Monday, December 10, 2012

Will GOP remain a far-right reactionary party?

A major question for American politics in the coming years is whether the Republican Party can divest itself of some of its far-right commitments of recent years. The Republican Party has abandoned moderation and consensus-seeking politics in recent years, as its far-right reactionary fringe has effectively captured the party.

Republicans have essentially sought to couple 1920s-era pre-Great Depression, pre-New Deal economic policies with 1950s-style pre-Civil Rights, pre-Women's Rights social policies. They have embraced efforts to monitor and control individual behavior in seemingly every non-economic sphere of life.

Republicans have also enshrined anti-intellectualism as one of their core values, denying scientific evidence and facts while distorting history and espousing crackpot macroeconomic theories without intellectual foundation.  On economic issues, they have opposed nearly all efforts to reverse the thirty-year trend of rising income inequality, with an ever-growing proportion of national income and wealth being absorbed by a small percentage at the top.

Are we seeing the first vestiges of Republican re-thinking as some finally acknowledge that their preferred policy of limiting taxation for the wealthiest citizens lacks public support?  Conservatives are seeking to misguidedly enforce austerity during a fragile economic recovery, a sure bet to plunge the economy into recession, though we now finally see signs of dissent from the preference for austerity.

The turn-back-the-clock approach was rejected in the 2012 election. Some Republicans have awakened to that fact. Yet some evince no understanding that their electoral losses were rooted in unpopular policy positions, not in a mere communication failure. The right-wing message is no longer popular, yet many Republicans cling to it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

GOP post-election confusion

Post-election signs of national Republican Party confusion and conflict are rampant.

First came revelations that the Romney campaign and many other Republican pollsters misread the potential demographic composition of the 2012 electorate. That sparked a series of prominent Republicans to embrace the idea of immigration reform, or to speak of their party's need for more aggressive minority outreach. And there even have been Republicans making statements indicating recognition that their party's economic focus might need to change to become more appealing to middle-income Americans. Of course, some of these sentiments have met with resistance and outrage on the far right, but that was to be expected.

The long-term question for Republicans is whether it's possible for them to compete at the Presidential level under normal circumstances while avoiding splintering into two distinct factions, or perhaps even into two different political parties.

While the Republican Party's future ability to compete at the national level is worthy of contemplation and discussion, the current Republican intra-party debate also has consequences for current governance.

Most Republicans seem to be coming to the realization that they have little leverage in the current fiscal negotiations with President Obama. House Speaker John Boehner clearly would like to cut a deal, but he is constrained to some extent by conservatives' domination of House Republican ranks.

While Republicans have admitted revenues have to be part of the solution, there is clear Republican division on whether to acquiesce in raising tax rates on the wealthy by allowing Bush tax rates to expire. Republicans have refused to detail their demands for Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

Polls show the public prefers a deal with taxes on the wealthy increased, no cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, and would hold Congressional Republicans most responsible if there is no deal. Atop that, President Obama's Job Approval numbers are rising to their highest levels since 2009.

Weakness of the Republican position is being underscored by elements of the business community emphasizing resolution to the problem rather than specifics. The business community generally wants to avoid sequestration scheduled to occur in January if no long-term deal is reached. And they have been making sounds indicating they might start bringing  pressure on Republicans to make a deal, regardless of political fallout.

Emblematic of that position is Business Roundtable Chairman and former Michigan Republican Governor John Engler's proposal that they agree to a five-year extension of the debt ceiling to break Republican efforts to hold the economy hostage each time the debt limit requires raising.

Republicans are in a rough spot politically, and are likely to lose on the policy front. The question of whether Republicans really want a deal is yet to be answered.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Additional thoughts on the 2012 election:

1. State-based public polls were generally accurate in 2012, while the national polls clearly underestimated the Democratic vote. State polls indicated that Obama would likely finish with a minimum of 281 electoral votes, more likely 303, and possibly 332 if he could pull out a perceived upset in Florida. Florida was a must-win state for Romney that typically leans Republican, and in which Romney had shown clear leads in mid-October. Polling indicated Obama closing in Florida, with the aggregate polling results showing them roughly deadlocked.

