Republicans Don’t Care What Works

What little attention the right wing media machine isn’t devoting to the sordid mudslinging between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is focused on a statement President Obama made about practicalities and ideologies:

I guess to make a broader point, so often in the past there’s been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you’re a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you’re some crazy communist that’s going to take away everybody’s property. And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don’t have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory — you should just decide what works.

For Republicans this is tantamount to heresy and treason. The Washington Times is raving about it, as is Michelle Malkin, the Daily Caller and other conservative outlets.

This isn’t terribly surprising, of course, but it speaks to the heart of what has gone wrong with the Republican Party and conservatism itself. While the neoliberal and progressive wings of the Democratic Party are often at loggerheads, the arguments aren’t about pure ideology but about practicality. Clinton’s supporters see her as more electable, more able to work with Congress to implement policy, and more experienced with the policy nuances that will allow incremental progress to be made alongside a GOP Congress. Sanders’ supporters see the economic and political system as fundamentally broken, believe that a more aggressive approach to the bully pulpit and policy negotiation will be necessary to fix what’s wrong, and feel that more holistic and universal government approaches to problems will work better than means-tested half measures. But both sides are making practical arguments about what will actually work from an electoral and political standpoint.

Not so with Republicans. The GOP has devolved into a party that no longer cares about what works. The GOP is now divided between the Trumpists who (like Sanders’ supporters) believe that the system is broken and working against them while also (unlike Sanders’ supporters) raging against a complex multicultural and tolerant modernity, and the Cruzites who are wedded in an almost cult-like fashion to economically objectivist and Christian fundamentalist orthodoxy.

The result of the conservative movement’s failure to acknowledge policy realities can be seen most prominently in Kansas and Louisiana, where the red-state model of governance is failing catastrophically even as blue states like California are booming. In a functional political ecosystem that would be a cause for reckoning and introspection, but no acknowledgement of failure has been forthcoming from the GOP. Instead its candidates are doubling down on more of the same. For them, conservative orthodoxy cannot fail; it can only be failed.

In the days of the Cold War when capitalism and communism vied for supremacy, there was an understanding that one’s preferred system of governance had to actually deliver results or the people would revolt and make a change. The openness of democracies and market economies allowed them to soften the sharp edges and mitigate the flaws of capitalism with a healthy dose of compensatory socialism, while the closed systems of state communism led to brutal totalitarian outcomes. So capitalism won the war of ideas and appropriately so–but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system. Modern Republicans have totally lost sight of that fact. For them, markets don’t exist to serve people. Rather, people exist to serve markets.

The obvious human shortcomings of that belief system are what is allowing Trump to run a successful counterinsurgency within the GOP that tosses aside donors’ dearly held shibboleths about trade and taxation. Even David Brooks acknowledges that the GOP has to ideologically change course to account for capitalism’s failure to address rising inequality.

But for now, the leadership and media organs of the conservative movement remain obsessed with promoting ideology over practicality so much that a simple statement from the President that economies should simply pick solutions that work, somehow becomes a fundamental betrayal.

That lack of flexibility and cultish devotion to ideological purity (in addition to an intentional reliance on racial and cultural resentment) is what ruined the Republican Party in the first place. Now it’s paying the price.