29.10.08

The Permanent Republican Majority

When Karl Rove settled in the White House in 2000, he aimed to foment a permanent Republican majority in the United States. Rove believed the United States was a conservative nation and that with the right policies a Republican machine would develop over Bush's tenure and last a generation. It was V.O. Key's "realignment theory" that allowed Rove this vision. In a 1955 article, "A Theory of Critical Elections," Key proposed that American politics and political allegiances of the electorate change dramatically and, if conditions are right, in a single election.

In a 2007 article in The Atlantic, "The Rove Presidency," Joshua Green wrote of the theory of realignment elections:

"Historians have shown that two major preconditions typically must be in place for realignment to occur. First, party loyalty must be sufficiently weak to allow for a major shift—the electorate, as the political scientist Paul Allen Beck has put it, must be “ripe for realignment.” The other condition is that the nation must undergo some sort of triggering event, often what Beck calls a “societal trauma”—the ravaging depressions of the 1890s and 1930s, for instance, or the North-South conflict of the 1850s and ’60s that ended in civil war. It’s important to have both."

When Bush took office in 2000, those conditions hardly existed. The economy was strong and no societal trauma had occured yet. But Rove thought he could game the system. As Green wrote, "[Rove thought] if you could recast major government programs to make them more susceptible to market forces, broader support for the Republican Party would ensue." What ensued, of course, was a societal trauma in 9/11 that threw considerable support behind the Republican party in the 2002 and 2004 elections. After '04, Rove thought he had his majority sealed.

But through another societal trauma, Katrina, a disastrous push for the privitization of Social Security, and utter disdain for Congress, Rove spent all his political capital in a very short time and only two years later, voters threw the bums out of Washington. Rove tried to bend the system but when his grip slipped, it snapped back into place.

Today, it seems that the conditions Rove tried, initially, to manufacture to create a series of realignment elections have developed organically: Party identification, according to a recent Pew survey, among Republicans is down 6% from 2004 - from 44% to 38% - and up for Democrats to 51% from 47% four years ago; we're in the midst of about our fourth or fifth societal trauma since 2000 with the collapse of the financial institutions and instruments which ran the world's economy for the past 20 or so years; and the current presidential election offers one candidate who would certainly "realign" the image of an American president.

Things in 2008 seem ripe for a realignment election. Obama is leading in the polls and in states that Rove must cringe to see shaded blue. The Democrats seem likely to take even more of a lead in the House of Representatives, and will likely wind up with a defacto filibuster-proof 60 seats (even if they don't hit 60, they're likely to get 57 or 58, and at that point, it's not so hard to strip away a couple Republicans for, essentially, a filibuster-proof majority). Rove's been foisted by his own petard; he tried his best to force realignment, and the reaction against his manipulation is an apparent realignment election in the opposite direction. For every action...

But really, this is the simple outlook. What's far more interesting and unpredictable is how the conservative, evangelical, ardently anti-Obama right wing "base" will react in the face of this realignment election, should the Democrats pull it off.
After this election, assuming it goes the Democrats' way, there will be a sizeable portion of the electorate that will not have any of the Obama Administration, and will feel sold out by the Republicans they supported and who failed to deliver on their conservative social agenda.

The fact is, and it Rove knew this, to create a permanent majority, there must be a steady stream of issues that will reliably get your voters, your base, to the polls. Gay marriage and abortion have been stalwarts for the Republicans (though they're falling flat this year). But while Rove used those issues as bait, there are people in the United States who actually want action on overturning Roe v. Wade. Or a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

If the Bush Administration and its brain trust - such as it was - really wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade, don't you think it would have by now? Or at least put forth a serious effort? From 2002 - 2006 they ran the Democrats out of Washington and had quite the grip on the governing of this country. But to overturn Roe v. Wade, to really push for that, as the "base" wants, would cede a gold-mine of Republican support. While conservative representatives might truly want abortion overturned, the higher you go up the political ladder, the more dangerous it must seem to overturn a major source of voter enthusiasm for Republicans.

Enter Sarah Palin.

It's hard to believe, now, that Palin could wind up president by winning an election on her own. She can't shield herself from the press in a 16-month election process and she's not smart enough to actually learn how the world works in the next four years and debate Obama on the issues. That said, if McCain loses this election Palin will come out the other side having inherited the far-right Republican base.

Even though this base does not come close to 50% of the voting public, more like 20% maybe, they are vocal, active, and emotional. They know how to organize. The LA Times published an article just today about the future of the social conservatives in the Republican Party. The opening two paragraphs:

"The social conservatives and moderates who together boosted the Republican Party to dominance have begun a tense battle over the future of the GOP, with social conservatives already moving to seize control of the party's machinery and some vowing to limit John McCain's influence, even if he wins the presidency.

In skirmishes around the country in recent months, evangelicals and others who believe Republicans have been too timid in fighting abortion, gay marriage and illegal immigration have won election to the party's national committee, in preparation for a fight over the direction and leadership of the party."

This group of conservatives and its far right social agenda does not have the broad appeal to win national elections without a seeming-moderate like George Bush (at least in 2000). Perhaps Mike Huckabee could do it, but Sarah Palin doesn't fill the moderate facade. If these conservatives take over the Republican Party's organizational apparatus, where does it lead?

While a moderate Republican might appreciate the wisdom in an Obama line like "we may not all agree on the right to abortion, but we can certainly all agree that we should cut down on the number of unwanted teenage pregnancies," a social conservative evangelical likely would not. After all, teenage pregnancy rates amongst evengalical christians are the second highest by religious association in the country after protestant blacks. This is a coalition that, under the reckless stewardship of Sarah Palin, who holds the potential to be far more dangerous than George Bush, could be a fanatically religious, violent, radical group within our own country.

The realignment, if it happens, in this election is not the story. The social conservatives who feel sold out by the Republican establishment, and utter disdain for democrats and their black president, will not go quiet into the night. Their numbers are dwindling as America becomes more multicultural and their inability to gain the numbers to win an election in the future will force this dangerous wild animal into a corner.

1 comment:

Ike said...

fuckin great.