Skip to comments.The Way of the Whigs? Lincolnís first political party dissolved, and so could todayís...
Posted on 02/08/2010 6:03:45 PM PST by neverdem
Lincolns first political party dissolved, and so could todays Republicans
Scott Browns improbable win in the Massachusetts Senate election is the latest and most dramatic evidence of the Republicans greatly improved electoral outlook. As polls have shown dissatisfaction with President Obama rising and Democratic leads in congressional generic-ballot polls shrinking or gone, GOP operatives have started 2010 with visions of 1994 dancing in their heads.
But a closer look at the data rings alarm bells. Recent polls also show that voters ratings of the Republican party and Republican members of Congress have barely budged and remain sharply negative: Greater support for GOP candidates has not meant greater support for the GOP in general. Independents consistently outnumber both Democrats and Republicans, and GOP party identification remains at or close to 70-year lows, with some polls showing less than a quarter of Americans saying they are Republicans.
Its tempting to dismiss these negative signs. Conservatives are fond of citing polls that show self-described conservatives outnumbering self-described liberals by nearly two to one, a figure that has remained roughly stable since the mid-1970s. America is a center-right nation, elephantine apologists say, and since the GOP is a center-right party, the political implications are supposedly clear. They argue that the GOPs poor standing doesnt matter in a two-party system; anger at Democrats inevitably leads to GOP votes. Once Republicans are back in power, they can reestablish the center-right majority and return to dominance.
Im not so sure. I see the current state of affairs as an intensification, perhaps even a culmination, of four interrelated 25-year political trends: a growing distrust of conservative and liberal ideologies, a growing movement away from the two parties and toward political independence, increases in the racial-minority (which usually means Democratic-voting) share of the population, and a growing inability of the Republican party to bridge the gap between its populist and elite wings.
Together, these trends raise the specter of a serious independent, populist presidential candidacy for the first time in a century. And if the GOP doesnt adapt to the shifting political terrain, there is even a remote possibility that the identity of Americas two dominant parties will change for the first time since the 1850s, which saw the death of the Whigs and birth of the Republicans.
Consider the first trend, a retreat from ideology. Despite the party polarization in Congress, its clear from polls and election results that the public has been seeking a middle ground for quite some time. On fiscal issues, polls show a desire for less government and lower taxes in the abstract, but support for most specific (and expensive) government programs. On cultural issues, polls show that people want abortion with serious restrictions, and gay rights without gay marriage. Even conservatives much-touted voter-identification advantage can be exaggerated. While self-described conservatives do significantly outnumber self-described liberals, the largest group during the modern political era has always been self-described moderates.
Further, election results since 1980 suggest unwillingness to accept rule by either partys base. Left-leaning Democrats like Michael Dukakis and John Kerry were rejected even when facing Republican nominees with strong disapproval ratings. Successful candidates of either party relied on overtly centrist appeals. Both Bushes made clear breaks with the GOPs base, Bush 41 by invoking a kinder and gentler nation (which infuriated Nancy Reagan: Kinder and gentler than who? she famously quipped) and Bush 43 by embracing a compassionate conservatism that envisioned a strong role for government. Clinton spoke of ending welfare as we know it and infuriated the Left by signing a welfare-reform bill. And Obama rocketed to public acclaim with his 2004 Democratic-convention address, in which he spoke of one America, neither red nor blue.
This trend toward pragmatic centrism can perhaps be most clearly seen in the rise of something that is now almost commonplace, the independent campaign for governor or president. Between 1928 and 1968, third-party presidential candidates represented ideological splinters from either the left (Henry Wallace in 1948, Socialist Norman Thomas in 1928 and 1932) or the Jim Crow South (Strom Thurmond in 1948, George Wallace in 1968). Third-party candidates at the state level were rare and, when victorious, represented a wing of a fractured party, like James Buckley, who was elected senator from New York on the Conservative-party ticket in 1970. Truly independent candidates, people who ran without the backing of any established party, were virtually nonexistent.
