The food was excellent at Sunday brunch here at Happy Acres, but the faces at the progressive table were long. All those mass shootings, don’t you know. I suggested that we should all go back and read our favorite P.G. Wodehouse novel. I particularly recommend the Blandings series, featuring Clarence Threepwood, Ninth Earl of Emsworth. If, however, your preference this afternoon would be, not to join Lord Emsworth as he sips a scotch and soda and peruses a work of porcine interest, but instead to choose some meaty political commentary, I can recommend two articles on the future of the Republican Party.
Andrew Egger, Will Hurd and the Hollowing Out of the Republican Party
David Atkins, Republicans Won’t Go Back to “Normal” After Trump
I have to confess that I won’t have much stomach for thinking deeply about “what happens after Trump” until I see the Trumpster waddling out of the White House and on to the helicopter for the last time. That said, I think it’s worth a moment of your time to read what Atkins has to say about “a number of factors [that] are locking the Republican Party into Trumpism in a way that will be nearly impossible to reverse within at least the space of a generation”:
First, it will be difficult to persuade whole generations of voters who are shifting hard to the left. Younger Gen X, Millennial, and a new wave of Gen Z voters are utterly hostile to Republican stances on social issues, and almost as hostile to conservative positions on economic issues as well. Voters who grew up in the era of Enron and Bear Stearns, struggled with outrageous education, healthcare, and housing costs. They watched Republicans spend a decade calling mild-mannered moderate Barack Obama a crazy socialist, are now eagerly embracing socialism. In 2018, a combination of GenX, Millennial, and GenZ voters outvoted baby boomers for the first time. Moreover, after tearing itself apart over social issues versus class populism in 2016, most Democrats have come to an intersectional understanding of how each affects the other—and that, in a country where large racial disparities exist, laissez-faire libertarian economic policy is intrinsically founded on racist assumptions no matter whether presented in dog-whistles by Marco Rubio or train whistles by Donald Trump. It won’t help Republicans to tack slightly to the center to please a young and more diverse voting bloc at the expense of mobilizing their older, more openly racist base if younger, better educated, and more diverse Americans won’t be fooled either way.
Second, candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are not what Republican voters actually want. They proved it in 2016. Trump’s rock-solid popularity with the GOP base has only increased over time. After Trump’s horrifically racist tweets telling Congresswomen of color who were born in America to “go back where they came from,” Trump gained in approval ratings with Republicans. While conservative strategists may see value in nominating a less openly bigoted candidate to win over young, minority, and suburban voters, there is no reason to believe that the core Republican base will cooperate in, say, 2024 any better than they did in 2016. It’s far likelier that if Trump is resoundingly defeated in 2020, Republican voters will rely on conspiracy theories about voter fraud to resolve the cognitive dissonance, rather than accept a more moderate candidate who doesn’t thrill them by granting them permission to let their prejudices loose. Electorates don’t turn on a dime just because it would be convenient for strategists.
Third, there is the impact of the conservative infotainment complex. Increasingly, the Republican Party is more the legislative arm of Fox News than they are the media arm of the GOP. This is most obvious under Trump, who despite having access to the world’s most secretive and sensitive information, chooses instead to watch endless hours of mindless Fox News and tweet angrily afterward. But it’s obvious that after an era in which Republican politicians played puppet master to a hypnotized base, this decade’s crop of GOP elected officials at the state, local, and federal level have many of the same media habits and assumptions as their voters. And the problem with a political party being led by a media complex rather than vice versa is that a political party has an incentive to retain a majority, whereas the incentive of right-wing political media is to stoke outrage to sell ads for reverse mortgages to gullible seniors who need not comprise a majority or ever win a national election.
Duverger’s Law suggests that this situation cannot last forever, but much as the market can stay irrational longer than an investor can stay solvent, so too can a political party that has lost control of its own voters. And, as we’ve seen, a propaganda apparatus can remain itself in exile for a very long time before it can shed enough ideological dead weight to become viable again. There is no good reason to believe that Republicans will step back from the brink anytime soon. Will Hurd is leaving. Trumpism will remain in his place.