Too Big to Compromise

Vox just published an interview that Zack Beauchamp conducted with Samuel Goldman, a professor of political theory at George Washington University. It’s worth reading in it’s entirety, but I particularly like this following segment where Goldman explains why the really angry Tea Party/Trump bloc of the Republican base is so frustrated.

One of the difficulties is what you might call the Trump bloc. I’m using this to refer to a silent majority that isn’t a majority and is not particularly silent: whites, generally older, generally less educated, although of course with exemptions for all of those generalizations.

[This group] is a very, very awkward size. It seems to be somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the electorate, which is big enough that it feels like a majority but small enough that it isn’t actually a majority.

That’s a very uncomfortable place to be, politically, because smaller groups I think come to appreciate, not immediately but eventually, that they have to compromise and form coalitions. Larger groups can just win.

But this group doesn’t seem small enough to compromise or big enough to win. That makes people very angry. I think some of that anger is reflected not just in Trump’s campaign but in the sort of rhetoric you see around the rallies. And everyone has seen footage of people who are just hopping mad in a way that I suspect is alien not just to the journalists who cover them but also to movement conservatives who have claimed to speak for them in the past.

Goldman discusses this same theme elsewhere in the interview, referring to “the story of a minority that thinks it’s a majority.”

I think we can do a lot with this basic insight. For starters, it really illuminates the problems John Boehner encountered as Speaker, where he kept trying to explain to both his own caucus and to the party base that they simply couldn’t impose their will on the president because they didn’t have the votes. He simply was not believed. It seemed like even the suggestion was like waving a red cape in front of a bull, and it didn’t matter if they had a hundred thousand votes to repeal ObamaCare or only several dozen, the point would not be received or accepted.

Maybe the underlying problem wasn’t so much that people were ignorant of parliamentary rules and procedure or the separation of powers. Maybe the root of this conflict, which ultimately doomed both Boehner and his underboss Cantor, is that the base of the party is too big to realize that it has no choice but to compromise.

Martin Longman

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