What Conservatism Means to the Republican Base

Marco Rubio Doesn't Understand Republican BaseI didn’t watch much of the Republican debate last night. From what I heard, it was like the one before: basically a street brawl. What I did see showed that the non-Trump candidates really don’t understand their party. They keep hammering away on Trump from the right, as though the Republican base really cares about the ideology of the party. I would think after all these months, everyone would understand: Trump is a conservative to the base because he is a jerk. He struts around like a dictator, and they love it. To them, he is an “every man” because they too would act that way if they had billions of dollars.

But what is perhaps most notable is that it isn’t just the Republican base. According to all the candidates — most especially Rubio — Trump is completely unacceptable. Yet Rubio will support Trump if he is the candidate — so will they all. Similarly, Mitt Romney came out with a big anti-Trump speech. But ultimately, his argument was not that Trump would be a terrible president; his argument was that Trump would be a terrible nominee. I’ve argued from the beginning that the establishment’s problem with Trump is only that they think he’s unelectable — not that he’s a bigot and an authoritarian.

During the debate, Marco Rubio was asked about the lead poisoning in Flint, “Without getting into the political blame game here, where are the national Republicans’ plans on infrastructure and solving problems like this?” He gave no answer other than that the government ought to have some role in the situation. Otherwise, all he talked about was how the Democrats were politicizing the issue and he pushed this straw man argument that Democrats were saying that the Republicans set out to poison the people of Flint.

The establishment should have learned by now that the Republican base just isn’t that into its policies. It was always the belligerence and the racism. It was never the tax cuts and lead-filled water.

Let’s be clear here. The argument that Democrats are making is that the Republicans just didn’t care. They did dangerous things to save money. And when they were alerted to problems they ignored them. You could say the same thing about global warming or dozens of other things. This is because the lead poisoning of Flint exists in a larger narrative that the Republican Party is against any kind of infrastructure spending or any kind of spending at all for the common good. “The free market will fix all problems!” Nowhere in Rubio’s answer was there any acknowledgement that decades of Republican ideology has brought us children in Flint and many other places who have brain damage because of lead poisoning.

Establishment Doesn’t Understand Republican Base

The main attacks that Rubio and Cruz made on Trump were of the kind, “Trump would do things that might stop the children of Flint from being poisoned!” That isn’t a winning argument for the Republican base. They don’t care about Trump’s heresies, just as they don’t care about Reagan’s. They love the show. They love the idea that America is all powerful — largely because the base knows just how non-powerful it is. The audience applauded when Rubio said, “I don’t think that someone woke up one morning and said, ‘Let’s figure out how to poison the water system to hurt someone.'” Because the Republican base isn’t primarily made up of awful people. But the Republican establishment acts as though it were.

The Clean Water Act was enacted under Richard Nixon in 1972. But “moderate” Marco Rubio can’t even bring himself to make a clear argument that we must keep our water clean. Instead, he talked about how horrible it was that Democrats were saying things that Democrats are not saying. According to the establishment, the second worst thing that could happen to the party is that Donald Trump would become the nominee; the worst thing that could happen is that it would lose the election.

There is a huge divide in the Republican Party. The establishment should have learned by now that the Republican base just isn’t that into its policies. It was always the belligerence and the racism. It was never the tax cuts and lead-filled water.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

26 thoughts on “What Conservatism Means to the Republican Base

  1. Trump’s supporters’ enamorment with him has nothing to do with policies – as you say. This is why it’s proven difficult to put any sort of dent in his lead in the polls. His supporters are “voting with [their] middle finger” (a quote from the LA Times), not with their brains.

    • Yes, that’s true. Although I think it is a mistake to dismiss Trump’s skills. He’s quick on his feet. Although I find him appalling, he is charismatic. And I could make a case for him. The biggest concern about him is that he is a narcissist — and that does not go well with power. I’m still curious why he wants to be president. It is a stressful and demanding job. I certainly wouldn’t want it. And I have no doubt that Trump has never worked anywhere near that hard in his life.

