Hello! If you’re a first year, or were gone last semester, this is a continuation of a series focusing on the effects of demographic change on the future of American politics. Check out franklyspeakingnews.com to read previous articles on asymmetric politics and the future of the Democratic Party.
Today we’ll be looking at the future of the Republican Party in America. Republicans now have more political power than at almost any time in recent history.
But being in power has a way of revealing and widening political fault lines. You don’t have to look far to find articles prophesizing the downfall of the Republican Party due to their failure to capture the growing number of minorities.
While this will eventually be a problem for the party, those predicting an impending doomsday are wrong. The mere political presence of ethnic minorities consistently pushes other voters to the right. This action will largely counteract any political power Republicans lose because of an increasing number of non-white voters.
Instead I want to highlight a specific division in the Republican Party; one that has become increasingly prominent during the Trump era: The divide between social conservatives and the business wing of the GOP. These two groups form the core of the GOP coalition.
Initially, the shared enemy of communism created their alliance. The Soviet Union, with its state run economy and avowed godlessness was the worst enemy of the religious social conservatives and free-market, small government libertarians.
The shared enemy allowed them to ignore that their world views were fundamentally incompatible. Is the role of government to ensure individual freedoms through low taxes and deregulation as the business wing believes? Or is it to create a ‘moral’ society by any means necessary. We can look to a classic issue in American politics: pornography. For social conservatives this is something that needs to be contained and banned; a harm to society. For a libertarian this would be unnecessary government regulation; people have a right to make their own decisions. At the extremes, this is an argument about liberal democracy itself. What is more important: freedom or morality?
This division is most clearly seen among political elites and conservative intellectuals. The most recent and dramatic rift has been between Sohrab Ahmari and David French. Armari published a piece online titled “Against David French-ism”.
He claims to be inspired by seeing a poster for a children’s drag queen reading hour at public library in Sacramento and by the ‘mistreatment’ of Brett Kavanaugh by the left.
He writes that in the “culture war” the ultimate goal is “defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good”. He continues that David French, who represents the libertarian wing of the party, is simply too nice to win this war. By rolling over and allowing, even if not agreeing with, things such as gay marriage, libertarians are failing conservatism.
A confluence of factors has led to this rift gaining prominence in recent years. The shared enemy of communism died with the cold war.
The election of Donald Trump has given Republicans a massive amount of political power. However, at the same time, society has continued to shift further and further to the left, deepening the fears of social conservatives. Compounding this fear are two other societal shifts: Diminishing numbers of Americans identifying as Christian, and white Americans continuing to make up a smaller and smaller proportion of the population.
How will the Republican party react to a browning America? For the business wing this is business as usual. Tax cuts are (theoretically) race neutral; the size of government (theoretically) affects all people equally. But for social conservatives this is a crisis. Looking at more recent year
s, it’s hard not to say that social conservatives are winning out. Donald Trump, while not himself a die-hard social conservative, represents that group. He has shown a personal disregard for the small government principles of the libertarian wing. Instead he has appealed to the growing anti-immigrant, socially conservative sentiment I have previously discussed.
The biggest sign of this shift in Republican ideology is the story of Representative Justin Amash. Amash is a founding member of the Tea Party: the ultra-conservative republican group that emerged in opposition to Obama’s policies. Amash made headlines recently when he called for the impeachment of Donald Trump.
His opposition to Trump comes from his disagreements over executive power and limits of government. These are the principles on which the Tea Party was founded on, and these are the principles Amash cites. But the rest of the Tea Party turned on him. He was roundly denounced and ultimately, he left the Republican Party. Amash is not a moderate in any sense of the word; he turned on Trump because he saw him as betraying libertarian and conservative values.
In the broader American political context, this is a risky move. By doubling down on social conservatism, especially regarding race and immigration, Republicans have positioned themselves to take full advantage of the backlash to a browning America.
This is a powerful force that is not to be underestimated.The risk is not losing support from people of color, they never really supported Republicans in the first place. Instead it is white, moderate, voters that present the most active threat. In 2018, droves of white suburban voters (especially women) abandoned the Republican party and handed Democrats a massive victory, even in traditionally Republican areas like Orange County.
We’ve examined the people, and the parties on their own, but next month we will look at how they interact in the penultimate article of this series. See you then!