Republican anti-immigration politics – that has resulted in California having Democratic supermajorities. This might not work that way in every state, but if it works that way in, say, Texas and North Carolina, and maybe a few other states (is Ohio too far gone, I don’t know?) things look very different on the national level. We could see a swing in Utah, too.

    It takes a while for this stuff to play out.

    2
  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andy: A Libertarian, a DEM, or far more likely, nobody at all. If moderate conservatives are so disaffected that they can not bring themselves to vote for today’s Republicans, those are their choices. If enough of them sit out the next election or 2 that the GOP starts losing important races, See AZ and GA, the gop will begin to feel pressure to moderate.

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  15. gVOR08 says:

    From

    roughly 60 to 70 former Bush officials have decided to leave the party or are cutting ties with it

    There are something like 4,000 “political appointment positions” in an administration per WIKI. Given turnover we’re talking well north of 5,000 “former Bush officials”. More if this is HW in addition to W. Wake me up when the defections approach 10%. Or when Koch, Mercer, Adelson (Miriam), etc. let it be known they’re abandoning the faux populism and only funding moderate GOP candidates.

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  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Andy:

    The point is there is a large and very real constituency of voters who are nominal Republicans but not Trumpists. Who do they vote for if Trumpists take complete control of the party without even a fight?

    The guy with an R after his name, no matter how Trumpy. Same as they did in 2016 and 2020.

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  17. Teve says:

    @Andy: it should be obvious from the craven behavior of Republican politicians over the last two months that they are terrified of showing any resistance to Trump because they know they’ll be primaried out immediately. A few Republican politicians like McConnell made vague anti-Trump noises for a few days and had to walk it back immediately. McConnell has one of the safest seats in the world and even he quickly realized he couldn’t fight this.

    There’s no Hannity promoting moderation. There’s no OANN supporting compromise. Gateway Pundit won’t listen to your reasonable budget bargain idea. They fuckin turned on Mike Pence in a heartbeat when Trump told them to. Mike Pence is the evangelical Republican dream candidate and Donald Trump is Sodom and Gomorrah but as soon as Trump snapped his fingers they hit the ramparts.

    Yeah I agree that there are Republican voters who would go along with a Bob Dole or Jack Kemp, but it’s an institutional and enthusiasm and organization problem. The moderate politicians, who have a closer read of the situation than you or me, think it’s futile at the moment.

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  18. Scott F. says:

    @Andy:

    The point is there is a large and very real constituency of voters who are nominal Republicans but not Trumpists.

    “Very real constituency of voters who are nominal Republicans” I will give you, but where does “large” come from? Per the Morning Consult poll, 81% of Republican voters polled Jan. 23-25 had a positive view of Trump, up from 76% who said the same Jan. 10-12.

    Who do they vote for if Trumpists take complete control of the party without even a fight?

    Based on polling and the behavior of GOP politicians, the Trumpists have complete control of party now. The fight is already over. 74M+ Republicans voted for a continuation of the same in the WH and an increase of Trumpism for office holders further down the ticket. The moderates of the GOP, the few of them that exist, don’t have the forces to fight back for party control and those who want control back don’t want it enough to vote out all Republicans to clear the field. The moderates are homeless until that time that they vote for Democrats such that Republicans lose big.

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  19. Mu Yixiao says:

    Just a note: While the Presidential race is locked into the two-party system, there’s nothing preventing a split in the current Republican party to result in a bunch of congressional seats taken by a new Conservative Party. Just as AOC and crew could break off an run as Democratic Socialists if they wanted.

    There are currently 2 “independents” that have been elected (not counting people like Amash who changed party while in office), and Alaska came pretty close to electing 2 more (9 point difference in the House, 3 points in the Senate).

    1
  20. David S. says:

    @gVOR08: Not disagreeing, but there’s an interesting bit in this article about how Trumpers are also leaving the GOP because GOPers denounced Trump:

    https://www.npr.org/2021/02/01/962246187/spurred-by-the-capitol-riot-thousands-of-republicans-drop-their-party

    And yeah, “thousands” is not a lot in terms of percentage points, either.

