October 19, 2013

Are the Republicans a Broken Party?

After the American Century                                                                                                          

In the wake of the default, consider the divisions in the Republican Party, which does not seem to understand that holding a majority in the House of Representatives entails real responsibilities. 

The Republicans of 2013 appear incoherent. The Tea Party wing is fervent, but manifestly ignorant about finance or international diplomacy. It is also deeply undemocratic, in that they do not accept the idea that in a democracy the majority rules. They may have a good idea or two, but I have not yet heard them, nor anything like a coherent economic plan or foreign policy. They know much more what they are against than what they are for. They seem driven by emotion, with a weak knowledge of US history, especially Constitutional history. The true-believers in this wing of the party are often from south of the Mason-Dixon line, especially from rural areas and small towns. They appear to be descendants of the Dixiecrats who used to divide the Democrats over some of the same issues.

There are other Republicans who cling to the values of their party from an earlier era, and these moderates prevented the nation from defaulting on its debt. Such Republican leaders as Nixon, Rockefeller, Ford, and the elder Bush would not have contemplated shutting down the government. But the moderates of today are not strong numerically. They do not seem united or forceful as a group. They worry about getting re-elected in primary elections where the Tea Party tends to turn out the vote. These moderate Republicans are primarily found in urban areas, especially in the North and Midwest. 

Many demographic trends are against the Republicans. Compared to the Democrats, their supporters are fewer, older, and white. They attract only about 30% of the Hispanic vote and little more than 40% of the female vote. They receive only 10-15% of the Black vote, if that. To get elected, they must win decisively among white voters, who are a declining percentage of the total population.

No political analysis of the Republicans is complete without noting that they receive contributions from many in the oil business, from the medical and pharmaceutical industries, and from financiers. Republican money does not support alternative energies, consumer protection, bank regulation, pollution controls, or welfare programs. (Democrats have somewhat more support from scientists and the IT industries, and they tend to support all of the above.)

If the Republicans were to win the White House in 2016 (it seems unlikely now, but three years is a long time in politics), then their internal divisions would likely be even more manifest. With power comes the need to agree on policies and to act, something the Republican House has not been good at. On the other hand, if they lose the presidency in 2016, then internal divisions will continue to fester, driving away many voters. 

What the Republicans desperately need, as they know themselves, is someone like Ronald Reagan, who can unify the party and appeal to the broader electorate. There may be no such figure at the moment, except, perhaps, the popular retiring Mayor of New York. The Tea Party might not like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but he is a dark horse who could attract centrist voters. In 2016 he will be 74 years old, perhaps too old to run. If he does run, he will be too moderate for the Tea Party faction which has shown little pragmatism in backing primary candidates. In the absence of such a messiah, the Republicans seem doomed to internal battles and increasing incoherence.