Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On The Republicans Being Nuts

Paul Waldman says:
I doubt anyone would deny that at the moment, the Republican Party takes a harsher view of apostasy than their Democratic counterparts. 
You know, I think I might be tempted to deny it.

Now, I'll agree in one set of cases: primary elections in inhospitable states or districts.  There, I think we can see a real difference; Democrats in GOP-leaning districts generally try to find a candidate who can win even if she won't be a reliable vote in Congress, while Republicans tend to prefer to lose with a purist than to win with a moderate.

At the presidential level, though...well, it's no more likely that Democrats would nominate a pro-life candidate than that Republicans would nominate someone who was pro-choice.  If you look at the three leading Democratic candidates in 2008, there was very little room between them on issues, and in fact that's true for the second tier (Richardson, Dodd, Biden) as well.  Waldman notes that much of the field in 2004 (and Hillary Clinton in 2008) had supported the Iraq war, but the only candidate to really still support it in 2004, Joe Lieberman, was treated as a crank in his presidential campaign and then promptly defeated in a primary for re-election to the Senate.

Suppose Barack Obama chooses not to run tomorrow.  In the ensuing scramble for the Democratic nomination, would any candidate have a chance if she opposed a public option on health care?  Card check?  Some sort of serious action on climate?  No way. 

And focusing on small differences, including differences in how the current orthodox views were arrived at, is a normal consequence of primary election battles.  Democrats do it too.

There is a difference between the parties right now, at least in my view, but that difference isn't about "view of apostasy" (great phrase, though), at least at the presidential level.

No, the difference between the parties is how well party dogma is aligned with reality.  Budget reality: Republicans are required to believe in balancing budgets by cutting taxes.  Political reality: while both parties have their share of relatively unpopular issue positions, Republicans have far more of these, are farther from the median voter on them, and have less leeway to downplay unpopular stances.  And reality reality: Republicans are required to be skeptical of evolution, to deny climate change, pretend missile defense works, and otherwise ignore real-world evidence. 

Moreover, and perhaps less subjectively, I think there's a real difference between the parties in the way that positions on public policy come to be required.  I believe, but do not know as a fact, that this has to do with what my brother calls the "movement conservative marketplace."  Basically, the argument would be that while normally parties take positions based on a mix of what party-aligned groups demand, where the median voter is, and what party-aligned idealists want, the Republican Party right now is also affected by a large group of consumers eager to shell out money to the harshest, purist, and most extreme version of "conservative" out there -- which means that the producers of such things are constantly trying to differentiate themselves from moderates.  This doesn't dictate all GOP policy positions, but call it a fourth element that has little grounding in any of the factors that normally keep a party firmly tied to reality.  Especially if we stretch it and consider purist idealism a form of ideological reality, which at least in my opinion is also missing from a lot of GOP policy positions (that is, they are "conservative" in the sense of being aligned with what Rush or Beck says, but not in the sense of being aligned with ideological conservatism.


  1. It's ironic that a blogger who has spent so much energy arguing about the limits of the president's powers (and hence, importance) would stake so much here on ... the importance of the president. You say you cannot imagine a Democratic presidential candidate who is pro-life. But does not the existence of Harry Reid undermine this point? Reid, who is pro-life, has been the Senate Majority Leader for several years with hardly a complaint. I think it calls into question your ability to deny Waldman's premise. You more or less say it's limited to primaries in inhospitable districts but then add in a few other caveats to water down the claim. I think you need to sort out what you actually think here. Either the parties are fundamentally different, or they're not. I think right now they are, and "no they're not fundamentally different except for exception cases that bring in the entirety of political life" sort of argumentation is not adequate. I don't think you can use the presidential candidates as the big trump card -- indeed, THAT might be the exception. Not that I'm against "No, Democrats are subject to the same venal forces" reasoning per se. But the Reid case is very, very telling, I think.

  2. We'll find out as we watch the response to Sarah Palin's RT knocking homophobes as closet homosexuals!

    Mitch Daniels is another canary. He's attracting reasonable primary buzz despite calling for a truce on social issues and suggesting a potential openness to a tax increase. It got him a lot of heat and he may not run. But if he does, it'll be an interesting measure of how Jacobin the GOP is.

  3. Why do Democrats lose so many low-income congressional districts?

    I have no problem myself with socially conservative Democrats running economic populist platforms in these districts, getting a foothold, bettering the lives of these voters before softening up on social issues, along with the wider cultural softening, at which point, they'll be voting pocket book.

  4. I think OKCupid's data is relevant here, against something today but supporting something from last week.

    On your point today that Republicans are further from the median voter on more unpopular issues: their data shows the median voter's social views better represented by the median Republican than by the median Democrat.

    On your speculation last week that the Democrats are more diverse, Republicans more homogeneous: their data provides some evidence.


    Their data is from March, which is pre-tea-party. At least for that time period, do you believe their data, and do you agree with my interpretation of it?

  5. JB,
    I think the method by which the two parties exclude certain candidates. The GOP methodology seems to be active in operation, one based on exclusion of the candidate from meaningful discussions and opportunities to win votes (which, admittedly, do not exist in such numbers as to garner any success).
    The Democratic method is inclusive, letting the participant generally have opportunities to make their message...fall flat, because there aren't any more votes for them there than with the GOP candidate.

    Frankly, the only system where such apostates would have a shot would require compulsory voting in primaries. Otherwise, activists from each side will naturally and inevitably dominate.

  6. Jon,
    I have to say I disagree. The GOP has been the more homogenous party for a very long time now. That homogeneity means that the window of candidates that can be nominated is narrower.

    I think there are demonstrations of this, even at the presidential level. John Kerry voted for the Iraq War before he voted against it. Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War, too. These positions were, essentially, apostatic amongst Dems in 2004 and DEFINTELY in 2008. While Clinton didn't win, and did move to the left, it was close.

    On the other side of the aisle, consider Dobson's threat to take his ball and go home if Guiliani won.

    I'd say, though, that 2008 provides some evidence in your favor, too. McCain, while mostly in synch with the base on most issues, was certainly not well-liked by many GOP power centers (most notably, Faux News & Limbaugh). But, after he won the nomination, they fell in line immediately.

  7. Martin,

    I disagree. Harry Reid may be a pro-life Senator, but he's acted as a pro-choice Dem leader, and I think he'd be gone in a minute if he didn't. Granted, it's not clear a Republican could get away with that, but there are pro-choice GOP Senators, FWIW.


    I don't really know how much to make of it. Sorry.


    Both Kerry and Clinton had switched by the time they ran; how is that different than Romney, who certainly might have won? And while the McCain who ran in 2008 was orthodox in his policy positions, he hadn't been orthodox from 2001-2004. Guiliani is different: he was still pro-choice in '08, and therefore had no chance, just like Holy Joe had no chance in '04 because of Iraq.

    I don't want to push it too far -- I don't want to say it's identical -- but IMO there are quite a few similarities.

  8. Coming late to this, but the word you want isn't "purist" -- it's "puristest." ;-)


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