    1
  21. Blue Galangal says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Who are these moderates with policy bones that inhabited the GOP? I honestly can’t think of one.

    I’m racking my brain. The GOP has moved so close to fascism as to be functionally indistinguishable. The “moderate” Romney, along with the “moderate” Ben Sasse, would nominate (did vote to confirm) Amy Coney Barrett to the SC in a heartbeat. Kasich is a never Trumper but he’s no moderate. Lisa Murkowski? MAAAYBE? I mean… one. I can think of one possibility.

    2
  22. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    The problem with your independent conservative scenario, is who do these upstanding conservatives caucus with? They’re not likely to caucus with the Dems due to political differences, so they are stuck caucusing with Rs, so nothing really changes. Now if ethical conservatives chose to run as independents creating 3-way house and senate races that tipped the balance to Dems… But I’m not holding my breath.

    King and Bernie are effectively Dems, the leadership doesn’t treat them any differently than other Dems.

    2
  23. Andy says:

    @Teve:

    The moderate politicians, who have a closer read of the situation than you or me, think it’s futile at the moment.

    Look, I get all that. I’m just wondering how they think this thing ends. What do they think ceding the GoP to the fringe right will accomplish? As I asked, what is their endgame?

    I’m coming at this from a strategic POV. Politics is ultimately about power. The only way to power in national politics in this country (in most cases) is via one of the two parties. For professional partisans, quitting the field only makes sense if it’s a temporary, tactical retreat.

    But it’s still very early days. It’s quite likely the GoP hasn’t hit rock bottom yet.

    @Scott F.:

    And polling also indicates that affiliation with the GoP among voters generally has dropped six points since the election.

    It’s kind of obvious the GoP will become more pro-Trump as others leave or disassociate themselves from the party and Republican brand.

    3
  24. Jen says:

    The Republican party has been drifting towards Trumpism for years. The moderates just didn’t realize it was happening–a bunch of the Lincoln Project group have said as much.

    Trying to fight for control isn’t going to work. It may be a statistically significant group, but it isn’t large enough to matter, at least not nationally. There are likely pockets of sanity that remain (a handful of suburbs), but the real problem is that they didn’t realize how loony the party was becoming.

    @Mu Yixiao: Of the Independents in the Senate, one runs as a Dem in the primary to lock out competition in the general, and the other is a long-established fixture in Maine politics.

    It is pretty difficult to run as an unknown Independent, but not impossible.

    1
  25. Teve says:
  26. Loviatar says:

    There is a great quote I’m semi remembering, so this is a paraphrase.

    I want to win, but I know I may lose. What I don’t want to do is lose to a political party that will kill my country.

    We need two sane political parties that have a reasonable chance of winning elections. If the Republican party gains power anytime over the next generation (20 years), America will cease to exist. There will be a country called America, but it won’t be America.

  27. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    there is a large and very real constituency of voters who are nominal Republicans

    My bad, I thought you meant Republican legislators since you mentioned “policy bones”. But you are right. The Democrats can make themselves more appealing to these voters by stressing different parts of their message. I don’t think they need to change much in the way of policy. I don’t think there is any evidence that Republicans have been motivated by policies the Dem could actually compromise on and retain their existing voters. Fiscal conservatism? There has been no actual policy of Republican fiscal conservatism in my lifetime. Whenever they assume the reins of power, with one exception, they spent like mad sailors and ran up massive debt. And that one exception? George H.W. Bush, whose career was destroyed when he actually took that fiscal conservatism seriously and tried to correct the wild spending and tax cutting of the Reagan years. He was an idiot to believe the Party of Reagan was still the Party of Eisenhower. There is just no evidence that after 50 years there remains any more than a handful of Republican voters motivated by fiscal conservatism.

    So what should Dems do to appeal to disenchanted Republicans? Focus on effectiveness and winning. So much better to act quickly on global climate change and trumpet every victory and celebrate every milestone than to try to tone it down in the hopes of attracting some mythical Republican voter who, what, believes in climate change but thinks the best way to go forward is with every diminishing steps?

    Make it a huge deal that you are going to fight to get high speed internet at reasonable costs to every rural area and, since the cable providers are going to fight you every step of the way, make them the enemy and trumpet the war and the battles.

