Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How DID The Left Get The Drop On Us?

Over at the conservative blog PowerLine, Steven Hayward has a post titled How Did The Left Get The Drop on Us? His theory is that post 1996 liberalism was in retreat, entitlements were coming down (Clinton--the Bill half--he says was open to the idea of more reforms but that was derailed by the impeachment), and communism had fallen. Apparently, then, movement conservatism got boring.

It became overly technocratic and forgot about the need to sell itself to the populace. Thus, when there were a series of free-market disasters (the dot-com crash, Enron, World Com, and then 2008) conservatism had some 'splaining to do and wasn't up to it.

Is that right? Is that what allowed the sneaky, long-term thinking left to slither back in to American politics?

Maaaaaaybe. But maybe not. Let's look at the first comment posted under the (linked) article itself (a previous article titled The Cold War Never Ended):
If we tell today's young people that Canada is Marxist or that Norway is inevitably going to look like the Soviet Union or even like Chavez's Venezuela, we are going to look like morons. 
One of the big reasons why conservatives are losing the fight for today's young people is that, frankly, these conservatives don't know what they're talking about.
This is devastatingly right. It isn't the whole story--but it's a big part of it. Of course the issue isn't that
 "these conservatives don't know what they're talking about"--the thought-leaders do. It doesn't take a political science major to realize that Canada isn't a soviet gulag. Saying it is does make you look, well, stupid . . .

So why does the meme show up from otherwise reasonably smart people on Facebook today? That's getting us closer to the real answer. We'll come back to that in a moment.

The First Part of the Insidious Left's Plan: Weaken Conservatism From Within 

In January Rush Limbaugh, seeing the rise of Donald Trump and the movement-conservative backlash made the observation that conservatives had overestimated the importance of conservatism in the Republican party:
The problem here, he said, is “the degree of conservatism in the Republican Party has been overestimated.” 
Limbaugh argued, “It’s not just conservative principles that hold people who are conservative together. There are many different things, and the full-blown conservatives are a little bothered by this because it makes ’em think maybe they’re not that important. It could be bothersome.”
What was that uniting glue?
He said the overriding force behind the rise of both Trump and Ted Cruz is not conservatism, it is a strong desire to take down the Democrats no matter what.
Yeah--that's part of it. Of course with Trump and Cruz getting clobbered by Hillary in every head-to-head poll we have (they can't all be wrong, can they?) if what you wanted to do was 'Take Down The Democrats' why would you pick those two--and not, like, Kasich, who wins those head-to-head polls?

We'll come back to that too.

The Second Part Of The Left's Sneak Attack: Doomsday

After The Left had stolen the conservative base's philosophy and replaced it, Folgers Crystals-Like, with nationalism and populism, what was left was to inject a bitter pervasive anger into the Republican base. This was done by structuring the United States government such that even majorities in the House of Representatives could not override the president--and by creating a form of government wherein causing a literal shutdown (or default on the debt-ceiling) in order to try to get specific platforms past Obama's veto--would be seen as holding the nation hostage (since the nation, itself, would suffer).

Faced with either choosing funding for Planned Parenthood or shutting down the government and throwing the nation into chaos, the Republicans cravenly capitulated to keeping the office of state running on their watch. This was, of course, in Star Wars terms, characterized as capitulating to The Dark Side.

 Even as the unemployment rate fell, the Republican view of the world was pushed into grimmer and grimmer territory. Republican support for the Confederate Flag was decried as racist, arguments about birthright citizenship and immigration consumed the debates, and ISIS was seen as an immediate and existential threat for which there was no solution beyond precision carpet bombing.

The Left's victory was nearly complete--Republicans believed the country had fallen completely apart and only a person with zero political experience could put it back together again (possibly someone who theorized the pyramids were built to store grain).

The Final Assault: Alt-Right Nationalism

The Left's final point in their sneak attack was to run a candidate who said racist things, played up alt-right white nationalism (without embracing it too obviously--but still pretty obviously) and was basically a caricature of what The Left always said Republicans were. This plan was guaranteed to work because having secretly replaced true-conservative values with nationalism and populism--and a burning desire to beat the democrats, the loyal non-racist republicans would have no choice but to support the toxic candidate.

This sudden groundswell of  support from the most horrifying quarters showed just how far The Left had infiltrated the GOP: fully 38% of the GOP's base-voters (the most likely to turn out in a primary) were now coming out in support of a candidate who could convincingly be said to be racist. The damage was done.

What Really Happened

In case it isn't clear, what really happened was that The Left did not 'get the drop' on 'The Right.' The Right came out of the 1990's with a problem they did not diagnose: The Democrats had successfully triangulated and the GOP had not similarly evolved. Clinton pursued a reasonably muscular foreign policy, was tough-on-crime, and projected little to none of the scolding persona that The Left was known for.

On the other side, the Right's doctrine of one-drop-of-socialism-is-communism was just one part of a battery of rhetorical talking points that was no longer convincing to the world at large--but played to an increasingly angry base. When Obama won in 2008, the Right missed that that their now-rejected "compassionate conservatism" was, in fact, a very real solution to a very real branding problem.

The plan, however, despite the 2012 loss and the GOP 'Autopsy' report was to continue turning up the anger in order to secure more and more of the white vote. The victory in the 2014 midterms seemed to validate this strategy and so, of course, the GOP effectively doubled down. They envisioned someone like a Scott Walker bearing the standard of both conservatism and being a lighting rod for voter anger (white voter anger) as a potential counter to Hillary Clinton.

That was fine until (a) a lot of these super-candidates sucked and (b) an uncontrollable, "uncut" candidate in the form of Donald Trump emerged. He ran without any of the dog-whistle deniability that conventional politicians would have relied on and his basic approach was that he was going to attack the Democrats like they had never been attacked before.

For a base that was not really all that doctrinaire conservative, was really unified in wanting to beat the Democrats, and had been stoked to rage by conservative media and appeals to white-identity, he was a natural choice.

In other words, The Left didn't get the drop on anyone. The GOP ran a dead-ender play and then fumbled the ball. 


  1. I think a key issue is that the term "conservative" doesn't mean what it used to (or what people on the right think it means). This is a branding issue and an ontological issue.

    Just what does conservative mean? For many millennials and those on the left, it has come to mean science-denying - evolution, climate change, belief-over-evidence. It has come to mean rights-denying - LGBT rights, voting rights, rights of a woman to choose, right to die when and how you want, etc. It has come to mean governance-denying - no compromise, no discussion, no real governance that looks more like the means of a toddler than an adult.

    I think the entire conservative movement as we have known it is doomed to collapse/is collapsing. The pillars are rotten. With the left resurgent, we will likely see Dem victories in '16 and for another cycle or two before they overreach or mess up, at which point there will be space for a new "centrist" conservative party to reassert itself. In this way the past is the future - only by going back to the "Rockefeller Republican" vision of conservatism will the Right reclaim its position as a national voice worth listening to. I believe we are seeing the death rattle of the old conservative party, after which a new voice will have the space and opportunity to thrive.

  2. Here's Bruce Bartlett on much the same logic as above.