PANDERING….Matt Yglesias comments on the dynamics of the 2008 Republican presidential race:
There’s really something bizarre about the growing number of constituencies to which your modern-day Republicans must pander in order to succeed in primary politics. That’s all I think you can conclude from something like Mitt Romney calling on the US to boycott a UN panel we’re already boycotting.
This is something that’s always bugged me. Ever since the 70s, Democrats have had a reputation for being more a collection of special interests than a real party. Basically, if you wanted to win you had to check off all the right boxes: abortion groups, environmental groups, labor unions, trial lawyers, various ethnic minority groups, etc. etc. There was, needless to say, more than a little truth to this reputation.
For some reason, though, Republicans never shared this reputation, despite the fact that they had plenty of special interest checkboxes of their own: tax cutting groups, the NRA, pro-life groups, evangelicals, the chamber of commerce, etc. etc. I was never quite able to figure out why, but Republicans managed to make it look like all these groups were somehow related by a set of core conservative principles, while Democratic box checking somehow always looked like pure pandering.
But Matt is right: this year, for the first time, the interest group pandering is looking a lot more obvious on the Republican side and a lot less obvious on the Democratic side. Why? I suppose it’s more the changing fortunes of the parties than any actual substantive change. With Dems looking like big winners, liberal interest groups are all willing to settle down and just work for victory. Divvying up the spoils can come later. On the GOP side, it’s just the opposite: with the party doing so poorly, every group is suddenly way more worried about getting its own scrap of attention than in the past. This means that subtle, dog whistle appeals aren’t enough. Conservative interest groups are insecure enough that they want full-on panders, so that’s what the candidates are giving them. There aren’t any more conservative check boxes than there have ever been, but the pandering demands are so much greater that their existence is way more obvious than it has been in the past. It doesn’t help that many of the leading candidates really aren’t natural allies of all the conservative interest groups, which means that they have to pander even more obsequiously than usual in order to prove their bona fides (cf. Mitt Romney, above).
Anyway, just goes to show what winning a few elections will do for you. Now if we can only get Dems to stop having nervous breakdowns whenever they hear the words “soft on terror,” maybe we’ll really start getting somewhere.