    Make it a huge deal that you are bringing new, good jobs in alternative energy, in less polluting energy. Actually pursue giant infrastructure projects and, when the Republicans try and stop you, paint them for what they are: the party that wants to keep the little guy down and afraid.

    4
  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    The point is there is a large and very real constituency of voters who are nominal Republicans but not Trumpists. Who do they vote for if Trumpists take complete control of the party without even a fight?

    That’s a fantasy as @Scott F.: points out. 74 million Americans voted for Trump. More than in 2016. The number of non-Trumpist moderates is roughly proportional to the number of Republican Senators who can be counted on to at least occasionally do the right thing: 1 to 3%.

    I’m coming at this from a strategic POV. Politics is ultimately about power.

    There’s the power to be, and the power to do. Republicans long ago gave up doing anything but servicing Big Business and packing the court with mediocrities who will service Big Business and make life miserable for women and minorities. Now much, maybe even most, of Big Business has a D after the corporate name. Which leaves shitting on pregnant women, gays and trans people as the entirety of the conservative agenda.

    That’s all the ‘do’ Republicans have. They don’t want power to do, because there’s not really anything they want to do, because they are intellectually bankrupt, as well as morally. What kind of a person fights as hard as they have to fight just to have an empty title full stop? Accomplishments? Battles won? Battles lost where you still put it all out there for a cause? That’s not the power they want, they just want to be Senator and make easy money from their patrons. People like Marco Rubio. Lindsey Graham, they don’t have any do in them, it’s all just be. Empty men.

    Incidentally, I just turned down 200K and an empty title, because there was no do. I am happy to take credit for what I do, I don’t take credit for just having a name tag with a title, I find that incompatible with my outdated notions of manhood.

    1
  29. Teve says:

    @Andy:

    Look, I get all that. I’m just wondering how they think this thing ends. What do they think ceding the GoP to the fringe right will accomplish? As I asked, what is their endgame?

    Assuming that life is continuous, it’s not really about an endgame so to speak. It’s, am I going to lose horribly, expensively, futily for 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 years, OK, then I’m going to do something else in the meantime. I don’t think the answer is asking a small number of people to throw themselves against the rocks until their deaths.

    Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, with Internet, OANN, the fundamental problem with the Republicans these days is that they are energized by and beholden to propaganda. I have no idea how to fix that problem.

    2
  30. Teve says:

    @Teve: ‘the’ internet, i meant.

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The intellectual bankruptcy of the GOP and the conservative movement created the vacuum filled by the Trump Cult. There won’t be a ‘return to’ because there’s no there to return to.

    I’m glad you said this because this was another short item with the news of Congresscritters “taking back” the party from Trump on Rush’s blather this morning. The only point on which he differs with you is that the bankruptcy, both intellectual and moral, belongs only to the GOP and that there is a place to return to–control of the whole of government by the world famous and internationally renowned “establishment.”

    I knew I’d forgotten something in my other post. And again, I know it’s not nice to root for cancer, and I hope Luddite will forgive me, but…

    2
  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy:

    the Democrats are not interested in welcoming disaffected GoP moderates with any policy bones.

    Okay, I’ll bite. What is it in policy positions that GOP moderates want that are deal breakers to Democrats and why would those choices be beneficial (not even more, just beneficial at all)?

    4
  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: So the answer to my question is “I can’t think of any but the principle still stands?”

    (And forgive me for coming into the conversation late and posting without reading all the way through. My bad. 🙁 )

  34. MarkedMan says:

    Andy, I also think you may be too invested in the idea of Parties as “Teams”. But politics shouldn’t be sport. At its best it’s about how to get things done in large diverse groups without opening up the death camps. I live in Baltimore, and I grew up in Chicago, both completely Democratic. Do you think there is no policy debate in places like that? No conservative-vs-liberal battles? When you want to get stuff done you go to your reps or you run for office yourself. The fact that the office of City Councilman always has a “D” after the name is immaterial. You want to get a new sewage system, or to repair the roads or to make sure “those kinds of people” don’t move into your neighborhood so you need access and the rules of the game in B’more is that you put a “D” after your name. Complaining that you have to be a Democrat to get to office in this cities is like a fish complaining that they have to swim in water.

