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The Conservative Crackup: How the Republican Party Lost Its Mind

US Politics & Gov't  (tags: republicans, Tea Party, government, elections, freedoms, democrats, ethics, politics, americans, propaganda, news, economy, congress, constitution )

- 1603 days ago -
In a recent article, I argued that the Republican Party has been captured by a faction whose political psychology makes it highly intransigent and uninterested in compromise.

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Carrie B (306)
Monday September 2, 2013, 2:27 pm

In a recent article, I argued that the Republican Party has been captured by a faction whose political psychology makes it highly intransigent and uninterested in compromise. That article focused on the roots of this psychology and how it shapes the Tea Party’s view of its place in American politics. It did not pursue the question of exactly how this capture took place — of how a major political party, once a broad coalition of diverse elements, came to be so dependent on a narrow range of strident voices. This is the question I propose to explore below.

In doing so, we should keep in mind three terms from political science (and much political journalism) — “realignment,” “polarization” and “gridlock.” These concepts are often bandied about as if their connections are obvious, even intuitive. Sometimes, indeed, a writer leaves the impression that they are virtually synonymous. I think this is mistaken, and that it keeps us from appreciating just how strange our present political moment really is.

“Realignment,” for instance, refers to a systematic shift in the patterns of electoral support for a political party. The most spectacular recent example of this is the movement of white Southerners from the Democratic to the Republican Party after the passage of major civil rights laws in the mid-1960s. Not coincidentally, this event was critically important for the evolution of today’s Republican Party.

After the Civil War and the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870s, the identification of white Southerners as Democrats was so stubborn and pervasive as to make the region into the “solid South” – solidly Democratic, that is. Despite this well-known fact, there is reason to suspect that the South’s Democratic alliance was always a bit uneasy. As the Gilded Age gave way to the first decades of the 20th century, the electoral identities of the two major parties began to firm up. Outside the South, the Democrats were the party of the cities, with their polyglot populations and unionized workforces. The Republicans drew most of their support from the rural Midwest and the small towns of the North. The Democrats’ appeal was populist, while Republicans extolled the virtues of an ascendant business class: self-sufficiency, propriety, personal responsibility.

It will be immediately evident that the Republican Party was in many ways a more natural fit for the South, which at the time was largely rural and whose white citizens were overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The South’s class structure, less fluid than that of the industrial and urban North, would have chimed with the more hierarchical strains of Republican politics, and Southern elites had ample reason to prefer the “small government” preached by Republican doctrine. But the legacy of Lincoln’s Republicanism was hard to overcome, and the first serious stirrings of disillusion with the Democratic Party had to wait until 1948. That year, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, enraged by President Truman’s support for some early civil rights measures, led a walkout of 35 Southern delegates from the Democratic Convention. Thurmond went on to become the presidential nominee of a Southern splinter group, the States’ Rights Democratic Party (better known as “Dixiecrats”), and won four states in the deep South.

The first Republican successes in the South came in the elections of 1952 and 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower won five and eight states, respectively*. These victories, however, were only marginally related to racial politics; Eisenhower’s stature as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II had a much larger role, as did his party’s virulent anti-communism. Nixon held only five of these states in 1960.

The real turning point came in 1964. After passage of the Civil Rights Act, Barry Goldwater’s conservative campaign, with its emphasis on limited government and states’ rights, carried five Southern states, four of which had not been won by a Republican in the 20th century. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of Southern states since, with the single exception of former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign. The South is now the most reliably Republican region of the country, and supplies the party with most of its Electoral College support.

The South’s realignment explains a lot about our politics. But it doesn’t, in itself, explain one very important fact: why the post-civil rights Republican Party went on to become the monolithically conservative party we have today. We can put this point as a question: Why didn’t the Republican Party end up looking more like the pre-realignment Democrats, with a coalition of Northern moderates and liberals yoked to conservative Southerners? (And the Midwest along for the ride.) In effect, we’re asking how realignment is related to “polarization” — the ideological sorting out that has led to our present party system, in which nearly all moderates and liberals identify as Democrats and nearly all conservatives as Republicans.

