Sunday, November 28, 2021


Ross Douthat has just published a not-bad column with this headline:
Republicans Have a Golden Opportunity. They Will Probably Blow It.
But as you read the column, you realize that if what Douthat is saying is correct, Republicans are likely to squander an opportunity to do things Douthat wishes they'd do, not things they want to do.

He writes:
Republicans have a lot to be thankful for. In the years since George W. Bush their party has staggered around without a governing ideology, veering from one style of fantasy politics to another, and twice nominated a ridiculously unfit reality-television star for the presidency. Yet through it all the party has never collapsed, never fallen more than a little distance out of power and almost always retained a certain capacity to block the Democrats, which is the only thing its constituencies can agree on.
It's nice that he thinks this is a bad thing. I question the bit about "veering from one style of fantasy politics to another." Does he mean veering from the 1776 cosplay fantasy of the Tea Party to the ... rhetorically indistinguishable fantasies of MAGA? The Trump crowd wears fewer tricorn hats, but I don't see much difference between the MAGAs and the teabaggers otherwise.

Douthat thinks Republicans will win back the House, although not with a large majority, "even if Biden’s poll numbers bounce back." (So do I.) That doesn't please him:
But in a way, that advantage is also the core Republican weakness, and the party’s good fortune in avoiding profound punishment for all its follies is the reason those follies will probably continue.
He thinks a GOP that followed the Glenn Youngkin path -- a little bit of populism, a little bit of Trump, a little bit of Romney, as Douthat sees it -- could become America's favorite party.
Youngkin has a Romney-esque persona — the corporate suit and genial family man — but where the man from Bain Capital ended up captive to party dogma on taxes and entitlement cuts, the former Carlyle Group executive promised higher education spending and tax cuts that benefit the lower-middle class, playing against the corporate-Republican and supply-side stereotypes.

Meanwhile, Youngkin imitated Trump not just in his relatively populist promises but also in his willingness to pick cultural fights — in this case, on critical race theory in schools — that other moderate Republicans might shy away from. But then in most other ways he was an anti-Trump: decent rather than bullying, reasonable rather than paranoid, keeping conspiracism at a distance, reassuringly competent rather than apocalyptic.

So that’s all the G.O.P. needs nationally to fully exploit its post-Covid opportunities — a more populist economic agenda, a willingness to take the fight to the progressive left (but with a smile) and an end to Trumpian conspiracism.
I'm not sure how all that jibes with what Youngkin said in a speech yesterday:
Criticizing COVID-19 lockdowns and shutdowns’ impact on businesses, Youngkin said he was concerned that Virginia’s right-to-work status “would go away” after hearing of automotive companies locating plants in neighboring states....

“I do not believe that people should be told that they must get the vaccine,” Youngkin said....

Youngkin said he opposed businesses firing workers for not getting vaccinated and promised to revoke mandates for state employees to get vaccinated and wear masks. He also promised to appoint a new state health commissioner and rescind state mandates for K-12 students to wear masks to school.
(According to an October poll, 71% of Virginians support mask mandates in schools Another October poll shows that Virginians support business vaccine mandates 55%-41%.)

But whether or not Youngkin is really the model New Republican, as Douthat believes, the party is unlikely to follow his lead. Douthat is on firmer ground when he writes:
But do enough actors in the party really want that combination? At the elite level there is a clutch of politicians and candidates who keep groping for a more populist agenda and a group of nationalist intellectuals who think they’re on the cusp of imposing one upon the party. But there is still a larger group of lawmakers, strategist and donors who are very comfortable having no agenda whatsoever, or falling back on the familiarity of upper-bracket tax cuts and pretend budget cuts as soon as they’re restored to power.
I'm pretty sure all that plus lib-owning is what every Republican wants, apart fraom Douthat and a few other brainy-ish types.

Douthat acknowledges that:
Among the party’s voters, activists and media personalities, meanwhile, there remains a clear appetite ... for Donald Trump in full — nourished by the plausible belief that populists and social conservatives can’t entirely trust more-corporate Republicans, the implausible belief that Trump’s nastiness helped him more than it hurt him, the false belief that he actually won the 2020 election, plus the very America-in-2021 desire for politics to be high-stakes TV entertainment rather than boring attempts to cobble together governing majorities.
I don't think Republican voters really care about Trump's made-for-TV style -- sure, they enjoy it, but they also seem ready to rally around Ron DeSantis, an untelegenic sourpuss, because he seems so good at owning libs, and appears to be as monomaniacal about the pursuit of lib-ownage as the voters themselves are.

I don't think Republican populists and social conservatives mistrust "more-corporate" Republicans in any ideological way -- they just have strong doubts about the corporatists' commitment to lib-ownage. Some of them actually voted for the Biden infrastructure bill! How dare they cooperate with Democrats on anything! (I question whether any Republicans are more corporate than others -- a few talk about helping the working classes, but they all want to shovel money in the direction of the rich. So when I refer to "more-corporate Republicans," I mean the ones for who put corporatism rather than lib-owning in the foreground.)

And I don't think the belief that "Trump’s nastiness helped him more than it hurt him" is implausible exactly. In 2020, he drove Republican and Democratic turnout. He lost, but he came extremely close to eking out an Electoral College victory. He seems like the all-time greatest lib-owner, so he'll drive GOP turnout again, and Democrats have to hope he'll drive Democratic turnout as well.

But whatever happens, Douthat sees a potential renewal of the GOP slipping away:
And if there’s anything we’ve learned over the past 15 years, it’s that the chance to enjoy a little bit of power without any real responsibility is impossible for Republicans to resist.
"Responsibility"? Republicans don't want that. They just want power, permanently.

By chance, a couple of hours ago I happened to read the following quote in a People magazine story about the callow Trumpist congressman Madison Cawthorn:
As Cawthorn told PEOPLE last year, not long after his election win: "I think it's just a lot more fun to be a conservative ... my generation is really probably the most pro-freedom generation since the founding fathers."

Republicans "have the right values, they just don't know how to convey them in a way that makes sense," Cawthorn said.

"We just enjoy life more," he said then. "We're less concerned about what other people are doing and we're more concerned about our own success."
"We're less concerned about what other people are doing and we're more concerned about our own success," says Cawthorn. Remember, helping people through legisaltion is his job. But he doesn't care. He thinks what's important is to win and not give a shit about anyone else. These, he believes, are "the right values." And nearly every Republican appears to agree. Power without responsibility? Yup, that's the goal -- forever, if possible.

No comments: