Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Collapse Of The Reagan Coalition

The two American political parties are coalition parties.  Because our electoral system only require a plurality rather than a majority, the idea of a permanent third party is folly.  So, both of the two parties try and cobble together a broad coalition of different groups in order to win elections and set policy.

Franklin Roosevelt created an enduring coalition when he wedded working class whites, Southern yellow dogs and Progressive reformers into a coalition that controlled either the White House or the House from 1932-2000, with the exception of 1952-54. Ronald Reagan's political legacy was in creating a coalition that included evangelical voters, traditional Republican business interests, neo-conservatives and racially disgruntled working class whites.  The latter category were known as "Reagan Democrats."  This coalition controlled either the White House or the House from 1980-today, with the exception of 1992-94 and 2008-2010.

What is clear from both parties nominating process is that these old coalitions are dead, and this is especially true on the Republican side.  Obama proved conclusively that a Democrat can win without winning Southern states (though he did win a few).  He created a new coalition of Millennials, college educated whites, liberal city dwellers, the remnants of the unions, non-whites and women, especially single women.  The Democratic nominating convention has been a contest between Sanders - who is mobilizing Millennials, unions and liberals - against Clinton - who is mobilizing women and minorities.  What's significant is that there is overlap between both camps.  With the exceptions of the more radical left wing of the party, it looks like there is decent acceptance of a Clinton nomination.

On the Republican side, what we are witnessing is the collapse of the Reagan Coalition.  Philip Klein does a nice job categorizing this collapse.  The fact is that the Chamber of Commerce Republicans never really cared about the priorities of the evangelicals; they only wanted their votes.  With the loss of the White House, the social conservatives have used their leverage in the House to bring this schism into the opening.

What Trump has done is to latch on the Declension Faction within the GOP.  Fueled by the non-stop doomsaying of Fox News, this group of conservatives believes that everything is shitty and getting worse by the minute.  And for many of the white working class, this isn't really an exaggeration.  Things have been getting worse for them.  And they see advances by minorities and women as an assault in a zero-sum game of economic warfare.  This leads to the profound irony of Donald Trump feeding off the hysteria created by Fox News, but then turning around and using that cultural resentment in his attacks on Megyn Kelly.  Trump has been compared to Frankenstein's monster on more than one occasion, and it's apt.

The Chamber of Commerce/Establishment Republicans have been ginning up outrage and fear over social and economic change to mobilize voters to vote for economic policies that violate their basic self-interest.  Bernie Sanders - naively - believes he can win those voters back without acknowledging that their economic circumstances have effectively become a status anxiety crisis divorced from economics.  It's NOT just the economy, stupid.   The problem the GOP is waking up to is that they have unleashed this angry, dysfunctional part of their coalition, and it is devouring them.

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