What’s Left for the GOP to Build On?

Liberals always seem to be asking why it is that so many people of modest economic means choose to vote against their own interests for a party that wants to cut their entitlement benefits, give huge tax cuts to millionaires, do less to protect their environment, deny them access to health care, and undermine their public schools. For those of us who have explained that race-hatred, provincial ethno-religious bigotry and fantasies of revenge are more important to them, the ascendency of Donald Trump has been a vindication. We’ve been accused of cultural elitism, of playing the race card, of making “everything about race,” and it hasn’t been pleasant to take that criticism over the years. Even now, there are folks like Damon Linker who insist that we’re unrealistically oblivious to human nature and that our accusations are mostly nonsense.

But the real problem with the way [Zack] Beauchamp and so many others on the center-left talk about those on the nationalist right is that it displays outright contempt for particularistic instincts that are not and should not be considered morally and politically beyond the pale. On the contrary, a very good case can be made that these instincts are natural to human beings and even coeval with political life as such — and that it is the universalistic cosmopolitanism of humanitarian liberalism (or progressivism) that, as much as anything, has provoked the right-wing backlash in the first place.

Underlying liberal denigration of the new nationalism — the tendency of progressives to describe it as nothing but “racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia” — is the desire to delegitimize any particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic.

As recently as yesterday, I acknowledged that liberal cultural dominance is causing a reactionary response. It’s not that I don’t understand human nature. I’m just not inclined to give people much of a break for being primarily motivated by religious bigotry, white supremacy, and fear.

It’s clearer than ever now that the Republican orthodoxy on economics and foreign policy doesn’t matter to their base, and that their standards on social issues are flexible enough to accommodate a leader and noted family man like Donald Trump. The base does not care about free trade. They don’t care what Trump proposes, either way. As long as he’s giving the middle finger to the people who have failed them and all their traditional enemies, Trump can do no wrong.

Jennifer Rubin describes this as the literal death of the Republican Party. But she has no idea how ridiculous she sounds when she talks about being part of a post-election #NeverTrump vanguard that will decide who has and who has not irredeemably sinned against the tenets of the faith.

Any who excuse Trump’s involvement in birtherism and defend his current lies should not have a seat at the center-right political party…

…The verdict will not be pretty on the GOP voters who supported him, but going forward the goal must be to never again nominate someone who appeals to our most negative, darkest impulses…

…Anyone who refused to embrace Trump, who stood up to his lies, who refused to put party ahead of country should be at the vanguard of the future center-right party. That may include people with exceptionally different ideological views (e.g., former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Sen. Ted Cruz [Tex.]). But it will not include apologists or enablers of Trump. The #NeverTrump vanguard will be responsible for creating a home for those who can no longer carry the banner of a Republican Party that repudiated its ideological origins as the Party of Lincoln.

Rubin goes on to excommunicate Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Gov. Mike Pence for sacrificing the country to the party.

And, look, it’s not easy to get me to praise Jennifer Rubin, but I’ll give her her due here. I do appreciate that she doesn’t want to belong to a political movement or party that’s okay with David Duke-style politics. It’s just that I don’t think there are going to be a lot of people in her new center-right party.

We know now, because Trumpism proves it, that “small government” and “local control” and “free enterprise” and the rest of the GOP’s ideological playbook simply never had much appeal to their base except as signifiers for Trumpian impulses to smash outsiders and oddballs and anyone who discomforts them, even a little.

We have been here before. When Hunter S. Thompson, who had closely covered the 1972 primaries, realized that George McGovern wasn’t just going to lose but be annihilated, he lamented:

“America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”

All you need to do to confirm the continuing accuracy of this statement, at least for a disturbingly large percentage of our electorate, is to look at the comments you see in reaction to every police shooting or, say, the riots in Charlotte last night. Did Trayvon Martin make George Zimmerman uncomfortable? Well, then let’s donate to the George Zimmerman defense fund! Are people getting unruly in the streets of Charlotte? Well, why not run over some of them with your cars?

Damon Linker can lecture me all he wants about how a proper “observation of human behavior and reading of human history” would disabuse me of the idea that anything is out of order here. But I’m not suggesting that no one should be concerned about illegal immigration or the preservation of the better parts of our culture in the face of changing demographics. I don’t expect everyone to be on board with a more ecumenical or pluralistic society.

But I do want to accurately describe how the Republican Party gets to 50%+1 and wins elections in this country. I want to properly explain why the GOP base so easily dispenses with Republican ideology when it suits them. I want people to know why they’ll vote for a guy they know deep down doesn’t have the temperament to be president.

And, no, it’s not all about bigotry and race-hatred and fear. It’s also about broken promises and shitty results. The Republicans told folks that they’d end illegal immigration and stop gay marriage and ban abortion and crush terrorism and liberate Iraq and create enormous economic growth. They either failed or failed to even sincerely try to do those things. And people have noticed.

So, Trumpism is partly about a distillation of what really motivated these conservatives all along, and partly a reaction to the fact that their political leaders failed to keep their promises or show results. You can ascribe a degree of rationality to this, at least to the degree that it’s reasonable to be pissed off and want to send a nasty message.

There’s nothing rational about Trump, though.

And there’s now nothing left of the GOP for Rubin and her center-right vanguard to build upon.

Martin Longman

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