  35. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve: That was really depressing. It’s a good example of why I don’t bother trying to engage with the Trumpers. If they want to discuss the merits of various retirement accounts or Home Depot vs. Lowes, you can have a discussion. But if they believe there is no Covid and the election was stolen, there is no entry point. I don’t argue with the crazy lady in the subway who believes I’m her long lost uncle and I don’t argue with Trumpers. There’s really no functional difference between them…

    2
  36. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan: yeah. If you want to have a discussion like, ‘well NASA should’ve used a lower f-stop on the Hasselblad cameras’, OK we’re gonna have a discussion. ‘George Soros put the moon 75 feet in the sky so that we will acquiesce to the AIDS vaccine’, OK we can’t have a discussion.

    1
  37. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: McConnell is where I disagree with you. I don’t believe that McConnell walked back his minor anti-Trump bleatings because of pressure from the base. I believe that he’s a racist lowlife first and foremost and that he bleated anti-Trump stuff in the first place because he needed to restore whatever status he could skim off as “not one of the complete loons” in order to have something approximating a relationship with the Senate Democrats that wouldn’t be so completely poisonous that they’d simply tell him to fk off the moment he opened his mouth. Being seen as too cowed by Trump and the MAGAts is a small price to pay for people not realizing that he a crap sandwich without the heirloom tomato, bib lettuce, and aioli mayo. Just a piece of crap on a stale slice of bread.

  38. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: You want to get a new sewage system, or to repair the roads or to make sure “those kinds of people” don’t move into your neighborhood so you need access and the rules of the game in B’more is that you put a “D” after your name. Complaining that you have to be a Democrat to get to office in this cities is like a fish complaining that they have to swim in water.

    Heh, reminds me of my days in STL. In my younger single days as a renter, I didn’t pay much attention to politics, local or otherwise. Than I got married, started having babies, bought a home… And moving away wasn’t an option. My alderman was Marty Aboussie, a long time STL political family of Lebanese descent. Hard core DEM but not particularly liberal. Marty had no interest beyond St Louis, but he was a kingmaker there. When Marty talked, the mayor put down the phone and gave him his undivided attention. Being an Alderman was probably the height of his ambition. A lot of people hated him. Me as a constituent? I loved him. Local politics are great in that if I called, I didn’t speak to a staffer, I talked to him. If I needed a new dumpster? Call Marty. Trees in front of my house? Call Marty. Crack house in the next block down? Call Marty. Neighbors beating each others brains out in the street? Call Marty. If I had a problem, Marty fixed it. Didn’t matter if he was treading on other people’s toes, he took care of his people. The few who complained about their flattened toes? They shut up.

    My son lives in Marty’s old ward (9th Ward, Benton Park neighborhood) and from what he tells me the alderman who now sits in Marty’s chair is good, but… just not the same. Those old school guys, they knew how to bust heads.

  39. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: These dreams of splitting off to form a transformational movement remind me of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland during “the troubles.” I remember reading an article in The New Republic where the author asked an Irish MP how it was that the Alliance Party didn’t emerge as a more dominant force in elections. The MP replied that the party was polling at about 10-12% and that probably represented close to 1oo% of their constituency.

    I suspect the same factors at work here. How many Social Democrats are there in the United States in real terms? How many Libertarians? How many Conservatives who aren’t also bigots and/or dominionists? How many progressives who aren’t also willing to “burn the suckah to the ground?” How many true small government types as opposed to “do away with the regulations that affect me” small government people? I really wish that going off to form their own groups would change the political dynamic in the US. But it won’t.

  40. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: “As I asked, what is their endgame?”

    I suspect that for most of them, staying in office is the be all and end all. Not everyone who runs for office is a Jimmy Stewart character. Some of them are only there for the larger than they can make in their employment sector salary, benefits, and pension. Lots of professional people make more than a Senator or Representative, but from what I’ve seen over the years, even more don’t.

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  41. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    My bad, I thought you meant Republican legislators since you mentioned “policy bones”.

