Marco Rubio represents the old Republican Party. Not in the Richard Nixon sense of being kind of a social liberal, because Rubio is anything but. No. He represents the old Republican Party in the Richard Nixon sense of the Southern Strategy: getting enough people who totally disagree with your policies to vote for you, which in combination with those whom you truly represent will put you in power. Unfortunately for Mr. Rubio, this is not the way forward for the Republican Party.
Jonathan Chait has an interesting article this morning that discusses the evolution of the party, White Republican Debate Continues to Rage. But unlike most discussions, this one is actually useful. Normally, people talk about the Republican Party as though it were an institution trying to change by being more in line with what the electorate wants. This is ridiculous just on its face. If Republicans wanted to be anything near to appealing, they would become Democrats. So the question now and forever is: how does the Republican Party take power without changing.
Chait and others offer us the example of John C. Calhoun, the big South Carolina slavery proponent from Amistad. But more to the point, in the later part of his career, Calhoun was basically a royalist. That is to say, he didn’t believe in majoritarianism. The people are too stupid (or whatever) to be trusted to run the country. This is now the primary philosophical basis of the Republican Party. (Remember Glenn Beck pushing for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which made senators directly elected? Can’t trust the people now can we?!)
In the late 1960s, the Republicans figured out a way to win majority support: racism! “Those Democrats are taking from you deserving white folk and giving to those undeserving coloreds!” And as an electoral tool, that was the Energizer Fucking Bunny. It just kept going and going and going. But it was always a short term solution. Those brown folk were were multiplying like, well, bunnies. What’s more, the young ‘ons increasing disliked the Republicans, and young people enter the country all the time!
And that’s where Mr. Calhoun comes in. Why be a popular party when you can get power by other means? Chait sums it up nicely:
It’s only since about 2008 that Republicans have turned to the methods I describe—massively expanding the power of the Senate minority, widespread voter suppression and other schemes to rig the vote, obstructing nominees to block laws they can’t overturn, using the Courts to enforce economic policies they can’t win through legislative channels. Republicans have turned to these techniques because the party’s identity as that of white people, once the cornerstone of its political dominance, has turned into a trap from which it is wriggling to escape.
But remember, Republicans must know that even this is a short term tactic. They are figuring that they will be able to find something like the old Southern Strategy that will allow them to get enough people who fundamentally disagree with them to vote for them anyway. I would like to think this isn’t so, but history indicates otherwise. This is the biggest reason why liberals cannot depend upon demographics. And anyway, politics is a strange business and Marco Rubio could actually be our next president.
Update (11 February 2013 12:33 pm)
Sam Tanenhaus article in The New Republic, Original Sin: Why the GOP Is and Will Continue to be the Party of White People is excellent. I suggest reading all 6000 words of it, but here is a taste:
Denial has always been the basis of a nullifying politics. Calhoun, too, knew he was on the losing side. The arithmetic he studied most closely was the growing tally of new free territories. Eventually, they would become states, and there would be sufficient “absolute” numbers in Congress to abolish slavery. A century later, history pushed forward again. Nonetheless, conservatives, giving birth to their movement, chose to ignore these realities and to side with “the South.”
Race will always be a complex issue in America. There is no total cleansing of an original sin. But the old polarizing politics is a spent force. The image of the “angry black man” still purveyed by sensationalists such as Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza is anachronistic today, when blacks and even Muslims, the most conspicuous of “outsider” groups, profess optimism about America and their place in it. A politics of frustration and rage remains, but it is most evident within the GOP’s dwindling base—its insurgents and anti-government crusaders, its “middle-aged white guys.” They now form the party’s one solid bloc, its agitated concurrent voice, struggling not only against the facts of demography, but also with the country’s developing ideas of democracy and governance. We are left with the profound historical irony that the party of Lincoln—of the Gettysburg Address, with its reiteration of the Declaration’s assertion of equality and its vision of a “new birth of freedom”—has found sustenance in Lincoln’s principal intellectual and moral antagonist. It has become the party of Calhoun.