Where Does the GOP Go?

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!

Don’t Vote for Bernie Sanders

Hot Take, here we go! So I wanted to talk about the future of the Democratic Party, and the rapidly escalating 2020 Democratic presidential primary is a great way to frame this discussion. Also, I haven’t gotten any angry emails yet, so what better way to change that then by trashing your favorite politicians?

Admittedly, trashing isn’t really the right word. I quite like Bernie Sanders. However, he is not representative of the future of the Democratic Party, and he is not a good candidate for president. Now, before I continue, I would like to emphasize that while connected, “being representative of the future of the Democratic Party” and “being a good Democratic candidate for president” are not the same thing. Please do not conflate them.

Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first: Bernie Sanders is old and white in a party whose voter base is anything but. The problem is more than surface level though. Despite recently making strides in the right direction, Bernie has still failed to find substantial support from women and people of color. Furthermore, he represents the far left wing of the Democratic Party. It is true that mainstream Democrats have moved to the left, and it is possible for a politician to be liberal and still representative of the party. However, in our hyper-liberal bubbles, it is easy to forget that Democratic voters as a whole are not that liberal. Polling consistently shows that the majority of Democratic voters want to see their party move in a more moderate direction, not a more liberal one. Ultimately, Sanders is an ideological warrior. He is not known for compromise or moderation; he is known for being a socialist. This is not what holds together the Democratic Party.

I think that people tend to vastly overestimate Sanders’ electability. He certainly performed well in 2016, but he is simply not what people want. Like Donald Trump, Sanders received a massive boost from the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton, but he still solidly lost the primary. Meanwhile, old age and socialism are two of the least desirable traits voters look for in a candidate. Now, you might say to me, “Bernie is actually a democratic socialist, and that’s totally different,” or “Bernie isn’t really a socialist,” and you would be right. However, I can assure you that the greater American public could not care less. For more concrete evidence, we can turn to the 2018 midterm elections. The Sanders-inspired OurRevolution movement supported numerous Bernie-esque candidates, and nearly all of them failed. The idea that Bernie Sanders would be able to turn reliably Republican districts blue was proved false. Instead it was moderate Democrats who led the party to its house majority.

Now that I’ve angered half of you, I’ll anger the other half by telling you that Beto O’Rourke is also neither representative nor a good candidate for the Democratic Party. Unlike Sanders, he is young and more subtly progressive. However, also unlike Sanders, he hasn’t staked out hard policy positions. In short, Beto gives good speeches, but it is nearly impossible to figure out what he actually stands for. His previous voting record is uneven, and he falls behind nearly all other current candidates when it comes to staking out policy views. As I mentioned previously, the success of the Democratic Party hangs on pushing specific policy. Broad ideological battles and speeches are the territory of Republicans. O’Rourke may be inspirational, and I’ll take him over Cruz or Trump any day, but he will not be able to effectively hold together the Democratic coalition.

Besides 2020 electability, what does the future of the Democratic Party look like? In addition to the surface level visuals, like more representation of women, POC, and young people, it’s about being willing to compromise and reach out. It’s about taking concrete policy positions and, when in a position to do so, working to make gains on these even if it means compromising. In our era of polarization and constitutional hardball it’s easy to forget that bipartisanship and cooperation are not just good politics, they’re what Democratic voters are looking for. Being liberal is okay, but that can’t be all that you have going for you. Instead it’s about putting your stake in concrete policies rather than an ideology.

If you’re curious what current primary candidate is best, I’m afraid I’m not ready to put that down in writing just yet. Should you really want to know, you can come ask me in person, but I’m saving my official endorsement for some time closer to the actual primary. I hope you all have a great summer! Hopefully I’ll be back in the fall to talk about the future (or potential lack thereof) of the Republican Party.

 

Browning America

In 2000, 76.5% of voters in the presidential election were white. By 2020, just two decades later, this number is projected to be only 66.7%. This nearly 10 point drop is a result of the growing numbers of voters of color. Most notably, the Hispanic vote is expected to nearly double from 7.4% to 13.3%.  It’s hard to understate the effect that this will have. Not just on elections, but on the American people. In 2009, America made history. Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first African-American president. Many heralded the start of a “post-racial America”. Now, 10 years later, it’s pretty clear that this was not the case. So what happened?

While most people say Obama’s election was a victory against racism, for many he was a symbol of something else: the declining power of white America. This view was not wrong either; Obama swept to power on a powerful coalition built on the back of voters of color. He was a symbol that the balance of power was changing in America.

