Prominent Democrats just cannot help themselves in trying to diagnose the GOP’s problems. Much as Democrats struggled from 1968 to 1992, they now claim the GOP is largely in the same boat. The latest Democrats to weigh in are Wiliiam Galston, a former Clinton Deputy Assistant for Domestic Policy and Elaine Kamarck who helped the Clinton author his “Reinventing Government initiative.
In a nutshell their article, posted Sunday (the CO state senate recalls have had my attention of late), boils down to three variables. The GOP is to fundamental, just as Democrats were between 1980 and 1992. The GOP still believes all it needs to do is mobilize its base, just as Democrats believed and the party sees itself as fine due to its “Congressional bastion” in the House. Democrats had a similar majority in the House and Senate until 1994 (ironically they have no explanation for why this occurred under a Democratic Presiden).
Explanations like this are becoming more canned each day. None of what is cited by Galston and Kamarck is new. But it is notable what they ignore. In the final piece of their article they do not name one potential GOP contender for President who can reform the party. Instead, their answer falls along the lines of the next nominee must “repudiate the extremism of their party.” Never-mind many people are waiting for the President to do the same among his party faithful but somehow he always ends up agreeing with them. Might explain why he has a 45% approval rating. Regardless, I want to explore their points in a little more detail below.
1. GOP Fundamentalism: Galston’s and Kamarck’s point is made here not by what they say but what they did not say. By saying the GOP needs to denounce its more fundamentalist members (I suppose those bastardy pro-life voters) the inference is the Democrats do not face the same problems. I suppose this can be explained away by the fact that Galston and Kamarck think their party is mainstream because of its electoral victories. Perhaps. But Democrats have had their share of fundamentalist candidates. Remember Dennis Kucinich who was a self-identified Communist? How about Senator Bernie Sanders in Vermont who identifies as a Socialist? References to the extremes of their party are absent. Pointing this out does not mean Galston and Kamarck do not have a point however. It is certainly true the GOP cannot nominate a fundamentalist to be their nominee. But of the last three GOP nominees for President it is hard to argue Bush, McCain or even Romney were fundamentalists or extremists. Indeed, if one doubts this you can see that Romney was identified as ideologically closer to the average voter than Obama according to election polls. Of course that did not help Romney in the end.
2. Mobilization: Galston and Kamarck point out that conservatives still constitute a larger share of the public than liberals. However, conservatives do not constitute a majority and thus the GOP needs to reach moderates who recently have turned in greater numbers to the Democratic Party. In a rapidly diversifying country this is certainly true to some extent. But remember 2009 and 2010? On the heels of 2008 when the electorate was composed of only 74% whites and 26% minorities in New Jersey and Virginia the electorates far more closely resembled prior elections. Whites made up almost 80% of the electorate in both states. If we look at the partisan numbers we see Republicans made up their largest share of the electorate in New Jersey since the 1990’s and Republicans outnumbered Democrats in Virginia by 4%. In 2010 Republicans made up a whopping 35% of the electorate (as much as 2004) and whites made up 77%-78% of the electorate. Democrats made up 35% of the electorate in 2010. In 2012 this trend reversed back to 2008 with Obama back on the ballot (more Democrats voted than Republicans and the minority share of the vote increased from 2010). However, there is substantial evidence to suggest many traditionally populist, downscale, white Republican leaning voters sat out the election for certain reasons. Let us also keep in mind that in 2004 moderates made up an even larger share of the electorate than they did in 2012, 45% compared to 41% and Bush won anyways. Conservatives only inched up from 34% to 35% whiles liberals shot up from 21% to 25%. Good luck to Republicans winning liberal voters no matter who their nominee is.
3. Congressional Bastion: The history Galston and Kamarck present on Democrats Congressional majority until 1994 is factually accurate. But their analysis is slightly off. The GOP certainly won new Southern voters who backed them at the Presidential level but not in Congressional or Senate races. However, the GOP also won Congressional and Senate seats in more liberal states like Michigan, Minnesota and Delaware. In 2000 voters threw these new Senators out and replaced them with Democrats again. Southern voters largely kept their new GOP Congressmen and Senators. Also, the GOP won new Senate seats in 2000, allowing them to hold a 50-50 tie in the Senate with Vice President Cheney breaking the tie. I point this out because it shows that while a Congressional majority is rarely guaranteed it often can buck Presidential results. The reasons for this are varied. Redistricting gives the controlling party significant leverage to draw safe districts and individual Senators and Congressmen/women can create their own brands that are unique from the national party in their district/state. Third, voters can rationalize their vote for Senator or Congressperson based on more than ideology as opposed to the President (which is largely ideological). Galston and Kamarck do not acknowledge any of these factors.
For all the advice that Galston and Kamarck put in their article it seems to boil down to one simple factor. The GOP needs to be more Democratic to win. Above I noted how the authors did not mention a single strong GOP nominee in 2016 who is less conservative and more appealing than prior nominees. That absence is notable because it shows that Galston and Kamarck really do not know the GOP field well. Both Rand Paul and Chris Christie, are less conservative on numerous issues than prior party nominees. Paul is more liberal on drug, cultural and foreign affairs while Christie is less conservative on fiscal and social policies. Both have the potential to remake the way the GOP is seen by the general public. Similarly, Governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich could give the GOP the appearance of a new, pragmatic, Midwestern based party. Senator Rubio and Governor Bobby Jindal could help the party make inroads with minority voters they have historically struggled with.
So while I am sure the GOP thanks Galston and Kamarck for their thoughts on helping the party be competitive in the future it is safe to say the GOP can ignore them. They offer nothing new and ignore the new wave of GOP players that can help the party retake 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.