The Republicans’ Four-Legged Stool

The Republican coalition is commonly thought of as a three-legged stool. One leg is made up of social conservatives who are animated by matters of human sexuality and reproduction, as well as (obviously) anything touching on religion in public life or education. Another leg is made up of people who are concerned with national defense, either as a budgetary priority or as part of jingoistic national-greatness patriotism. The third leg comes from business interests, both Main Street and Wall Street.

I’d actually add a fourth. The fourth leg is conservative media dominance, particularly the FOX News channel and talk radio, but also their ability to use one voice across all platforms to push narratives favorable to their side.

Now, it’s harder to kick over a four-legged stool than a three-legged one, and that’s why the media component of this is so important. I’ve noted several times that the unity and cohesiveness of the Mighty Right-Wing Wurlitzer has come apart as right-wing media outlets have divided themselves into pro- and anti-Trump organizations. They have not been able to agree on what hymn to sing for a while now, and many of them have lost the credibility they’d need to be persuasively pro-Trump or pro-Cruz in the general election.

Essentially, you can say that this fourth leg of the stool has been sawed off, and they’ll do little better than some kind of duct tape solution for repairing it for the autumn contest.

To see how Trump is doing with the national defense component, look no further than the vociferous opposition of neoconservatives to his campaign. While Trump does his best to whip up the jingoistic national-greatness nationalism of the people, his cluelessness and recklessness on foreign policy is so extreme that he’d lose the vote of a big swath of traditionally reliable Republicans. Cruz would do a better job of holding them in line.

The social conservatives have been driving the full-fledged revolt against the Republican Establishment, mainly because they seem to have finally wised up and realized that the promises they’ve been told for forty years were never meant to be taken seriously. They aren’t going to bolt to the Democrats, but they’ll probably give up on the political process for the rest of the year if Merrick Garland is confirmed and the balance of the Court is lost to them for the foreseeable future.

The Establishment will mobilize them to stop Garland and to vote for the Republicans, and then after the Republicans lose the presidential election, the same Establishment will quickly confirm Garland without much of a fight. Whether they’ll do it in the lame duck or shortly after the new president is sworn in is an interesting question. The important thing, though, is that the Republicans cannot afford to see this leg of the stool collapse prematurely or the resulting depressed turnout will kill them in congressional races.

But, it’s actually the business community that they’re clearly losing. Wall Street has already concluded that Hillary Clinton will be the next president and they can live with that.

More than 70 percent of respondents to a recent Citigroup poll of institutional clients viewed the former secretary of state, first lady and New York senator as the likely 45th president. Just over 10 percent give Donald Trump the nod, while fellow Republican John Kasich is a few points behind. Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Ted Cruz barely register. (The poll was taken before Sanders and Cruz scored big primary wins Tuesday in Wisconsin.)

…Wall Street-related firms are Clinton’s biggest contributor group, giving her just over $21 million of the total $159 million she has raised during her campaign, according to OpenSecrets.

“An awful lot of investors view her as the devil they know as opposed to the devil they don’t know,” said Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments and widely recognized as one of the leading experts on how what happens in Washington affects Wall Street. “It’s a true cliche: The market doesn’t like uncertainty.”

…Investors, though, seem to be spending more time figuring out what impact a Clinton victory will produce [than figuring out who will win the election].

“The markets are going to be looking for signs of (Trump) mellowing. Does he turn down the bombast?” Valliere said. “But Hillary is still the favorite. … I think the markets could live with her. That’s a major reason why we haven’t seen market instability right now.”

The bottom line is that the financial elite are reconciled to a Clinton presidency and they’re planning for it. They’d prefer to vote for Ronald Reagan, but the best candidate on offer is Hillary. So, this leg of the stool is weak, and it’s also the leg with the most money and the leg that owns most of the media.

It looks a little like termites have been at work on the Republican coalition.

The business sector is Ready for Hillary. The neoconservatives and realists of the Republican Party are ready to bolt to her. The social conservatives are in full-revolt, and being held in line by Merrick Garland’s (very temporary) hostage situation. Once the Supreme Court battle is lost (however long that takes) the social conservatives will see that their forty-year battle is lost. They won’t be nearly as engaged without the encouragement of hope.

And the media is an unexpected problem for the Republicans because the right-wing outlets are not able to amplify a single message and the corporate media aren’t going to take their side this time around.

When we look at this four-legged stool, what do we have left?

This is how a major party loses its major party status, and it’s also how a major party loses a landslide election.

I wrote a whole series of articles last year about how then-Speaker John Boehner should make a deal with the Democrats, including giving them some committee chairs, in order to create a more rational governing coalition in the House of Representatives. In order to run the House, he needed mostly Democratic votes to pass appropriations bills and keep the government operating, so it made more sense to make this arrangement formal. It would stabilize his speakership by removing the risk of a coup, and the Democrats would make that deal in exchange for avoiding a more difficult Speaker and getting a real say in how the money they always had to spend was allocated.

The point was to highlight what the real governing coalition in the House was at that time, because the coalition that passes the spending bills is the actual parliamentary majority that matters. And, since the Republicans could not pass spending bills on their own, they had already collapsed as a governing party.

This was a canary in a coal mine for me, and it’s one reason why I was an early and bullish predictor that the Republican Party would come apart at the seams in this presidential election, offering more of a potential for a landslide election than most people then believed possible.

There are a lot of Democrats who look at this and say to themselves, “Well, gee, it’s not all that exciting to see neoconservatives and Wall Street executives and corporate media moguls rallying to our likely nominee.”

I recognize the potential problems for anyone with a progressive agenda, but this is what a realignment looks like. And the truth is, sheer numbers do more to promote a progressive agenda than purity. Rahm Emanuel handed President Obama a big congressional majority filled with very conservative Democrats, and they got more done than any Democratic Congress since Lyndon Johnson was in office. After most of those conservative Democrats were wiped out in 2010, the Democratic Party membership became much more cohesive and much more progressive, but they accomplished absolutely nothing.

I know it’s not simple. We’re talking about a lot of swinging parts, some of which might clock you right upside the head if you don’t keep your head on a swivel. But I’m trying to get you to swivel your head away from things like horserace polls and favorability numbers, because the Republican stool could be little more than sawdust soon.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.