Since 1988, however, this has changed, with third-party candidates running against rigid ideology instead of espousing it. Independent centrists have won governorships in Connecticut, Maine, and Minnesota; others have run strong but losing races. Ross Perot did well for a third-party candidate when he ran for president in 1992 and 1996, and speculation about independent candidates such as Colin Powell and Michael Bloomberg is now a staple of the presidential season. Candidates of this type have different personalities and biographies but are cut from the same political cloth: They invariably run against special interests and for the people, as fiscal but not social conservatives, and promise the sort of pragmatic problem-solving of which party-backed candidates are said to be incapable.
One might be tempted to dismiss these trends as products of the candidates particular strengths rather than expressions of mistrust of ideology, but our second trend growing voter self-identification as political independents provides evidence against that interpretation. In 1964, according to Gallup polls, 51 percent of Americans identified themselves as Democrats, 25 percent as Republicans, and 23 percent as independents. But as Democrats showed themselves unable to solve the nations problems, and with Republicans mired in seemingly permanent minority status, both parties dropped in public esteem. In 1980 the breakdown of voters political affiliations was 45 percent Democrat, 23 percent Republican, and 29 percent independent, and despite Republican electoral successes over the next three decades, the proportion of Americans who say they are independent has continued to rise. In every year since George H. W. Bushs defeat in 1992, the number of Americans identifying themselves as independents has equaled or exceeded the number identifying themselves as Republicans, according to annual polls by the Pew Research Center.
The political stasis that characterized the 19922008 period, an era that Michael Barone famously called 50-50 nation, was in fact not 50-50 but a roughly equal three-way split between a liberal Democratic base, a conservative Republican base, and an independent third group that switched or divided its allegiance depending on which party seemed responsive to its concerns.
Republicans who see the partys underlying weakness and want to address it, however, must also address our last two trends, both of which are harmful to the GOP. The first is Americas changing demography. Since 1980, immigration and larger black turnout have created an electorate that is increasingly non-white, which means increasingly Democratic. In 1980, 88 percent of the voters were white; in 1988, 85 percent were. By 2008, the number had dropped to 74 percent, and McCain lost non-white voters 81-18. Meanwhile, whites are becoming wealthier and more educated. Such voters, who increasingly vote Democratic, tend to be concentrated in non-southern suburbs. Reagan and Bush 41 were able to win majorities of them, but in 2008 Obama carried non-southern whites earning over $80,000 a year.
These shifts have changed the electoral landscape. Political journalist Ron Brownstein has calculated that if six demographic groups (blacks, Hispanics, Asians, other minorities, college-educated whites, and all other whites) had voted in 2008 as they actually did but had composed the shares of the electorate that they did in 1992, McCain would have beaten Obama by 2.3 percent.
Demographics are projected to get even worse for the GOP in coming years. Census estimates show that 34 percent of the American population is non-white, with the number rising to 44 percent among children. Even if immigration is halted, an unlikely event, the non-white share of the electorate will grow. Under those circumstances, a Republican who does not raise his or her share of the non-white vote well above the record highs recorded by George W. Bush in 2004 will by 2016 need to carry 60 percent or more of the white vote to get a majority.
And that will not be possible if Republicans do not heal their divisions. That brings us to our fourth trend: the growing rift between the two major wings of the party, the populists and the elite.
Modern conservatism started as a revolt against the eastern, liberal, urban wing of the Republican party. Goldwaterites made common cause with the easterners old adversaries, Republicans from the partys midwestern wing, which was pro-business and suspicious of government intervention both at home and abroad.
But by the early 1970s, the conservative movement had grown beyond its old base to incorporate many former Democrats. They were economically conservative, although often not as conservative as the Goldwaterites; they were internationally interventionist; and they added a cultural-conservative component to GOP campaigns. They were disproportionately from areas where the GOP had not done well in generations: the South and the ethnic Catholic wards of big and medium-sized cities.
Ronald Reagan united all wings of the movement on the basis of populist style as much as ideology. From his casual brown suits to his folksy demeanor, Reagan sought to portray himself as a humble representative of what he called in a prescient 1964 National Review article the forgotten American that simple soul who goes to work, bucks for a raise, takes out insurance, pays for his kids schooling, contributes to his church and charity and knows there just aint no such thing as a free lunch. The character of his following was obvious. The journalist Theodore H. White remarked to Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger that Reagans 1980 victory party was the frowsiest crowd of frumps he had ever seen. Nofziger replied, Yup, thats us. Were the middle class.
