Sunday, January 24, 2016

What Are Conservatives Angry About? The Failure of Conservativism

The Republicans promised, and they didn't deliver. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

Strange bedfellows: Trump can't be bought, and Palin can't be sold.

What's animating the Republican Party these days amounts to a very dangerous bitch's brew: the Republicans disappointment with themselves. Tea Partiers thought they were the true conservatives, the true don't-tread-on-mes from a revolutionary past. What they turned out to be were the original suckers for the Republican Party line.

This has built up in both the Bush and Obama years. George W. Bush lived large and recklessly, promising tax cuts, missions accomplished, and compassionate conservatism. What the people got were deficits as far as the eye could see, lost wars, a housing bubble, and a crashing economy. Did they get abortion overturned? No. A higher moral ground? No. A more muscular foreign policy? Yes, but no victories to show for it.

Bush/Cheney delivered nothing but unpaid bills, lost wars, torture and Guantanamo Bay. Jobs? No. Homes? Not anymore. A safer retirement? Don't count on it.

Along comes the Obama years, and the Republican Party rose as one to block any success. What did the Republican Party deliver? Nothing. Of course, they delivered state houses, state legislatures, even a Republican Congress. What they didn't deliver was an economic future for conservative America.

What all of the Republican Party pandering boiled down to was they couldn't deliver because of Mexicans stealing our jobs and blacks on welfare stealing our tax money and Obama not letting us reform entitlements. And then we're surprised that the base of the Republican Party is hijacked by disillusioned whites yearning to Make America Great Again?

That bitch's brew turned out to be anger not toward the Democratic Party for stuffing Republican dreams but toward the Republican Party for delivering nothing.

Enter demagogues Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. It's not surprising they're the two likeliest to be left standing at the end of the cage match that the GOP nomination fight has become.

Who were the candidates?
  • The establishment: Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, George Pataki, Rick Perry.
  • The boy wonders: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Scott Walker.
  • The anti-Hillary: Carly Fiorina.
  • The hucksters: Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson. 
  • the whaa?: Lindsey Graham, Jim Gilmore.
  • The anti-establishment: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz.
The categories are somewhat fluid, e.g. Carly Fiorina is also a huckster, and Marco Rubio plays at being establishment. but I'll run with my categories, thank you.

Problem for Republicans this year: The establishment is out because they had their chance. The boy wonders are out because they're boy wonders. Carly Fiorina is out because, er, she's Carly Fiorina. The hucksters are out because they were only in it for the grift. The whaa? were never really in it.

That leaves the anti-establishment, set to appeal to the insurgent class, the disillusioned whites, the people wanting to make America Great Again. The problem?

To quote Steve Fraser in today's "If the new insurgency has a program for the future, that program should be called The Past."

Ouch. The Republican Party can now -- or after a likely disastrous 2016 -- be renamed the Retrograde Party. Whites? In charge. White men? In charge. White women? Subservient to white men. Blacks? Back of the bus. Mexicans? On the other side of the wall.

A winning strategy? No.

We keep hearing that the establishment will settle this in the end, ride to the rescue, end the Dream of Trump or the Dread of Cruz. When's this going to happen? Any day now.

I read Ross Douthat (sorry, somebody has to do it) and found the source of the conundrum for conservatism's intellectual elite:
Let me explain. That spring [in 2008], in between the Republican primary and the fall campaign, my friend Reihan Salam and I had published a book called “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.”
As the title suggests, we were calling for the G.O.P. to change, but not to moderate in the way that a lot of centrist pundits favored, returning to a Rockefeller-Republican model of fiscally prudent social liberalism. Rather, we thought the party’s opportunity (and the country’s) lay in a kind of socially conservative populism, which would link the family-values language of the religious right to an economic agenda more favorable to the working class than what the Republicans usually had offered.
Douthat links this to his brief flirtation, policy-wise of course, with Sarah Palin. He saw in her that socially conservative populism that could ignite the working class. What he got was the Alaskan version of white trash and scrambled-egg-style rhetoric. Sparks and starbursts until you discover that the beauty contestant couldn't think her way out of a wet paper bag.

The solution to Douthat's conundrum is clear to anyone with eyes to see: The answer is not in socially conservative populism -- that way lies the madness of Trump and Palin and the demagoguery of Cruz -- but in that Rockefeller-Republican model (known more recently as Clintonism) that he so blithely rejects. Douthat is, at heart, a Catholic Democrat, which is no help to him at all, especially as a conservative writer at the NYTimes.

Just giving Douthat a little credit for a second, I suggest that he is sincere, a trait not currently well honed in conservative circles. A sincere conservative has to work pretty hard these days to square the circle of Republican orthodoxy. They've pretty well trashed their brand, especially among their own tribe, and it's a long way back from the wilderness.

Anything can happen in politics. Anyone can win, anyone can lose, we can't see the future, even that part right in front of our noses. Our instincts tell us, for example, that Trump could never beat Clinton. Oh holy crap, save me, but never say never.

Ross Douthat struggles to find a conservatism that isn't corrupt, and we're left to imagine a Trump presidency because shit happens. Ross, we have bigger problems than your (sincere) search for a conservatism for the working class. Somebody's already found it: It's called Trumpism.

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