    Policy is about voters IMO. The primary reason politicians support certain policies and not others is to appeal to constituencies.

    @Teve:

    Assuming that life is continuous, it’s not really about an endgame so to speak. It’s, am I going to lose horribly, expensively, futily for 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 years, OK, then I’m going to do something else in the meantime. I don’t think the answer is asking a small number of people to throw themselves against the rocks until their deaths.

    Maybe that will be the case. But it seems weird to me that people who have careers in or are active in politics will just give up.

    If James is still reading comments here, it would be interesting to see how invested he is (and those with similar politics) in trying to rescue the Republican party.

    For me personally, since I now live in an open primary state, I will probably vote in GoP primaries for the least crazy GoP candidate.

  42. Scott F. says:

    @Teve:

    I don’t think the answer is asking a small number of people to throw themselves against the rocks until their deaths.

    That’s a nice framing for what Andy’s asking Republican moderates to do should they stay and fight back for control of the party. It’s hard to blame them for not signing up for that. I just hope some agree to vote fully for Democrats as a means of shortening the years of futility. Until Trump’s GOP loses big, there will be no moderation in that party.

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  43. Andy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Okay, I’ll bite. What is it in policy positions that GOP moderates want that are deal breakers to Democrats and why would those choices be beneficial (not even more, just beneficial at all)?

    I’m not and have never been a Republican and am not going to try to explain or defend their policy views. But the obvious place to look for new moderate voters – if one is actually interested in appealing to them – is in the suburbs where the GoP has historically done well until Trump.

    So the answer to my question is “I can’t think of any but the principle still stands?”

    (And forgive me for coming into the conversation late and posting without reading all the way through. My bad. )

    I’m honestly don’t understand what you’re talking about here. What principle?

    @MarkedMan:

    Andy, I also think you may be too invested in the idea of Parties as “Teams”.

    No, that is Michael, who sees everything as black and white and won’t let you forget what a bad person you are if you voted for the wrong team forty years ago.

    So I think I am probably the least “team” person here, particularly since I don’t identify with either team.

    I live in Baltimore, and I grew up in Chicago, both completely Democratic. Do you think there is no policy debate in places like that? No conservative-vs-liberal battles?

    There are always going to be policy debates. Where have I said that would not be the case? In de-facto one-party systems, those policy debates are going to be a lot much narrower.

  44. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andy: Maybe that will be the case. But it seems weird to me that people who have careers in or are active in politics will just give up.

    OK, stop. Those who have careers in politics have already surrendered. I thought you were speaking of habitual republican voters who can still walk away.

  45. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Okay, I’ll bite. What is it in policy positions that GOP moderates want that are deal breakers to Democrats and why would those choices be beneficial (not even more, just beneficial at all)?

    Evangelical Christian Space Lasers setting fires in Mexico.

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  46. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    The primary reason politicians support certain policies and not others is to appeal to constituencies

    I don’t really see that. For the most, politicians say particular words because saying those words makes the voters clap. I don’t think actual policies matter at all, at least not to the vast majority of voters. I give the mythical policy of fiscal conservatism that Republicans have talked about for at least a half century while their actual policies, when in power, were the exact opposite.

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  47. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    If you’re thinking about strategic long term end-goals Andy, you will never understand politics as it’s practiced today. There is no strategy, only tactics to dominate the daily news cycle. “Long term” means thinking about tomorrow, not just today. And the only end goal is to stay on the gravy train.

    The above applies to roughly 98% of Republicans at the national level, and 60-80% of Dems too.

  48. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andy: I’m honestly don’t understand what you’re talking about here. What principle?

    Well isn’t that the question? What principle does the GOP stand for??? And @Just Another Ex-Republican: stated it as well or better than I ever could.

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  49. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan:

    For the most, politicians say particular words because saying those words makes the voters clap. I don’t think actual policies matter at all, at least not to the vast majority of voters. I give the mythical policy of fiscal conservatism that Republicans have talked about for at least a half century while their actual policies, when in power, were the exact opposite.

    Meanwhile much of the Democratic primaries were dominated by which form of Medicare For All each prospective nominee would fail to enact.

