Friday, July 17, 2015

Trumpmania! and a grand unified theory of the Republican party

Well... it's been two years since I posted here. This blog is in a weird area of my attention, because these days I do so much small scale writing on Facebook and Twitter that I don't feel a strong need to write blogs very often; and when I do, The Atheist Experience blog gets most of my attention. But ya know, political season is almost upon us, and writing about politics is one niche that I think this blog definitely still fills.

Ed Brayton​ posted the following on Facebook:

"I will win is the Hispanic vote … I’ll create jobs, and I’ll get the Hispanic vote … the Hispanics love me." -- Donald Trump 
New poll: 81% of Hispanics have an unfavorable view of Trump, compared to 13% with a favorable view. 
Yep Don, they love you. Absolutely love you. That's what happens when you view the world through gaudy gold-plated glasses.

This fits in perfectly with my general theoretical model of the Republican party. Back in 2012, I wrote a post where I predicted (correctly) that Barack Obama would win re-election easily, with a lot of room for error in the electoral college. Here's what I said:

It all has to do with a strategy proposed to Richard Nixon, which has worked very well for Republicans but seems to be backfiring now. In 1971, as described by this piece, Pat Buchanan sent a memo to Nixon under the heading "Dividing the Democrats." In the memo, Buchanan urged Republicans to "cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half." 
Increasingly over the last couple of decades, Republicans have followed through on this strategy by trying to harness the energy of angry xenophobic white males.

Then I went on to list, with supporting evidence, the groups that they were deliberately and consistently alienating: Women. Ethnic minorities. The poor. Looking at that list, I think I should also have included atheists, gay people, and foreigners in general.

Hell, for an explicit statement of the people who are "othered" by this strategy we need look no further than Jerry Falwell's infamous pronouncement after 9/11/01:

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularise America, I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen."

As I also said, the problem is that framing matters in this way makes the base of the party more and more extreme, and more and more insulated in their little bubble of superiority. This strategy worked pretty well through the first decade of the 2000's. It was taken for granted that frightened natural born white male Protestants would consistently flock to the polls and beat the evil secular menace.

In this regard, Donald Trump with his ranting about how Mexico is shipping rapists to our country, is merely a logical extension of this trend. Every year, Republican candidates have to get more ridiculous in order to pander to the base that is continually growing jaded to less ridiculous statements. Hence, Donald Trump is well ahead of any other candidate in approval rating among GOP voters, and that totally makes sense to me.

But that is not a winning strategy for presidential elections. Instead, it has the effect of making the "us" group continually smaller, and more unpalatable to the "them" group, which keeps getting larger. When the party gets too weird, there's a breaking point where Republican defectors give up on the lunacy and either stop voting altogether, or actually vote for "anybody else" as a protest. Hispanics have historically been the biggest non-white supporting groups of Republican politics, but the numbers Ed cited demonstrate that there is a horizon of hostility that someone like Trump can't recover from.

If you had asked me eight years ago, I might have said that I was afraid of Trump winning the nomination because there was a very good chance he could win the election. After two victories by George W. Bush, I was once convinced that there is no candidate so extreme that people will overlook his faults and give him the win. But since then we've had two cycles where Obama (not a perfect Democrat by a long shot) not only won, but won by a lot. I just don't see someone like Trump as a threat. He believes his own gibberish, and the base that agrees with him is rabid but much too small to carry a national election.

I like both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with the edge to Bernie Sanders. I'd be perfectly satisfied to see either in the White House in 2017, even though Clinton, like Obama, is not my dream candidate. Quite seriously, I can't imagine Trump being a genuine threat to either of them. Even if the Democratic nominee is Sanders, and he gets blasted by Republicans for being a socialist (no really, he identifies that way), people who are revolted by Trump will be far more likely to see Sanders as "the lesser of two evils."

I have no idea if Trump will win. He probably won't, just like in 2012 when the front runner cycled out just about every week, with Romney always staying in second place. But if Trump does win the nomination it could be a wonderful outcome, with one likely result being that the large Hispanic population could flip the state of Texas as early as next year.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Russell. I think you are right about this. Trump's position in the GOP might end up either breaking up the party's voter integrity, or effect a paradigm shift in the Republican party. On the Democrat side, if Sanders continues to gain momentum towards Clinton, this might shift the Democratic party farther to the left (it's been center-right for a long time).

    All in all, especially with recent events such as gay marriage rights, the future is looking brighter than ever for your country.