Wither the GOP?

David Frum has a very good editorial on the vanishing GOP voter.  I think Frum over-analyzes the problem to a great degree, and concentrates largely on the disappearing GOP vote in Northern Virginia, which I think is driven more by the culture of the federal government than by anything.  The idea that immigration is to blame, and rising inequality is at issue I think is wrong.  But I think there’s some grains of truth in some of what he has said:

There is a long list of reasons for this anti-Republican tilt among the affluent: social issues, the environment, an ever more internationalist elite’s distaste for the Republican Party’s assertive nationalism. Maybe the most important reason, however, can be reduced to the two words: “Robert Rubin.” By returning to the center on economic matters in the 1990s, the Democrats emancipated higher-income and socially moderate voters to vote with their values rather than with their pocketbooks.

Whether conservatives want to admit it or not, The Clinton Administration post-1994 successfully sold itself economically centrist, and it must be admitted that government grew less under Clinton with a Republican Congress than it has under George W. Bush.  Clinton’s brand of Democratic governance did indeed free suburban voters to vote their values, and those values are not, generally, very socially conservative.

Big city political machines have always been Democratic strongholds.  That much hasn’t really changed.  But suburban areas have typically trended Republican as middle and upper-middle class voters, many of whom left cities to get away from the machine politics, voted to keep taxes low, and government running leaner and with fewer tentacles into the economy.  What has George W. Bush’s brand of conservatism done for this type of Republican voter?

I don’t think former Republican voters are pissed off with income inequality, I think they are pissed off with government, as low approval ratings of Congress and the President indicate.  Frum hits it largely when he says this:

Republicans have been badly hurt in upper America by the collapse of their onetime reputation for integrity and competence.

That pretty much sums it up.  Republicans have demonstrated themselves no more capable of using government to protect conservative interests than Democrats.  Republican’s can’t cede suburban voters to the Democrats, unless they want to be the minority party for most of the 21st century.  John McCain, for all his faults, might be the kind of conservative that suburban voters can get behind.

5 thoughts on “Wither the GOP?”

  1. I’m a part of the vanishing GOP. Although I have every intention of voting against Obama (meaning I must vote for McCain or I’ve thrown my vote away), I was very upset that the Republican party didn’t choose a more ardent conservative in the primaries. Out of protest, I resigned as a registered Republican and am now on the books as a Libertarian. I’m still going to vote the same way, so I don’t how it really changes anything. I just did it to try and send a message to the Republicans- they’ve abandoned their truly conservative base, so I left them, as well. I’m further to the political right than John Wayne, and if the Republicans start acting like conservatives again, I’ll re-join.

  2. The hard part in that is defining what conservative means. You kind of have to pick the top five most important defining things that most of the coalition can agree on, and which doesn’t offend more than 49% of the population. Republicans could start acting like real conservative again, but would they win?

  3. Frum focuses too much on economic motives for voting. The activist center of the Republican party is driven more by social issues such as abortion or gun control, and Frum really doesn’t care about them. Ironically the Republican party is more and more a working class or at least a lower middle class party, with the upper middle class and wealthy turning more to the Democratic party (as Frum notes) and they too have changed mostly due to their positions on social issues. Yet the chief task of the Republicans whenever they do get into power seems not to be satiating those social issue voters that help them win but instead reducing taxes on those high income voters who don’t vote Republican anymore (Remember Christie Whitman). This was also pointed out about a year ago when there was a good deal of discussion about ending the alternative minimum tax which the Republicans wanted to eliminate and the Dems only wanted to eliminate if matching revenue could be found else where. When some observers looked into what states had the most payers of the AMT they found it was NY, NJ, Mass and California, all blue states that are reliably Democratic in national elections. So maybe one reason there seems to be fewer Republican voters in places where there should be more is because those voters know that Republicans like those in NJ won’t do a damn thing about the social issues they care about. One solace about this trend is that many of these high income Democrats and Obama supporters have never really experienced a true high tax environment that their candidate desires and if he wins they are about to find out what it’s like. Ha Ha Ha

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