    But, for a lot of Americans it’s a battle between Coke and Pepsi. There are differences, but most people don’t notice and just buy the one that has ads that make them feel better and more in control.

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  50. Andy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Well isn’t that the question? What principle does the GOP stand for??? And @Just Another Ex-Republican: stated it as well or better than I ever could.

    Why are you asking me? I’m not a Republican and I just rechecked my comments here and never said anything about principles the GoP stands for. If anything I’ve been pretty consistent about rejecting this binary calculus where each party is a coherent entity with uniform and coherent principles. Andy one of my longstanding complaints about partisans generally is the clear and obvious lack of principles whenever they conflict with expediency or ideology.

    @MarkedMan:

    I don’t really see that. For the most, politicians say particular words because saying those words makes the voters clap.

    I think we are splitting hairs here. My position is this: Policy matters to voters. That politicians usually and even regularly give policy lip-service policy while doing nothing, or tell one group one thing while telling another group another thing doesn’t change that.

  51. Andy says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    If you’re thinking about strategic long term end-goals Andy, you will never understand politics as it’s practiced today. There is no strategy, only tactics to dominate the daily news cycle. “Long term” means thinking about tomorrow, not just today. And the only end goal is to stay on the gravy train.

    Long ago I gave up any notion of long-term strategic thinking in our politics. And yeah, I agree that much of politics today is about the daily news cycle.

    But normally losing partisan actors will start preparing for the next election and positioning themselves to be competitive or influential in the future contest, including the very important intra-party battles between party factions. In the case of the Democrats, the moderates won the intra-party fight against the progressive left and Biden is now President.

    By contrast, the moderate factions of the GoP appear to be walking away and just handing the party to the Trumpists, who are already preparing for 2022 and 2024. That is what I think is weird, but it’s probably too soon to call this a definitive thing or even a trend.

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  52. Nikki says:

    But normally losing partisan actors will start preparing for the next election and positioning themselves to be competitive or influential in the future contest, including the very important intra-party battles between party factions. In the case of the Democrats, the moderates won the intra-party fight against the progressive left and Biden is now President.

    Primaries are not intra-party battles.

    What the GOP is going through right now is in no way comparable to the last Democratic primaries.

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  53. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    I think we are splitting hairs here

    Actually, I think we are about as far apart as we could be: while you believe actual policies matter to voters, I believe the number of voters that actually care about policies is a single digit percentage. I think the fact that politicians are rewarded for giving lip service to policies is because that’s what the vast majority of voters actually want: the sounds and gestures of being principled without any of the real hard choices.

    But I don’t feel cynical. I believe the good or evil in the world we build comes from that single digit percentage. I think Biden falls into that category, on the good guy side. I think Obama does too. I also think Dwight Eisenhower did and Franklin Roosevelt too. For all his complex faults, I think his cousin Teddy also tried to do the right thing, as he understood it. So I have hope that we can move this grand project in a positive direction, while remaining clear headed on the fact that you can’t expect the masses to pull the leaders in the right direction. It is now, and always has been, the other way around.

  54. Andy says:

    @Nikki:

    Primaries are not intra-party battles.

    If they aren’t intra-party battles (ie. political contests for power), then what are they exactly?

    What the GOP is going through right now is in no way comparable to the last Democratic primaries.

    Of course they aren’t comparable. I’m specifically saying that what the GoP is going through now is not normal and am contrasting, not comparing, that to the recent Democratic primaries which were normal.

    @MarkedMan:

    Actually, I think we are about as far apart as we could be: while you believe actual policies matter to voters, I believe the number of voters that actually care about policies is a single digit percentage. I think the fact that politicians are rewarded for giving lip service to policies is because that’s what the vast majority of voters actually want: the sounds and gestures of being principled without any of the real hard choices.

    So Democratic voters don’t actually care about abortion rights and Republican voters don’t actually care about gun rights, to give just two examples?

    If these and many other distinct policy divisions are not about policy, then what are they about?
    And if policy differences don’t matter to voters, then what is the alternative explanation for why voters and policy preferences are sorted along ideological and partisan lines?

