Ross Douthat is sorting things into categories again, something he's very fond of doing without making any reference to how those things actually sort themselves out in the real world:
WHEN Barack Obama won the White House in 2008, he did so in an unusual way for a Democrat: As the candidate of the rich. He raised more in large-dollar donations than any of his rivals and raked in more cash from Wall Street than John McCain. In November, he won the upper class's votes: By 52 percent to 46 percent, according to exit polls, Americans making more than $200,000 cast their ballots for Obama.So the DemocraticParty became the "party of the rich"? Really? Well, if so, then the "liberal rich" were people willing to vote to raise their own taxes -- everyone in America knew that Barack Obama was promising to raise taxes on the rich, while John McCain was promising more Bush-like tax cuts. There were surely some mega-rich people who voted for Obama in the belief that they had the clout to prevent him from doing this, but most merely upscale voters voted for Obama on the assumption that an Obama victory was going to raise their tax bill. So "party of the rich" loses its meaning in Douthat's formulation. In 2008, which was the party of making the rich much, much richer at the expense of everybody else?
There were several reasons for this shift, some specific to 2008 (elite exhaustion with the Bush presidency, the power of Obamamania) and some reflecting deeper trends: The Republican Party's post-1970s gains among white working-class voters; the Democratic Party's post-1980s attempts to shed its anti-business reputation; the increasing cultural liberalism of the affluent; and the rise of the so-called "liberal rich."
In the wake of Obama's '08 victory, these trends confronted Republicans with an interesting dilemma: Should they seek to actively win back the Aspen-Greenwich vote, or embrace their increasingly populist coalition and try to rebuild from the middle out?That's not what happened. Republicans after November 2008 continued to be what they've been for a long time: the party of the rich people who want to be made richer ... and of non-rich people who root for the rich.
What was the viral media moment that mainstreamed the tea party movement? It was Rick Santelli, on a trading floor in Chicago, railing against mortgage relief, as young Masters of the Universe wannabes cheered him on. Now, who turned out for tea party rallies after that? Not options traders. It was the friends and neighbors of people who could have used mortgage relief. Who benefited from the fact that there was never any serious mortgage relief under Obama? Not the teabaggers or their friends.
Douthat goes on to argue that the GOP went "populist" after 2008 -- "hence the Tea Party’s anti-Washington fervor, the rumblings against Wall Street from figures like Glenn Beck" -- then reverted to form in 2012 with Mitt Romney as presidential nominee: "the mainstream of the party mostly stuck to a more generic script — job creators good, class warfare bad, you built that and now the 47 percent are living off your hard work ..."
But the teabaggers agreed with the Romney line. They still agree with the Romney line. Douthat is imagining a dichotomy where none exists.
... So haltingly at first, and then with increasing seriousness, Republicans began to look for a different path back to power -- one tailored to the party’s growing dependence on working-class votes, and one designed to deliver populist substance as well as style.But reform conservatism is overwhelmingly an elite phenomenon -- the people who developed it are wonks, and the politicians who are embracing it are doing so in the hope of impressing a few chin-scratchers at The New York Times. And the kings of libertarian populism are billionaire Silicon Valley dudebros. Show me where the populism comes in.
Thus far they have circled around two broad approaches. One, dubbed "reform conservatism," seeks to make the welfare state and tax code more friendly to work and child-rearing and upward mobility -- through larger wage subsidies, bigger child tax credits, and a substantial clearing-out of the insider-friendly subsidies and tax breaks and regulations that drive up costs in health care, real estate, energy and higher education.
The other, "libertarian populism," is even more zealous about attacking rent-seeking and crony capitalism, while also looking for other places — criminal justice reform, notably — where a libertarian approach to public policy might benefit people lower on the economic ladder.
... This kind of agenda has a long way to go before we can call it the official Republican program. It could face opposition in 2016 from donors who were pretty happy with the Romney approach, and from activists who regard anything save deep austerity as a sellout to the left.The donors will embrace it if they're sure it's just a fig leaf for the usual policies that make them richer. And which politicians are going this route? Paul Ryan. Rand Paul. Marco Rubio. I think the donors will feel they're pretty safe.
But if the G.O.P. fully embraces the ideas its younger-generation leaders are pursuing, the Democrats could suddenly find themselves in a difficult spot.First of all, I think the jury is still out on whether Paul and Ryan and Rubio can get through the Republican primaries doing their phony bleeding-heart act. Republican primary voters don't think people on social services are "us"; they think beneficiaries are Them. And even if one of these guys does survive, he -- or whoever the GOP nominee is -- will be against a minimum-wage hike when the Democratic nominee will be for it; he's going to be against putting people to work fixing infrastructure while the Democratic nominee is for it; he's going to be for some sort of tax cut that's absolutely going to skew toward the rich (because Republicans just can't help themselves), while the Democrat won't be.
... there’s a scenario -- still unlikely, but much more plausible than a year ago -- in which the pattern of 2012 could be reversed: A deepening association with big money and big business could suddenly become an albatross for Democrats, and the Republicans could finally — and deservedly -- shake their identity as a party that cares only about the rich.
Now, the media might decide to make the race about how wealthy the Democrat is, especially if it's Hillary Clinton, while telling us that the Republican (especially if it's Ryan or Rubio) walked two miles to school every day in bare feet in between days spent splitting rails, or something like that. But that's not the same as the two parties actually switching sides. Under the Democrat, the rich will probably get richer, but if you want the rich to get richer much, much faster, vote Republican. That will be true in 2016 as much as it was in 2012 and every other year the past several decades, no matter how many brown babies the GOP nominee kisses, or how many times those kisses make Ross Douthat swoon.