Sociologists have studied what happens when people are shown information indicating that their political power is diminishing. In a particularly fascinating experiment, Spanish speakers were put on trains and train stations around (very liberal) Boston, particularly those in white neighborhoods. They simply took the train like anyone else, but after only 3 days researchers found a sharp rightward shift in the immigration opinions of the other passengers. In another experiment, subjects were shown demographic data indicating that the Hispanic population in America is growing very rapidly. After seeing this, subjects reported a noticeable shift to the right. They became more likely to support strict immigration policies, and even moved rightward on non-immigration related policies. In this second experiment, it’s important to note that this reaction was universal. Both African-Americans and Asian-Americans had the same response as white subjects. This is not an ideological reaction, it’s a human one.

These experiments show the effect of subtle examples of the declining power of white America. Obama’s presidency was not subtle, so we can only imagine the effects that it had. While this effect can cut both ways (Hispanics exposed to micro-aggressions such as a questioning of their citizenship move left) the overwhelming effect is to drive the American population to the right, particularly on immigration.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this in America. When immigration from Asia and parts of Europe surged at the end of 19th century, we saw a sharp move to the right among the political elite. The Chinese Exclusion act and the Immigration Act of 1924 came into being with bipartisan support, and the pseudo-science of eugenics became widely popular. This type of white-supremacist sentiment did not die down, and instead culminated, and violently ended, with the genocides of WWII.

This is something of a tangent, but anti-immigrant sentiment and white supremacy in America is closely connected to the rise of the Nazi’s in Germany. Nazi politicians studied US law, particularly in how it denied citizenship to non-white residents. And if you still have doubts, here is a quote from Adolf Hitler: “It was America that taught us a nation should not open its doors equally to all nations”. When the US entered WWII against Nazi Germany, it adopted an anti-racist sentiment to distinguish itself, but it was not the reason we fought against Germany.

We cannot and should not hope for such a cataclysmic event to end the rightward shift we see now. Instead, it falls on us and our political institutions. Next month, we’ll look at how the political parties may change in response to demographic change.

 

Democrats and Republicans: Asymmetric Politics

The Democratic and Republican Parties sit on opposite ends of an ideological spectrum, but on a deeper, more fundamental level, they are in fact quite similar. At least, this is what is commonly assumed.

The problem with this assumption is that it’s wrong. Beyond policies and partisanship, these two parties are radically different in what drives them and how they operate. Understanding how Democrats and Republicans differ beyond their overt partisan leanings is crucial to understanding modern American political workings.

In their pioneering book Asymmetric Politics, political scientists Matt Grossman and David Hopkins put forward two definitions for the Democratic and Republicans parties. They define the Republican Party as centered around ideology and the Democratic Party as centered around group interests.

Understanding both parties starts with looking at their voter demographics. The voting base for the Republican Party is primarily white, with strength largely coming from men, older voters, and/or the non-college-educated.

The key factor when understanding the deeper workings of the Republican Party is not its actual demographics but the level of homogeny among its voters. The majority of Republicans (70%) identify as conservative, and they all share a common conservative ideology: the broad ideas of limited government, traditional values, and opposition to liberalism. Yes, all of these ideas are quite fuzzy, but this makes it easier for conservatives to unite behind them.

This shared idea of conservatism is the primary driving force of the Republican Party. Ideological purity and ideological victory are the main goals of the party. The clearest manifestation of this is the persistent strength of the ultra-conservative Tea Party.

Arising in 2009 in opposition to Obama’s early economic policies, the group turned heads when they forced a government shutdown in opposition to the Affordable Care Act, or as it’s more commonly known, Obamacare. The goal of the Tea Party, both in this shutdown and in a wider frame, is to remain true to conservatism, especially on economic policy, at all costs. Compromise in any form is unacceptable to them. Even now, a decade later, the Tea Party is a potent force in the Republican Party.

In contrast to the Republican Party, the Democratic Party is defined by an increasingly diverse set of voters. Often referred to as “the Obama coalition,” the party is supported by various groups such as people of color, organized labor, the LGBTQ community, the youth, and increasingly women. These groups do not share a uniting liberal ideology the same way conservatives do (only 44% of Democrats identify as liberal); instead, the Democratic Party is driven by coalition politics. Each group has a distinct set of policy initiatives that they want to pass, and they work together to accomplish all of them. The Democratic Party serves as the framework that unites these disparate groups.
Whereas the Tea Party is a dominant force in the Republican Party, no similar group has emerged in the Democratic Party. Even with the election of Donald Trump and the increasing level of polarization in American politics, Democrats remain on average more moderate and less ideological than their Republican counterparts. A 70-year-old African-American Christian woman in Atlanta does not want the same thing as a 30-year-old white hipster in New York. A first generation Mexican-American in Dallas does not want the same thing as a gay Asian-American in Seattle.

