Peter Wehner writes in the Time: Can We Find Our Way Back To The Party of Lincoln?
(Copy-Paste seems disabled or something)
- Republican Primary voters were well recognized and their grievances at least understood--if not all justified (although some were).
- He implicates a "perfect storm" of the 2008 crisis, a failure to nullify Obama, and a belief among Republicans that the practice of politics is inherently illegitimate.
- He points out, rightly, that he--and others--simply did not believe that GOP voters, knowing what Trump did (or did not) represent would hand over the keys to the party to him.
But they did.
The Omnivore is pretty sympathetic to this--to a degree. For Wehner, having served a decade in Republican presidential administrations, his experience with the GOP is an honorable one. For him, allegations of bald racism were a leftist tactic--not a keen observation. He even goes so far as to recognize those elements were there. They simply were not driving the party.
He's right about that: GOP administrations, ever since they captured the South from the Democrats, have benefited from some degree of racist voting (as did the Democrats for decades). This was not the main thrust of the party in most cases.
However--and this is important--even now, having a test-case where an actual candidate was able to withstand the backlash to say out loud what a lot of GOP Primary voters were thinking--and got elected for it--there are things he isn't willing to look at. These are worth looking at.
Both Sides! BOTH SIDES!!
This year both parties suffered an incursion by an outsider who embodied (out loud, in the open) the stereotype their enemies accused them of. Trump was a race-baiter who pitched grade-school foreign policy (Kick-Their-Ass--Take-Their-Gas) and appealed to, pretty much, aggrieved white males in the basest possible terms.
For the Democrats, they got outsider/independent Bernie Sanders. He made free-stuff (college) a major thrust of his platform. He would #OccupyWallStreet--bring down the banks. He was an out-and-proud socialist--but while the 'socialist' got air-quotes and Sweden-Talk, analysis of his plans showed a significant capture of the working economy if he got most of what he wanted.
Culturally, Sanders voters were angry young people. When Sanders lost--and he did lose--they've retreated to conspiracy theory and promises of 1968-style convention protests.
On the other hand, he lost. He lost decisively. Maybe there's a lesson there.
Why Did Sanders Lose Vs. Trump Winning?
There are basically two dimensions to the loss / win of the insurgent candidate. These are both inter-related but they have separate drivers. We should examine them differently. They are:
- The party nominating process and party leaders
- The messaging over the last decade the party members have received
The Party & The Process
If you want a one-word illustration of the difference between the GOP and Democrats the distinction would be "Superdelegates." The Democrats had to deal with the problem of an insurgent populist before and paid for it. They developed systemic antibodies in the form of a substantial number of party insiders who were not bound to the voting public. These people could tip the scales substantially.
The GOP, on the other hand, learned a different lesson from along, damaging 2012 primary--they wanted whoever was ahead at the midpoint to bring things rapidly to a close. They presumed that'd be Romney Version 2.0 . . . of some sort.
Beyond the mechanics, though, there's another dimension to the problem. The Democrats understood from McGovern that their base's instincts could be sincere and damaging--i.e. that they had a dark-side and that it needed a control. What the GOP learned from 2012 (and from 2008) was that their base's instincts were embarrassing and they needed to keep it covered up. These are two different approaches.
In the second case, the attempt to shorten things rather than control them is an attempt to treat a symptom. In the Democrats case, what it treats is closer to a cause.
The Medium & The Message
The other problem the GOP has--and one it has yet to even attempt to grapple with--was the melding of its leadership with its mass-media. When Rush Limbaugh was recognized as the defacto head of the party, a lot of Republicans shook their heads. Yes, true, the uber-popular radio host commanded a great deal of mindshare--but what did it really matter? For one thing, both he--and Fox News--wanted the GOP to succeed. So long as their views were aligned, things were fine. Secondly, Rush was smart. He might dance with provocative rhetoric but he stopped short of putting his foot firmly in his mouth.
It drove Rush's opponents crazy . . . which was a plus.
A second wave of guys like Hannity, Beck, World News Daily, and the endless drum-beat of alternative news with guys like Alex Jones was a problem of a different level. These guys were further out there than Rush was. They dove directly into conspiracy theories (WND is filled with religious end-times nonsense) and they racked up millions of listeners piggy-backing on the the more mainstream sources (Hannity on Fox).
They also did not have the party's best interests in mind. They were most interested in making money off their listeners. Selling gold certificates, survivalist water filters and rations, and advertising a coming collapse, the message they conveyed was not that the Democrats were bad--but that the Republicans were just as bad--maybe worse. The Dems were evil--the Republican Establishment were traitors.
This was good for business. It was especially good in an environment where Obama was well hated--but the GOP was not well represented enough to fully block him and the Democrats. Throw in a couple of Supreme Court decisions that were against the dogma and the story that the GOP was in the pocket of Big Democrat.
This wasn't true, of course--Boehner, McConnell, and everyone else--even John McCain were stalwart Republicans--but the GOP as a whole stood by while they were demonized. Even guys like Limbaugh--who knew better--had their constituency to think of. When push came to shove, the conservative media, entrusted with the soul of the party, turned out to be capitalists prioritizing making a buck.
Very, very Republican.
How Do You Get Back?
How do you get back from this? What happens after Trump? Well, if he wins--good luck. If he loses, though, you have a problem that you had in 2012: how do you build a coalition that includes some pretty hardcore racists and minorities? How do you keep the base that is infinitely angry, ideologically backwards, and requires pandering to in the face of being called 'racist'--while at the same time reaching out to growing demographics that are opposed to them?
The answer is simple: Triangulate. Peel off some Democratic strong-holds and repudiate the guys defending the Confederate Flag and Muslim-Tests for entering the country, and the great Southern Wall. Of course in order to do that you'd need people who were legitimately charismatic. Who were not movement conservatives (triangulation will require pragmatism). It will not be the party of Reagan. It might, however, get back to being the party of Lincoln: Recommend Reparations for slavery and the institutional racism that persisted (under Democrats) in its wake.
See what happens.