Paul Krugman wrote a really good column on Monday, How America Was Lost. I highly recommend reading it. But he wrote one thing that was not a reflection of the wider reality, “I still encounter people on the left (although never on the right) who claim that there’s no big difference between Republicans and Democrats.” I suspect this is an indication that Krugman hangs out with a wide range of liberal people, but only the most marginal of conservatives. Because it is simply not the truth that Republicans don’t make the case that the parties are the same. Um, is the RINO extinct?
What we’ve seen over the last seven years, if not a lot longer, is that conservative voters are not ideological; they are tribal. This is why Donald Trump is doing so well. These Republicans don’t care about policy, they care about chest thumping. And that is why they think there really is no difference between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Sure, the policies would be quite different. But they would both be standard issue establishment types who would treat the presidency as an office with a history and norms that ought to be followed. They are not, in other words, revolutionaries. (Note: I could make a case that Bush would, in fact, be a revolutionary and that his brother most definitely was.)
This all takes me back to 2011 when I was at the Sonoma County Fair and came upon the local booth for the Republican Party. And the biggest sign they had up was a “No RINO” sign. A RINO, of course, is a “Republican In Name Only.” This was the local GOP establishment and in a fairly liberal area: not just California, but one of the most liberal parts of California. You would think they would be interested in moderate Republicans. But no, they were holding the fort for the conservative revolution coming any day now.
Democrats have an equivalent term: DINO. But it appeared after and in response to RINO. But what it all means is that for Republicans, there really is “no big difference” between the vast majority of their candidates and the Democrats. That’s what purity is all about. This is why the Republican establishment brooks almost no variance from orthodoxy. It’s funny that people talk about how the establishment has lost control of the presidential race. Even the great Republican populist Donald Trump had to put out by far the most regressive tax plan in order to shore up his credentials.
If it appears to Krugman that Republicans don’t fall into the trap of thinking the two parties are the same, it is probably because the Republican Party has been so successful at banishing all RINO from being competitive for major offices. The conservative columnists at The New York Times would never claim that the Democrats and Republicans are the same. But we can’t go by that!
The more pure their party has become, the more paranoid the Republicans are about RINO in their midst. Last September, Free Republic published an article, John Boehner Caught Conspiring With Nancy Pelosi. It’s not a minor outlet. And the article tells us, “Functionally, there is absolutely no difference between Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner.” Clearly, at least one columnist doesn’t get out enough.
And it’s funny that Krugman would think that it is only Democrats who think the parties are the same given that he has been so prominent in the Clinton-Sanders war. But maybe that’s what’s blinding him. He’s so worried about the Sanders supporters that he can’t see the wider reality. But if he thought about it, he’d see that what’s going on is just that the Democratic base is having a fight over whether the party will be liberal or slightly more liberal. Sanders isn’t demanding purity and he surly isn’t saying that Clinton is the same as Bush. And neither are any prominent Sanders supporters. I do wish people would stop basing reality on Twitter and Facebook arguments.
But here’s something that I run into all the time in arguing politics with conservatives. Because I’m pretty knowledgeable about this stuff and I’m not arguing with Greg Mankiw, I destroy conservatives in these arguments. And their fallback is always, “Well, they’re all the same!” When I was a libertarian, and I made my fine tuned arguments against liberals, they never ended by claiming, “Well, they’re all the same!” So among the extremists on both side, you will hear that there is no difference between the parties. But it’s primarily in the Republican Party where you will hear ordinary voters making that claim.
Of course, Democrats have recent history to remind them:
Afterword: Michelle Goldberg and the RINO
Note that Goldberg’s argument here is still largely wrong. This is a video that Democrats need to watch. But pretty much everything she says about Democrats is true of Republicans. It is not “a particular pathology of the left.”