On Saturday, I wrote about a piece David Frum wrote for The Atlantic in whihc he discussed the lessons the can learn from David Cameron and the Tories.
I called Frum’s piece “misguided,” as it seems to have been written in complete disregard for who today’s Republican Party is. “It’s as though Frum has never met a Republican” is how I put it on Facebook. Or, if I didn’t, then I certainly meant to. I came at Frum’s piece from an ideological point-of-view; today’s Republican Party is well to the right of its conservative counterparts in the rest of the English speaking world and has more in common with UKIP and the BNP than it does with Cameron’s Tory Party. The GOP can’t simply be more like the Tories or Canada’s Conservative Party because they don’t line up ideologically.
This morning I read two responses to Frum’s piece which made different points.
The first, from Josh Marshall, considers the GOP base as a reason for the difference between the GOP and the Tories:
I think there’s another, more clarifying way of putting this. None of these other countries has an evangelical base (disproportionately but by no means exclusively based on the South) the way the US does. Whether you call it right-wing evangelicals or “the base” in a more generic sense, this is a major, structural difference between US political culture and each of these other countries. And it is inextricably linked to both the US GOP’s deep strength and its weaknesses.
The second came from Washington Monthly‘s Ed Kilgore. Kilgore tackles Frum’s conclusion, that the GOP can and should embrace the social welfare state because, as experience shows in Britain and Canada, social welfare programs like universal healthcare haven’t caused a “tipping point” to a socialist dystopia. Kilgore writes:
I think Frum has touched on a really, really raw nerve in this last observation that illustrates why U.S. conservatives aren’t going to take his advice (other than their tendency to blame everything other than their ideology for electoral setbacks, and to treat electoral victories as a sign they’ll never lose another election!). The rhetoric that leads Republicans to demonize “Obamacare” does indeed rely on a “tipping point” narrative that may well be the glue that unites the GOP’s libertarians and cultural conservatives: the former think we’re lurching into socialist serfdom, the latter that we’re plunging hellwards towards the Apocalypse. [SNIP] And the urgency that lashes conservatives into political activism is the belief that the “tipping point” has already arrived and time for reversing it is running out.
Certainly for the cultural convservative/evangelical base, the tipping point has arrived, hence the feeling of victimization they hold as the United States becomes more multicultural and less explicitly Christian. Jeb Bush, an unannounced though obvious candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, preyed upon that feeling of victimization in his commencement address at Liberty University over the weekend, as Paul Waldman explained in the Washington Post:
The victimhood narrative has found its most recent expression in the plight of the nation’s legions of fundamentalist bakers who don’t want to sell cakes to gay weddings, and through the Hobby Lobby case, where a poor innocent corporation was supposedly forced by the heavy hand of government to defile its health insurance plan with contraception coverage. But it’s been building for years, not only as gay rights have advanced but also as a result of the steady diversification of American society. If you grew up with your religious beliefs being the default setting for society at large — when it’s your prayers being said in public schools, when only people who share your religion are elected president, when your holidays are everyone’s holidays — then a growing inclusiveness can feel like an attack on you. It seems like you’ve lost something, even if you can’t admit that it was something only you and people like you were privileged to possess.
Going back to Frum, he wants the Republican Party to move back to center. If candidates like Bush and Ted Cruz are pandering to the evangelical base on “religious liberty,” they’re not going to move to center. If anything, we’ll be likely to see more candidates move to embrace the base and pander to their sense of victimhood, their feeling that the tipping point has been passed. But the evangelical base is not the only base. The dangerous Republican candidate in 2016 will be the one who can exploit the Christian victimhood narrative, as Bush tried to at Liberty, and a libertarian victimhood narrative, that government is too big, that government is too oppressive, that Social Security will bankrupt our grandchildren.
If that’s how the 2016 election goes, with the Republican candidates running campaigns based on resentment and victimhood, then I foresee something long, nasty, and gross. And if the Republican nominee gets trounced, I don’t know what will douse the flames of an enflamed and enraged Republican base.
That scares me.