      • John Oliver did a great bit on Trump this week. “There’s a part of me that even loves this guy. It’s a part of me I hate.” Trump is a much more entertaining buffoon than Reagan or Dubya (and neither of them worked hard as president; you can delegate this stuff if you don’t care.)

        To go amateur Freud, I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump wanted to be president to prove to dead Daddy how awesome he is.

        • Yes, I liked it. Although I do think we have to be careful about making a big deal out of Trump. Is he really worse than the other candidates? No. No. And no. A lot of Cruz supporters are probably thinking, “But don’t you see: Trump might go after the Mexicans, but he might end up helping the blacks!” I think it is the party of bigots as my 11:05 article will indicate.

          • “Don’t vote for him because he’s a builder; he’s more of a shitty lifestyle brand.” Oliver’s staff writers are a national treasure.

            I basically knew the GOP appealed mostly to fascists, but I guess I always assumed they’d continue talking in code. The fact that they’re not talking in code anymore is scary to me.

            • I think it is natural. It’s like the n-word. Does it matter? I don’t think so. But I’ve noticed that people who use it slide into ever more dehumanizing beliefs towards African Americans. Think back on Lee Atwater’s 1981 statement about not being able to use the word explicitly. Eventually, the dog whistles become concrete. When Reagan talked about “strapping young bucks” everyone knew he was talking about black men. When he talked about the welfare queen, everyone knew he was talking about a black woman — even though the woman in question was not actually black.

              Of course, Trump is not talking about African Americans today. Trump knows he can’t vilify them explicitly. But he knows he can Muslims because, hell, so does your local news anchor. And he knows he can undocumented Mexicans. Trump supporters are quick to point out that he never said anything about Mexicans in general, but only the ones coming over the border illegally. It shows that for the power elite, racism is just a tool. They really don’t care which group gets scapegoated. They are just trying to get more power with it. I don’t doubt that Hitler did hate Jews, but if they hadn’t been an easy target, he would have picked someone else. As it is, I think Gypsies were on the list of the subhuman too.

  2. Trump may be a narcissist but I also can’t think of a better one word description of Hillary, who’s been running for President since she was a teenager (just like Bill). And I’m starting to believe that most non-DLC Clintonites don’t actually give a hill of beans what her policies are either, regardless of what they say (and maybe say to themselves). It must take a lot of effort to ignore the Clintons’ whole political history.

    If those two wind up as the nominees we should at least be able to look forward to some good entertainment. Before the deluge.

      • Don’t you? I’m not a big fan of our first president, but from all accounts he didn’t particularly want the job, and I’ve always admired that about him. On the other hand, I find it hard to really warm up to Julius Caesar even though he represented the interests of the common people against the aristocratic class he was born into.

        • I think it is ridiculous to expect someone who doesn’t want to do a job, and is in fact forced into doing it, to be effective or even half way decent at a job.

          Governing well-that is advancing the life of the people elected to serve, protecting the economy so the greatest number of people benefit, managing the resources of the environment so it isn’t destroyed, keeping crime low, preventing other political entities from starting wars, and the many other things that a elected official depending on the level has to deal with is incredibly difficult to do. Better someone who actually cares enough about the work to spent much of the person’s time becoming better at it then a person who doesn’t care and hasn’t spent any time trying to figure out how to do well.

          Your example was of a man who was well versed in politics and already well equipped to handle the job he only didn’t want to do because he was tired of the requirements for doing a good job at running anything.

          Hillary Clinton may have been training herself to be president since she was 16 but I don’t see how that is particularly horrible to want to be in public service.

          • She wants to be President; as far as I can tell, she honestly believes that she wants to be in public service. But she doesn’t want to be in public service, or to govern well, actually.

            She honestly thinks, probably, that she cares about the welfare of Americans. But she doesn’t, actually. Clinton probably honestly believes that she cares about the world’s ecosystem. But she doesn’t, actually.

            Caring is an activity, not a state of mind. Ask the care theorists. I don’t agree with them on the fundamentals, but they’ve brought some of the real feminist bottom lines to academic discussion, bottom lines that New Democrats are unwilling to commit to.

            If C really is committed to a new progressive tax system, well, I’m glad she’s made it to level zero.