It’s important to ask this question for at least two reasons. First, because it highlights the fact that realignment and polarization are analytically distinct concepts — a point often passed over in discussions of this subject. The sudden migration of Southern whites into Republican ranks is obviously connected with polarization; what we need to know is exactly how and why. Which brings us to the second reason. Because the answer we’re led to is so refreshingly old-fashioned and therefore, in today’s intellectual culture, completely counterintuitive: They are connected through the agency of political actors.

n “Rule and Ruin,” his wonderful history of the collapse of Republican moderation, the historian Geoffrey Kabaservice documents the process by which conservative activists remade the Republican Party in their image. (If I could recommend only one book this year to students of American history, it would be this one.) Filling a broad canvas with an enormous wealth of detail, Kabaservice shows us that conservatives always thought of themselves as engaged on two fronts: Moderate Republicans were as much the enemy as liberal Democrats. William Rusher, Bill Buckley’s colleague at National Review, remarked revealingly that the modern conservative movement formed itself “in opposition to the Eisenhower administration.”

One can’t help but admire the tenacity, focus and creativity that conservative activists brought to their task. They transformed the Republican Party at every level: from the grass roots, where they assumed control of local bodies such as city councils, caucuses and county commissions, to the state and national party machinery. They also built a network of institutions designed to cultivate and publicize conservative ideas. These ranged from relatively sophisticated periodicals and think tanks (National Review, the early Heritage Foundation) to rawer, more demotic facsimiles (the American Spectator, the Cato Institute). Groups such as the Moral Majority arose, especially on the religious right, and new media technologies allowed for the consolidation of conservative voices on talk radio and cable television.

These actions were all part of the same relentless design: to purge the Republican Party of moderate voices and to install conservatives in every position of meaningful power and influence. But they had another side as well. Because as a party shapes itself it also shapes its electorate. And a party engaged in a process of purification, if it wants to continue to win elections, needs a similarly purified electorate.

The realignment of Southern whites must be understood in this context. When they deserted the Democratic Party in the mid-’60s, they presented Republicans with a huge electoral windfall. Republicans then had to decide how to invest this unexpected capital. In doing so they had to balance at least two things: numbers and intensity. Numbers are important, of course — you can’t win elections without them — but it’s an old adage in politics that an intense 51 percent is better than a relaxed 55 percent. The Republican decision to embrace an increasingly radical version of conservatism should be seen, in effect, as an attempt to leverage the intensity and loyalty of their new Southern voters. These qualities were expected to offset the loss of any moderate or liberal supporters who might abandon the party as it lurched to the right.

It was a perfectly rational strategy, and it worked brilliantly. Between 1968 and 1992 — 24 years, an entire generation — Democrats won exactly one presidential election, the post-Watergate campaign of 1976. But after ’92 the strategy began to break down on the national level, due mainly to demographic factors: There simply weren’t enough rural white voters anymore to win presidential elections in a consistent way. But by then the right was fully in control of Republican politics and uninterested in sharing power (or policy) with their moderate brethren. They developed a narrative to counter any suggestion that ideological rigidity was the cause of the party’s losses in national (and, increasingly, statewide) races: the quixotic claim that it had nominated “moderates” unable to bring out the conservative majorities who lurk, abandoned and bereft, in the heartland.

In the meantime the ritual purges have continued — the immediate denunciations, thundered from various media pulpits, whenever a Republican politician utters an unorthodox opinion; the threat (or reality) of primary challenges to silence dissent; the invocation of paranoid fantasies that inflame “the base” and make them ever more agitated and vindictive.

Now, in 2013, we have the politics that 50 years of this process have created. The Democratic Party has fewer conservatives than it once did, but is still a broadly coalitional party with liberal and moderate elements. It controls the coasts, has strength in the industrial Midwest, and is making inroads in the upper, more urbanized South and in Florida. It confronts a Republican Party almost wholly dependent on the interior states of the old Confederacy. (The party continues to win in the mountain and prairie West, but the region is too sparsely populated to provide any real electoral heft.) Because of its demographic weakness, it is more beholden than ever to the intensity of its most extreme voters. This has engendered a death spiral in which it must take increasingly radical positions to drive these voters to the polls, positions that in turn alienate ever larger segments of the population, making these core voters even more crucial — and so on. We have a name these days for the electoral residue produced by this series of increasingly rigorous purifications. We call it “the Tea Party.”

