POLITICAL CANDIDATES AND THE REPUBLICAN CHURCH
The Republican Party should be riding high. It has the Presidency, the House of Representatives and the Senate. And, across the street from the Capitol, it certainly has a strong voice through the conservatives on the Supreme Court, including the just appointed Neil Gorsuch, who thus far appears to be reliably conservative. But, the Republicans are not riding high. At the presidential level they seem doomed to being confronted by an endless series of crises. The crisis de jour has to do with the President’s oldest son who it develops “took a meeting” with a highly placed Russian lawyer, Netalia Veselnitskaya, last June to uncover “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. In the House and in the Senate the Republicans have been able to get almost nothing passed and appear to be on the way to complete failure. They have not been able to replace the Affordable Care Act, and without doing that, they find themselves unable to even write a functional budget.
The Republicans were elected with conservative working class support. Since the Congress was seated and the President inaugurated, the administration has certainly proposed many changes. Not one of those changes has been designed to directly help the voters who voted for Donald Trump, unless they would somehow gain by swimming in polluted water downstream from coal mines. Why is this happening?
The Republican and the Democratic Parties are peculiar organizations. They each have a small coterie of office holders, professional party workers and citizen actives. And, they each have a very much larger group of “members” who identify with “their” party but have no actual connection with it. The members of both parties may vote for their respective party year after year without having a really clear picture of what their leadership and office holders are actually doing. That happens partly because candidates in campaigns almost never talk with voters about what they actually do.
Most voters pay little real attention to politics even though they faithfully vote for the same party’s candidates. Those good people are occupied with simply making a living, raising children and interacting with family and friends. They may keep those friends by not talking about politics. Then, there are in many districts a small group of very conservative Republican voters who constantly think about politics. Their political beliefs have become a kind of secular religion (they also are frequently religious fundamentalists). And, unlike their more typical neighbors they do want to control candidates and to hold them accountable. They do go out and vote in the primaries that the parties use to choose their candidates.
So, whether Republican candidates agree with those active conservatives, they must appear to do so. The candidates find themselves competing for that small group of ultra conservatives they know will vote. Without meaning to, many Republican candidates have allowed themselves to become the political prisoners of their most actively conservative constituents. Caught between those voters and the very conservative Republican leadership already in place, prospective Republican candidates are trapped with a package of positions they have to take in order to even become a candidate:
1) Republican candidates must always support tax cuts. Taxes rates can never go up (It is true that Ronald Reagan successfully supported tax increases but Ronald Reagan would probably not be accepted as a Republican political candidate today.).
2) Tax cuts must be structured so that the greatest cuts are for the most wealthy, particularly the top one percent of income owners. Tax cuts for those “job creators” will trickle down to ordinary workers, and stimulate the economy so that “a rising tide will lift all boats”. The fact that Trickle Down Theory (in a earlier era called Reaganomics) simply does not work does not deter Republican leaders from accepting it as gospel. There are some political and economic ideas that appear to be so logical that it seems like they have to be true. Trickle Down is one of them.
3) The Affordable Care Act is horrible and must be replaced by a better plan. After seven years, with the Republicans in the House and the Senate going through one last effort to slay Obamacare, it is obvious to every honest observer that that there is no better Republican plan and there never was one. Still, the leadership is committed to something that about seventeen percent of the public supports partly because it makes further tax cuts possible.
4) The most serious threat that we face is the national debt. Certainly many candidates believe this but, up till now, given the choice between tax cuts which are always popular or increasing the debt, Republicans have always gone for the tax cuts. They are just not that serious about the Debt.
5) Republican candidates must always support increases in military spending. The uncritical support of military spending was and is an important tool in keeping the South Republican. It also helps candidates hold military veteran support (military support groups are very active politically), and it makes candidates sound very patriotic.
6) If you are a Republican candidate you must be opposed to raising the minimum wage. As a Republican you must be a great supporter of the traditional two parent home even though Republican resistance to higher wages has probably done more to destroy the two parent home than any other one thing.
7) As a Republican candidate you have to be critical of anything labeled “science”. Therefore, you can be opposed to doing anything meaningful about climate change. That also happens to be something that big producers of fossil fuels and big Republican financial supporters oppose too.
8) You must be opposed to including evolutionary theory in education. For reasons that are historically unclear Protestant evangelicals have made the rejection of evolution one of their requirements for real membership. So even though it is not really “political,” it has become necessary for Republican candidates to play along (Evolutionary theory is not a problem for Catholics.).
9) You will be a big champion of charter schools. You will talk about competition a lot. The public schools need competition. And, because they often are really unregulated (and often do not compete very well), charter schools are freer to emphasize religious values and to play down evolution. Part of conservative dislike for public schools also has to do with their very real bugaboo with teachers’ unions which understandably tend to support Democrats.
10) Any would-be Republican candidate has to oppose legal abortion. For sensitive people abortion can present a genuine moral dilemma. Many Democratic and many Republican voters understand that the real life alternatives surrounding abortion can be excruciatingly difficult. For that very conservative Republican minority there is no doubt. Abortion is an evil which must be ended by any means necessary, so that has become the public position that Republican candidates have to take.
Democrats have their problems too. They certainly have allowed themselves to lose touch with white American workers. But, they still function as a political party whose goal is to, however ineptly, serve voters. And, they are freer to try to really represent their constituents. Today, only conservative Republicans arrive in Washington. The Republicans in the House and in the Senate are very much directed from the top. Nobody is going to ask the new arrivals what they want done to help their voters back home! And, given the package of positions they are forced to take in order to even be candidates, there is very little that they could do for the folks back home anyway. The leadership is dedicated to defeating Obamacare so that must be attempted even though the citizens from poorer districts greatly benefit from it. The leadership wants cuts in tax rates even though that has little benefit for most Republican voters back in the district (Many low paid workers don’t make enough to pay any federal income tax). President Trump wants large increases in military spending. There just isn’t much money left for anything else. Because the congressional Republicans are themselves so divided even the leadership’s very limited goals seem likely to fail. For the ordinary Republican voter there will be nothing.