Since 1980, intra-GOP fights have increasingly been waged between candidates who are comfortable with this new movement and those who are not. Reagans nearly successful 1976 challenge to incumbent president Gerald Ford united what remained of the old eastern and midwestern wings in opposition to it. And Reagans presidency shifted the ground so much that by 1988, Bob Dole who twelve years earlier, as Fords running mate, had been seen as an arch-conservative was viewed by many conservatives as a moderate because of his willingness to raise taxes. With liberal Republicans leaving the party in droves, and with conservative former Democrats joining by the day, Dole was easy pickings for George H. W. Bush, who ran as a populist conservative and clinched his nomination with a win in a state previously unimportant to GOP hopefuls, South Carolina.
Once in office, however, Bush governed in a manner reminiscent of the country-club Republicans. On issue after issue, he sided with the old elites over the new majority, and the 1992 elections are best seen as two consecutive populist revolts against him. First Pat Buchanan challenged Bush in the primaries on an anti-tax theme, doing quite well in initial heats. Then Ross Perot launched a populist campaign that split the Reagan-Bush coalition, leading to the election of Bill Clinton even though Clinton received a smaller share of the vote than Michael Dukakis had four years earlier.
The GOPs electoral fortunes since have depended in large part on the ability of its leaders to unite populists and elites behind a shared goal. President Clintons missteps would have made 1994 a good year for Republicans in any event, but Newt Gingrichs uniting of populist fervor (term limits, an end to congressional corruption) and elite concerns (balanced-budget amendment, fiscal probity) through the Contract with America turned a good year into a historic one. Similarly, the domestic and international stresses of the past few years would have hurt Republicans in the 2006 and 2008 elections regardless. But the GOPs congressional leadership exacerbated these problems through its failure to offer a comprehensive governing agenda. This led to wild gyrations in emphasis to satisfy populist and elite demands, an inconsistency that ultimately hurt the Republican image among both groups.
Tell that to Juan, and Jorge.
The psuedo attack of the moderate moderates...
The supposedly “changing public attitudes” referenced here are what? That Americans are getting increasingly “moderate”???? And the proof for this is . . . Scott Brown? HUH????
In September 2008 the global financial system lost 37 trillion dollars (Britain and US were the main instigators of the worldwide collapse with toxic assets). Today the US government will guarantee 11 trillion of the liabilities plus paid 1 trillion in bailouts. There is approx 55 trillion liabilities from AIG derivatives/swaps/cds that derail the private financial systems. Given these financial damage/frailities and its impact on stagnating the US economy until most of these liabilities are paid off or taken off the books, the US will face stagnation in employment/weak economic expansion for a long long time. Even if we can get some GDP expansion, it must exceed the natural increases in the US working population as college graduates and high school graduates enter the workforce. The US will be lucky just to barely keep up. This means unemployment will be stuck at the current levels. No matter who becomes POTUS, things will not improve fast enough for the impatient Main Street Americans, and the party in power will be booted out every four year. We will end up like Italy, where governments rise and fall creating a vaccuum of power and inaction at the national level. If stagnation lasts too long, the public will long for strong action. Extremists will take over the political parties or start new competing parties. Question is will it be Communist or Facist Populism???? Either way, days of the rich are numbered.
Lincoln also got elected in a four way race with 39.8% of the vote.
The opposition was fractured..if it hadn’t been we might have saved 2M lives overall
and then again maybe not
we cannot divide the Right...the Left will win as easily as Lincoln did
PS...yes I know Abe won the electoral vote before ya’ll get in a hissy fit
see Nader in 2000...w/o that Gore woulda won
This is what I’ve been saying here for some time.
We all agree that we don’t want another third party adventure. But we also agree that the Republican Leadership has been absolutely clueless and stupid. At this point, they have less than a year or two to straighten themselves out, if they want to survive. There’s no time to mess around any longer with the Stupid Party than these next two elections. They’ve had a run of 150 years, and that’s about as long as a political party can be expected to last.
Either they come to their senses and welcome the base back in—instead of once more trying to use the base and then kicking them away as soon as they are elected—or else the Republican Party will die, like the Whigs, and we’ll have not a third party, but a new Second Party.
I’m not saying that needs to happen. But it will happen, if they don’t get a clue. It’s one or the other. Either the Republican Party joins the Tea Party, and returns to the Constitution and the service of our country, or they die. And no more saying one thing and then doing another. That has worn out.
Seems like an awful lot of words to just say the GOP needs to move to the left.
I don't think this is accurate. If Beck is right there is a growing distrust of "progressive" ideology, and that includes those in the democrat AND republican party that hold to those ideologies. If one rejects Beck's analysis I still disagree that it is conservative ideology that is being rejected but rather republican ideology...they are not one and the same even if there is overlap in a number of areas.
Lately, things seem to be changing.
In August of last year I wrote an article, "The Biggest Missing Story in Politics," which reviewed the single most important datum in the last thirteen Battleground Polls over a period stretching from early 2002 to late 2008. The critical fact, completely ignored by almost everyone, was that in answering Question D3, which asked the respondent what he considered his ideology to be, sixty percent of the American people described themselves as "conservative" or "very conservative."
In every single Battleground Poll, conservatives vastly outnumbered not only liberals, but moderates and undecided respondents combined. The Battleground Poll itself is a bipartisan poll, combining the resources of the Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners. Unlike many polls driven by newspapers, networks, or other agenda driven organizations, this poll is one of the few which has no ideological agenda or partisan bias.
IMHO, the far left rats have championed so many stupid ideas, it's time to make them accountable.
And to indict, prosecute and imprison where found guilty of corruption, let's get 'er done.
This whole piece reads like it was written by a Conservative-loathing Concern Troll.
Agreed. The Whigs were the original “big tent” party and lacking a true center it eventually came apart.
Well, I know Henry Olsen, and he’s a conservative, not a cobservative-loather. While I think that he is exaggerating the threat of an independent political movement replacing the Republicans, he is correct that the GOP needs to walk the walk on fiscal issues if we are to attract the Tea Party set and keep our majority coalition together. And the McDonnell example shows that one can win as a 100% conservative even in an Obama state like VA if one has the right kind of campaign style.
Thanks neverdem. The Whigs peaked and then withered, but were characterized by idealogical and personal rancor. Rather than characterizing the Pubbies (although it more than characterizes political *websites* throughout the spectrum), I think the Whig pattern is what’s about to take place with the Demagogic Party. I don’t think they’ve quite peaked yet, because Obama is about to buy some time among fence-sitters by pretending to be a foreign policy president. His claims that his administration of a-holes is going to impose a buttload of sanctions on Iran over its nuke program are total crap, and will not be implemented; instead, he, Mitchell, and Hitlery are going to start blood-libelling Israel.
I don’t see either party whigging out. Neither is sufficiently torn apart by strife approaching the level of the Whigs who were split over the overriding issue of slavery.
Absolutely right. The ONLY reason the Whigs disappeared is that while the Dems were pro-slavery, the Whigs refused to be anti-slavery.
Im a big tent republican.
Heres an analogy to work with. Take a small box and fill it with some rocks. Then add some rice, filling it to the top. Now take all the same stuff, but in a different order. Put in the rice first, then add the rocks. What youll find is that if you put in the big stuff first, the small stuff will fit around it. But if you put in the small stuff first, the big stuff wont have room. The republican tent is the box. The Big issues are the socon issues, to be put in first. The little issues are things that can be accommodated around the bigger stuff. A candidate who tries to focus on the smaller issues first and leave out the bigger issues has no way of getting all of us into the tent. He splits the party. The candidate who gets the big stuff right and as much of the little stuff that will fit, he can fit more into the tent. Were often amazed at how much rice can keep fitting in. Rudy Giuliani flunks some of the big issues, and on some of the little issues it looks to me like anyone elses rice would do just as well. All that remains for us to agree on is which are the bedrock principles and which are not. Why would there be so much invective aimed at rudy from the right? Because there are some bedrock principles that he is leaving out. Bad move. I see rudybot postings all the time saying that they would vote for Hunter, and I see socon postings that say they would not vote for rudy. Thats a BIG indicator of a few bedrock principles that are being left outside the tent in order to let in some rice.