            On the other hand, I’m not sure that being ambitious is a reasonable criticism.

              • Wow! I’m glad I’m not following this thread! Be excellent to each other; and party on, dudes and dudesses.

              • She supports policies that lead to mass impoverishment and inequality. She supports policies that lead to massive black imprisonment. She supports ‘trade’ agreements that erode the sovereignty of the American people. She supports the American machine of murder, that transfers money to ‘defence’ contractors as brown people are killed. She is responsible, along with everyone else that voted for the Iraq war, for ISIS.

                Her policies are bad, and lead to bad governance, racism, murder, and rape. Caring is an activity. She is unwilling to oppose policies that lead to these bad outcomes.

                Others have said this better. I’m not a political commentator. Yeah, I don’t like bad governance, racism, murder, and rape, and really don’t care if deep down inside C also does not like these things. I want a leader who will stop them, through action.

                By the way, I don’t like Sanders much either, and particularly with the machine of murder, I’m not optimistic. But he’s putting inequality, in a concrete way, to the front of the conversation. Good thing, because it’s more important than anything else now.

                Don’t worry though. Clinton will be president, and likely similar to the last. More people in prison, more Arab dead. I’m sure it hurts her deeply – and I’m not even being sarcastic. Not enough. I don’t make personal attacks on Clinton – no need.

    • The difference between the Clintons and Trump is the Clintons believe pragmatic centrism benefits the public; Trump could give less of a shit about what benefits anything besides himself. Although maybe now that his joke campaign is serious, he might see himself as some sort of statesman. I can’t begin to fathom what’s in that guy’s head, nor would I conceivably wish to.

      Since the primaries are essentially over, I’m going to lay off criticizing the Clintons. Yes, they are Eisenhower-era Republicans (and identified themselves as such.) No, I don’t think Eisenhower politics are what we need right now; we’re in some deep shit with racism, income inequality, and carbon (the last of which might fuck the world beyond fixing.)

      But Clinton is the nominee, and we all want her to beat Trump. Let’s criticize her for what she does in office. There’s not much point in attacking her centrism between now and November, not that I can see.

      • As far as I can tell, the Clintons mostly believe whatever is convenient for their own advancement, but I’m more interested in what they’ve done than what’s in their heads or what they say on the campaign trail.

        Trump represents all sorts of things I despise in contemporary US culture, but unlike Hillary, it’s hard to predict what he would actually do. That’s probably what has the Republican Establishment in such a tizzy.

        I think it’s foolish to act as if the nomination is settled unless one is invested in continuing the conservative politics of Third Way Dems.

        • I am quite often a fool. It’s my superpower! But I do think the nominations are over.

          Yep, Clinton will continue neoliberal politics. That’s a given. And neoliberal politics will create the next Trump, who’s way worse. This is how fascism works; it must be based on genuine outrage/frustration. I’m not looking forward to the far worse Trump, but that’s what we’ll have until we elect liberals instead of centrists.

      • The point of attacking neoliberal centrism is to advocate for justice. The Democratic Party has been playing the game of ‘it’s us or the right-wing extremist’ for a very long time.

        Myself, I’m very used to volunteering for a party I don’t like because I dislike the others more. But I work in the office only, because I am not an enthusiastic supporter of that party.

        Probably, leftists should not be expending a lot of energy criticizing C during a campaign against Dumper. But you know – she’s going to win either way. Like all politicians, C needs to respond to real pressure from soft supporters. It would not be politic to be too vituperative here, but firm pressure to adopt specific, unambiguously progressive policies during the campaign might actually improve the administration of President Clinton.

    • As I explain to my friends, Sanders dances his little dances too. There is no one in politics who is completely authentic because the voters will not accept it. Just the same, Sanders is extremely authentic given the job. Clinton is not. But I don’t think that makes her a narcissist. I don’t think you are being fair to her — or rather that you are ignoring the parts of her political history that cut in her favor.