The Democratic Party is not bound together ideologically the same way the Republican Party is. Rather than seeking a broad ideological victory, Democrats focus more on specific policy initiatives, working to accomplish them even if it means compromising. By working towards these specific policies, whether it is prison reform, banking regulations, or LGBTQ protections, Democrats hold together a diverse coalition.

This divide in the political parties did not appear from nothing. It was driven, in part, by American voters. When polled on broad ideological questions, the average American voter falls slightly to the right of center. However, when polled on specific policies, the average American voter falls slightly left of center. For example, most Americans believe that the size of government should be limited, but when asked about specific policies, they will often choose policies that expand the size of government, in direct contradiction to their previous answer. In order to remain electorally viable, it is logical that the two major political parties represent this cleavage in American voters. Thus, Republicans focus on broad ideological statements while Democrats focus on narrow policy discussions.

These fundamental differences between America’s two dominant political parties are vitally important to understanding how these parties act today and what their futures might look like. One could point to more recent events to suggest that this dynamic is changing. Democratic 2020 candidates are rushing to support positions once considered far left, and Donald Trump is definitely not an ideological purist, but we should not read too much into these. The majority of registered democrats/democratic-leaning registered voters want to see their party move in a more moderate direction. Meanwhile, Republicans accept Trump as a ‘deal with the devil’, but a surprising amount don’t even want to see him on the 2020 ticket (although to be clear the chance of Trump not winning the 2020 Republican primary is basically nil).

Next month, we will be looking at what exactly demographic change in America looks like, and how voters react to it. Once we have that established we will come back and take an in depth look at both the Republican and Democratic Parties to see how these fundamental values we just talked about might be affected by demographic change.

The Political Story of a Changing America

Politics at Olin is weird, mostly because we really just don’t talk about it much. Given the overwhelmingly liberal tilt of our student body, this is not terribly surprising. We are often just yelling into an echo chamber, but this comes at a cost. While many Oliners are politically engaged and reasonably knowledgeable about political issues, we lack a real depth of understanding of politics in America. It is my plan to change this. I want to tell you all a story, the story of how demographic changes shape the modern American political landscape and what the future of American politics may look like because of it.

But let’s back up a second first. Who am I? My name is Diego, and for those of you who haven’t met me, I am a junior studying mechanical engineering. I am also doing my AHS concentration in political science. American politics is my obsession – to an unhealthy level. I am absolutely fascinated by it, and I want to share this all with you. I am, like most Oliners, a solid liberal Democrat, but to be clear, I am not here to preach liberal policies. I want to talk about American politics on a deeper, more fundamental level than any single policy.

In 1970, 87.5% of all Americans were white. By 2010, that number was only 72.4%. It is projected that by around 2042, America will have become a majority-minority country. That is, white Americans will no longer be a majority of the population. In 2013, non-white infants outnumbered white infants for the first time in US history. The ratio of white births to deaths has continued to decrease while immigration is skyrocketing. All of this means one thing: America is becoming more brown, and quickly. No amount of policy or politics can change this, but the effects of these changes on American politics and society cannot be understated. In the oft derided, but telling, words of conservative commentator Laura Ingraham, “They’re changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don’t like.”

Over the course of this semester, and potentially the next, I will be writing a series of articles for Frankly Speaking. The topic is going to be the future of American politics as seen through the lens of demographic change. This article is just a preview of what’s to come. This is a complicated topic that cannot be summed up in a single article; there are a multitude of topics we need to understand before we can look at the future of American politics holistically. Next month, we’ll be diving all the way in with a look at asymmetric politics and the fundamental differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. After that, expect articles on human reactions to demographic changes, the future of both the Democratic and Republican parties, and constitutional hardball. I’m going to throw a lot at all of you, and much of it is going to be quite wonky and in-depth, but these demographic changes have already had a profound impact on American politics, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Finally, this is not a one sided discussion. I want to hear what you think! I am studying away in Singapore this semester, so unfortunately you cannot yell at me in person, but if you have something you want to add, or something wasn’t clear to you, feel free to shoot me an email or message.