  55. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    I’m not and have never been a Republican and am not going to try to explain or defend their policy views. But the obvious place to look for new moderate voters – if one is actually interested in appealing to them – is in the suburbs

    Since when is “suburbs” a policy?

    You have been asked repeatedly, for about a year now, what specific policies the Dems could offer to compromise with moderate Rs on, and you have ducked the question every time. If you can’t think of any, that should be what they call A Clue.
    @Andy:

    Why are you asking me? I’m not a Republican and I just rechecked my comments here and never said anything about principles the GoP stands for.

    Indeed. So please either fix that, or have the grace to shut up about how Dems should be compromising their own positions in order to possibly lure Republican voters that you don’t claim to understand or speak for with concessions you can’t actually name. Suburban or otherwise.

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  56. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    So Democratic voters don’t actually care about abortion rights and Republican voters don’t actually care about gun rights, to give just two examples?

    Which of those, if either, are you proposing that Democrats should offer to compromise on in order to lure moderate Republicans to the D camp?

    (Keep in mind that the position they would be compromising from is essentially the status quo, not what AOC or Bernie Sanders wishes were the status quo.)

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  57. Matt says:

    @Andy:

    Republican voters don’t actually care about gun rights, to give just two examples?

    Well considering that the Republicans are responsible for the largest gun ban in the history of this country….

    California’s gun control policies started under Reagan and the GOP with the Mulford Act and progressed from there.

    The “Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986” was passed by a GOP controlled Senate and signed into law by Reagan. That law is where the whole “pre-ban” thing comes from as it banned more guns and gun related items than any other bill in the history of this country.

    Reagan and some GOP members supported/voted for the “Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act” and the “Federal Assault Weapons Ban”.

    In comparison the Democratic party has done little real banning but if you talk to GOP voters they’ll tell you that only the evil democrats ban guns.

    Politics is a team sport these days and just like in real sports you’ll find most of the fans can be quite delusional….

  58. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    The problem with your independent conservative scenario, is who do these upstanding conservatives caucus with?

    You’re stuck in a tautology: “there can’t be a third group because we only have two groups”.

    How about they caucus with the Tuesday Group, or the Liberty Caucus, or even the Blue Dogs? And, if you get enough of them, they can form their own caucus and become a group to be convinced on every topic.

  59. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    You have been asked repeatedly, for about a year now, what specific policies the Dems could offer to compromise with moderate Rs on, and you have ducked the question every time. If you can’t think of any, that should be what they call A Clue.

    Because that is a question for Democrats, like you, to answer and not me since I’m not a Democrat.

    I’m not willing to play a game where I speculate about what Republican policies you or other Democrats here might support as if I’m a mindreader.

    Indeed. So please either fix that, or have the grace to shut up about how Dems should be compromising their own positions in order to possibly lure Republican voters that you don’t claim to understand or speak for with concessions you can’t actually name. Suburban or otherwise.

    As I’ve pointed out to you many times, I’m merely suggesting what is possible, I am not trying to tell or lecture Democrats generally or you specifically, about what compromises you or the party should make. The fact remains the party could move further to the center. Whether it should is up to Democrats, not me. Presumably, given your level of education, you understand the difference between could and should in the English language.

    What compromises Democrats might be willing to make to see that happen is up to Democrats – like you – not me.

    So the demand that I “shut up” or play your guessing game is a demand that I will give any credence to, especially since you continuously mischaracterize my comments. I will say what I please and I have no desire to entertain your transparent and weak attempts at rhetorical entrapment.

    That said, I’m always willing to agree to disagree. If you don’t think Democrats should compromise on anything, then fine, say so, and let’s move on. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

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  60. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    As I’ve pointed out to you many times, I’m merely suggesting what is possible

    No, you aren’t. You are asserting that something is possible. You never actually get to what.

    If you don’t think Democrats should compromise on anything, then fine, say so, and let’s move on.

    This is, of course, a straw man.

    Democrats are (and have been) willing to compromise in many areas. But not all — it matters critically what specific policies you are talking about. You have (again) asserted repeatedly that the intersection of the sets A = “things Republicans want” and B = “things Democrats ought to consider compromising on” is non-empty. Despite apparently not being willing to claim any knowledge of either A or B.

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