      I have my problems with Clinton. Certainly on foreign policy, she is not good. And I do not like her very careful statements about the TPP. I think they indicate that she will justify signing it. But I also think she will fight for a higher minimum wage. And her actual tax proposals (which I have no doubt she believes in) are highly progressive. These are real policies, not vague feelings that she’s not really one of us. And it isn’t that I’m saying she is one of us. But dolphins and sea lions swim together; sharks eat dolphins. And she’s no worse than Obama. We must not fool ourselves that we are not the left of the party that represents the left. It’s taken decades of effort by conservatives to do substantial (but not catastrophic) damage to the New Deal and Great Society. We aren’t fixing these problems in the next 8 years regardless of who gets elected. But we could certainly make them far worse.

      • Lack of authenticity or to be blunt, dishonesty, doesn’t make Hillary a narcissist. I don’t consider “narcissist” a very useful definition anyway, but what’s good for the goose…

        I agree that Hillary’s not much different than Obama.

        Let’s not fool ourselves that the Democrats have ever represented the Left. As a party, they actively suppress the left when not forced into accomodation. The Clintons in particular have been an integral part of a conservative movement that has done “substantial damage to the New Deal and Great Society”. It’s important to keep in mind that supporting lesser evil isn’t just about settling for half a loaf — it also involves supporting things that are actively harmful. Hence the name.

        That’s not to say the Clintons have never done anything positive, although one can say the same about Nixon or Ghengis Khan. Frankly, my deepest objection to their ilk may be their devotion to what some have called kludgeocracy and to the Politics of Hopelessness.

        • Based upon a Russian film I watched, Ghengis Khan did a lot of good! But I’m not arguing that we vote for Clinton over Sanders. I am, however, saying there is a political reality here. Clearly, if we are going to get to a Sanders kind of administration, it is going to take time. (I didn’t necessarily think that a month ago.) Let’s face it: even if Obama had been Sanders, the best things he would have tried to do would have been blocked by the Blue Dogs. As it was, Obama wanted a public option. We didn’t get it.

          But given that Clinton and Obama are basically the same, I don’t see the need to get too worked up. They both represent the center-right of the party. But they are both center-left in a general election. I’m not happy about that. But that’s the state of things. If we are really to take over, it will be by working locally. The action is at the local level. Have you seen Clinton’s delegate count?! If the liberals took over local control of the party, things would be much different and Sanders might stand a chance. Hopefully, disgruntled Sanders supporters will decide that they are going to find the time to take the party over. Will you be one of them? I hope so. Never let anger go to waste!

  3. I set myself up for punishment. In speaking with you that night, Frank, I was reminded of the debate which I had missed. Damn. I wanted to see if the world was a better place without Carson…. well, sorta.
    So, I found and watched the complete program on FoxNews.com (the cpu did not melt…suppose that was only because the program was not LIVE).
    The thing that struck me the most was the ‘moderator’ fending off interruptions of Trumps ramblings, yet allowing Trump to yell over the top of anyone else expressing an opinion (when referencing him directly or not). Really was a ‘fixed’ moderation. I’m not a Rubio fan, but he is really getting screwed. I don’t think there is no controlling Donald, I think the case could be made that they don’t even try. Perfect for a FOX production.

    • As I recall, there was a guy who wrote a biography of Rupert Murdoch who said that if Murdoch could make more money with Fox News being liberal, he would turn on a dime. And look at Fox News: it is the equivalent of the tabloids that Murdoch made his fortune with. It’s as much about showing off women’s legs as it is about politics. And the politics are mostly typical of the tabloids: angry populism. I think this is why Trump has taken off. Fox News has revealed the true nature of the Republican Party that the party itself could not see. The people that watch it don’t think about things; they steam about things. They are angry that Those People are on welfare their whole lives, even though that hasn’t been possible since the mid-1990s. I know I’ve had the conversation with my father who thinks that people stay on welfare their whole lives. Apparently, he wasn’t around in the 1990s. Back in 2009, while having dinner with him and his ultra-conservative girlfriend, I found out that neither of them were aware that we had a federal budget surplus under Clinton for two years. You’d think people who claimed to care so much about that would know it. But nope! If it doesn’t fit into the “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” narrative, it doesn’t exist.

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