The Elephants' Graveyard [updated]
I’m coming around to the thought that Donald Trump is an outlier so unexpected, so grandiose that he will -- official party nominee or not -- have the effect of a wrecking ball on the GOP’s national political brand.
They will not vanish immediately at the end of this election cycle -- like the Dixiecrats they’ll probably hang on for another decade or so -- but they have lost all external credibility and too much internal support.
Every political party, to enjoy long term success, needs several things: Rank and file volunteers who ring the doorbells and hand out the flyers, donors up and down the economic spectrum, a leadership coterie that not only crafts long terms strategies and goals but can also step in and stop any brushfires before they engulf the party.
For a party to succeed, there must be some cohesive unity from the top down, the bottom up, and the middle out. When one set of outliers obtains dominance, it is not good for the party as a whole.
Hedrick Smith has done an excellent job tracking down the ever increasing influence of big business in this country, and their willingness to aid, abet, and encourage bigotry of all stripes so long as it meant more money for them. Check out his timeline on Who Stole The American Dream and see how the damage was done.
Where once political parties were supported by donations up and down the financial spectrum, now through conservative Supreme Court rulings by conservative Supreme Court justices appointed by conservative presidents, big money has pretty much taken over both parties.
The Democrats, for all their sins and shortcomings, are still able to say to their big donors, “Whoa, if you want that, you’ve got to do something for the common citizens.”
It may not be enough, but at least it’s something.
The Republicans, however, have degenerated into nothing but a mouthpiece for the ultra-rich and multi-national corporations. The big donors funded the original “Tea Bag Party” (until Google embarrassingly showed them what “tea bagging” was all about, leading to their name change); any ground root organizations that sprang up at that time were quickly subsumed by the big donor led organizations.
And while the original tea bag partiers might have represented a variety of ethnic and religious groups, it very quickly became dominated by white Christians, and far too many of those were outright bigots.
The Southern strategy of Richard Milhous Nixon runs in a straight line from the anti-integration Dixiecrats of the late 1940s through him to Ronald Reagan and up to the post-Bush / anti-Obama opportunists we see today.
I know people who identified with the tea partiers nee tea baggers in early 2008 and they got upset when the tea party was identified as the party of white racists because, as they were quick to point out, they weren’t white and / or they weren’t racists.
And they weren’t…but they belonged to a group that had no qualms about accepting large numbers of white bigots into its ranks and supporting candidates who espoused white racist talking points.
Lie down with pigs, get up smelling like pig shit.
Most of those people, while still holding to conservative positions, now no longer identify with the tea partiers.
That should be held to their credit.
The problem is, that by enabling big money donors easy access, the GOP leadership not only turned a blind eye to the racist dog whistles the tea partiers sent out but on many occasions puckered up and blew along with them.
As long as their corporate donors were happy, the GOP was happy. And as long as the big money donors got to keep more money and pay less in wages and taxes, they were happy. As long as the rank and file had commie symp pinko rainbow feminazi social justice warrior liberals to hate, they were happy.
Funny thing: The rank and file slowly began awakening to the fact that they were rapidly losing ground in modern America. Their wages and salaries stagnated, their pensions were looted, their homes were devalued in real estate bubbles.
The persons responsible are easy to locate, but neither party is eager to pursue them in the name of justice because, hey, donations…
But the divide springing up in the country was growing just as fast within the GOP itself.
And when Donald Trump, outlier extraordinaire, showed up and told the rank and file GOP the most fantastical lies that he was absolutely incapable of delivering on, well, what did they have to lose?
And the party splintered.
Right now the GOP is divided into two groups: Those who are leaving and those riding the jettisoned anchor all the way to the bottom.
Those who are leaving cover a spectrum of people from those conservatives with personal integrity to career opportunists who have enough sense not to kill the goose laying the golden eggs.
Those staying are, to be perfectly frank, quite often bigots or else are willing to carry the water of bigots to advance their personal fortunes.
There is probably no walking the party back from this precipice. Those of foresight and integrity are no longer welcomed by the rank and file. The big donors now realize there is no upside to supporting the current GOP and are withholding their contributions.
The party has fractured:Angry, mostly old white people; rational moderates and center-leaning-right professionals; big money donors unwilling to throw away money on a suicide mission.
It does not promise to be a happy election cycle for the GOP, and unless Trump implodes in a manner so spectacular and so shameful that even his most ardent supporters realize they were foolish to have ever believed anything he ever said, there appears to be no place for the GOP to go except down and out.
That is not the same thing as saying conservatism is over and done with as a political philosophy in this country.
Quite the contrary, there’s a rich opportunity opening up for moderate and leaning-slightly-right ex-Republicans to link up with dissatisfied conservatives and moderate-leaning-left-of-center Democrats to form a new party, hopefully one where they’ve learned the lessons of the Nixon-Reagan errors eras and offer platforms and candidates more representative of the nation as a whole than merely the 1%.
What will happen over the next decade? Well, with the standard caveat of “nobody knows for sure”, here is a scenario that I think is at least plausible:
Trump destroys the GOP as a national party in 2016. The party becomes permanently tainted in the eyes of minority and independent voters. Trump blames his loss, at least in part, on lack of support by party establishment and big donors, thus further cementing the divide between rank and file and GOP leadership.
The Libertarians benefit in the short run, having their best national showing ever though coming nowhere near close to winning the White House. All the GOP protest votes will go to the Libertarians, all the Democratic protest votes will go to the Green Party. Neither Libertarians nor Green Party are in a good field position to capitalize on that; they are perceived as too tightly focused for local races. Ifthe Libertarians can figure out how to compromise without appearing to sell out, they might be able to start winning more local races and thus move into legitimate national party status. Ideological purity comes at a terrible cost (just ask the GOP).
Rational Republicans, driven from their party, reach out to moderate Democrats and form a new party. Assuming they can flip non-tea party GOP officials in state and congressional posts, they can start with a power base already in place and not have to build one from scratch. The big money gravitates in this direction, especially as this new party aggressively woos moderate minority and millennial voters with a more inclusive pitch.
The Democrats dominate politics for the next couple of decades much the same way conservative Republicans dominated politics from 1968 to 2008. By the time they wear out their welcome and have their turn being on the political outs, most of the policies established in the Reagan era will have been rescinded and reversed. The new moderate-leaning-conservative party will gain traction through fiscal responsibility, not ideological purity.
What is left of the GOP staggers on for a few years, perhaps a decade or so, much like the Dixiecrats of old (and, truth be told, that’s who a vast number of the Trump supporters really are: Rebranded Dixiecrats). 2016 marks the official end of their viability as a national party (though historians may cite 2008 as the actual end); if they continue to exist and wield power it is on a state-by-state basis, not as a cohesive/coherent national party. More likely by 2028 they are reduced to a post office box number relying on octogenarians and older voters to donate whatever they can off of their meager Social Security, and by 2040 death, dementia, destitution, and decrepitude have claimed all of their base.
© Buzz Dixon
[updated Oct. 6, 2018]