The cry of the hour is that our politics is “dysfunctional” — mired in “gridlock,” all bipartisanship lost. This is of course true, but it must be seen as merely the latest result of the conservative politics of purity. After all, when does a politician, in the normal course of affairs, have a reason to do something? When he thinks it will gain him a vote, or that not doing it will cost him a vote. It follows that politicians have a reason to be bipartisan — to work with the opposition — only when doing so will increase, not decrease, their electoral support. And this can only happen if they potentially share voters with their opposition. But the Republican electorate is now almost as purified as the Republican Party. Not only is it unlikely to support Democratic candidates, it’s virtually certain to punish any Republican politician who works with Democrats. The electoral logic of bipartisanship has collapsed for most Republicans; they have very little to gain, and much to lose, if they practice it. And so they don’t.

Unfortunately, our government isn’t designed to function in these conditions. The peculiarities of our system — a Senate, armed with the filibuster, that gives Wyoming’s 576,000 people as much power as California’s 38,000,000; gerrymandered districts in the House; separate selection of the executive and the legislature; a chronically underfunded elections process, generally in partisan hands and in desperate need of rationalization — simply won’t permit it. What we get instead is paralysis — or worse. The Republican Party, particularly in the House, has turned into the legislative equivalent of North Korea — a political outlier so extreme it has lost the ability to achieve its objectives through normal political means. Its only recourse is to threats (increasingly believable) that it will blow up the system rather than countenance this-or-that lapse from conservative dogma. This was the strategy it pursued in the debt ceiling debacle of 2011, and if firebrands such as Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have their way it will guide the party’s approach to the same issue this fall, and perhaps to government funding (including “Obamacare”) as well. Realignment and polarization have led us to gridlock and instability.

The relentless radicalization of the Republican Party since 1964 is the most important single event in the political history of the United States since the New Deal. It has significantly shaped the course of our government and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But this means it has also shaped the individual life of every citizen— the complex amalgam of possibilities and opportunities available (or not) to each of us. The conservative visionaries of the ‘50s and ‘60s wanted a new world. We’re all living in it now.

* The 1928 election is something of an exception to this statement; eight Southern states, offended by Democratic candidate Al Smith’s Catholicism, voted instead for Herbert Hoover. But it seems safe to regard this election as an outlier; FDR won every Southern state in the next four presidential elections.

Birgit W (160)
Monday September 2, 2013, 3:37 pm
Thanks Carrie.

Past Member (0)
Monday September 2, 2013, 5:03 pm

Mitchell D (104)
Monday September 2, 2013, 6:44 pm
Dynamite article, thanks, Carrie.
So, one possible upshot of all this may be that the Repugs are going to sink in the political cesspool they have been developing, so assiduously. That's going to be one heck of a loud flush!
Assiduous asses!

GGmaSAway D (195)
Monday September 2, 2013, 7:02 pm
Wow, I hardly know where to start...or even why I should care how the GOPTP got the way they are today. It does explain why the Democrsts seem more conservative than they used to be. Although understanding how they all came to be at this point in time will not help the country if the GOPTP decide to follow through with their threats...and it looks more and more like they will, leaving this country pretty much in ruins.

Jason S (50)
Monday September 2, 2013, 7:23 pm
That what have in when you believe god and America dream, both are not real. Good posting, thanks

Laurie H (817)
Monday September 2, 2013, 7:29 pm
Thanks for sharing this Carrie. We're living in shaky times these days, observing vast & frightening changes over the years. The Republican party is not even a shadow of what it once was and stood for. YES="We're all living it now." Many Thanks my friend!!~

Edith B (146)
Monday September 2, 2013, 9:29 pm
Thanks, Carrie, this was enlightening. Our country is going down the drain if someone in the GOP doesn't put a stop to their obstructionism. The party is brain washing its followers with so much misinformation, thanks to right wing radio hosts and Faux news, that many people don't realize what dumb choices they are making.