While there was a clear disconnect between Republican/Romney campaign pollsters' expectations of the electorate's composition, national public polls also underestimated the minority composition of the electorate.

Most of the national public polls, especially those funded by major television networks and prominent newspapers, assumed a 24-26% non-white portion of the electorate. Yet exit polls indicate the non-white portion of the electorate was 28%, an increase from the 26% non-white share in 2008. While the aggregate of the national polls pointed to an Obama popular vote victory in the 1.0-1.5% range, he now leads by 3.6 points.

2. On the realignment question, demography is certainly against Republicans. Increased multi-culturalism, embodied both by the increased non-white share of the electorate, and younger whites' tolerance of diversity has destroyed Republicans' tight electoral college hold which existed in the 1968-88 era. 1988 was the last time the Republican Presidential candidate achieved 300 electoral votes. Democrats have won 332+ electoral votes in 4 of the last 6 elections, and have won the popular vote in 5 of those 6 elections.

Democrats' Blue Wall, comprising 18 states plus DC which have gone Democratic in all six post-1988 Presidential election, now total 242 electoral votes. That is a huge base with which to begin in Presidential elections. There are three additional states (New Mexico, Iowa and New Hampshire) totaling 15 EV which have been carried by Democrats in 5 of 6 of those post-1988 elections. That's 257 EV which clearly lean toward Democrats in a typical Presidential election in the current era. A Democrat need only hold those 21 states plus DC, and win Ohio, or any two of Nevada, Colorado or Virginia (all trending Democratic at Presidential level) to clinch electoral victory. This also could be accomplished by winning Florida, though Florida is the most Republican-leaning of these swing states, so my assumption is it will not be the "tipping-point" state. If a Democrat carries Florida, he is probably carrying enough other states by larger margins to ensure victory without Florida. Such was the case in both 2008 and 2012 when Obama carried Florida, but did not need it to win.

3. To sustain a realignment, Democrats will need to move beyond winning Presidential elections and gain and sustain full governing authority. This requires taking control of the House so divided government does not disrupt policy shifts needed to cement Democrats' majority over the longer term.

The clear  obstacle here is that Presidential electorates do not resemble mid-term electorates demographically. Those voters who have become regular Presidential year voters but who fail to show up for mid-term elections disproportionately tend to vote Democratic. Republicans' success in 2010 was not merely a product of a struggling economy. The electoral result was also rendered by an electorate much whiter and older than the Presidential-year electorates of 2008 and 2012. Democrats' primary electoral challenge is to ensure that the younger voters and minorities adopt more habitual voting patterns including voting in the mid-term years and not only in Presidential years.

4. We have also reached a point where the Republican Party's policy choices and rhetorical emphases are not particularly popular outside corporate boardrooms, where the opposition to government regulation and taxes plays, and among white Southerners, where church, guns and antipathy to non-whites rules. This is an odd and tenuous coalition, at times frayed by tensions between non-Southern corporate types' aversion to cultural issue extremism, and Southern whites' attachment to cultural issues.

Southern whites (including those in Border South states like Oklahoma, Kentucky and recently West Virginia) vote differently than whites outside the south. Democrats, particularly Obama, have performed quite well among non-Southern whites, but run extremely poorly with Southern whites, particularly outside the South Atlantic states.

We seem to have reached a point where Southern whites, generally, have policy preferences which are out of step with the rest of the nation.

Romney represented, and was aligned with, corporate interests perhaps more clearly than any Republican nominee since Herbert Hoover. Turnout was down in rural areas, particularly in parts of the South. This had no effect on the electoral college outcome, but could have hurt Romney in the national popular vote.  How long can the coalition of largely small-town and rural Southern whites and the corporate establishment be sustained?