Roseann d (178)
Monday September 2, 2013, 11:23 pm
The sooner we load them all off to the loony bin asylum the sooner we can start our country's recovery. No use wasting money paying these useless government employees.

Robert B (60)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 7:11 am
This is a party still fighting the civil war. It panders to the lowest common denominator. They exploit fear, greed, ignorance, envy, racism, hate, and class warfare. They focus on all the bad and evil traits of humans instead of working to make this a better world for ALL. They are totally committed to the destruction of a free and educated society. They remind me of the Taliban and the Brown Shirts of Nazi Germany and they are dangerous. We need to remember this in future elections. The TalibanTeaBaggers have got to go.

Jason R (68)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 9:49 am
From Lee Atwater & Reagan to the Karl Rove, Ayne Rand , 4th reich, college republican indoctrination conventions, A lot of bad has happened in the last 35 years. Make no mistake. This is Karl Rove's full time job. Check out a college republican convention near you. You'll most likely find Rove or his puppets,

Jason R (68)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 10:50 am
Thanks, carrie.

If you can get 2 or 3 nazis in front of a packed room of CRs, agree with each other, you can get them to believe anything.

. (0)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 12:06 pm
Great article, Carrie. Thanks for sharing.

jan b (5)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 12:19 pm
You might be asking yourself why Republicans are so good at cracking the whip on others while they are incapable of personifying even the most remote semblance of fiscal discipline when they are in charge. Good question. For that matter, why can’t Speaker John Boehner get anything done in the House without the help of Democrats? Boehner has only been able to pass Sandy relief and the VAWA (finally on both) because Democrats rescued him from his own party’s extremism. Modern day Republicans are keen on demonstrating repeatedly that they can’t govern and aren’t interested in legislating anything other than women’s bodies.

donald Baumgartner (6)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 12:37 pm
Vote Dems in 2014!!! & 2016!!!

James Maynard (84)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 2:47 pm
Excellent post Carrie. Now let's make certain we
get our folks to the polls in 2014 and clean up this

Diane O (193)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 3:26 pm
typo: "created the perfect storm for a republican congress in 2014."

Continued high unemployment
No significant growth in our economy
Obama and his "red line" - and the Brits standing down to support a "civil war."

Michelle's failed "lunchroom program"
Cash for Clunkers
It just goes on and on and on.....checked out Obama's plummeting popularity rating?

Laura H (964)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 3:32 pm
An EXCELLENT article filled with FACTS and the TRUTH.

Thanks Carrie!

Diane O (193)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 3:40 pm
Laura, it's no more than one person's opinion.

David C (160)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 5:33 pm
I would just note that Diane O's bogus biases are similar to her claims about personal opinion article...
Unemployment --- on the way my lifetime, always higher under GOP
Sequestration --- because of GOP selfishness, Mr. Obama made every effort to compromise...
Obamacare -- not perfect, but a step towards single payor....a good start...
Economy growing --- but agree would be more if GOP willing to invest or The Wealthy willing to invest
"red line" --- international "law" declared chemical weapons illegal/immoral/inhumane, I don't support strikes, but its like telling your child "no" and then always letting answer be "yes"

Lunchroom program -- not as failed as "No one left behind"
Cash for clunkers -- not a major issue to anyone....

On and on....yeah, GOP is awful, I agree....

Laura H (964)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 5:47 pm
THANK YOU are SPOT ON and on a personal note saved me some time! :))
I would have responded! :)

The CONS ALWAYS deny, deflect, and distract!! They don't care about FACTS.
It's easier for them to blame Obama for everything instead of providing 'facts' from their side! (because the facts from their side does not exist)

Sad; they are being used by the 1-2% but they don't know it...

Katie & Bill D (107)
Tuesday September 3, 2013, 10:35 pm
We saw History just as Dave C. Described with the Unemployment we Lived it!!
And now these GOP'S want to Take AWay Our Social Security??!!
Threats all the time!! Crazy LOONS!!!

Roseann d (178)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 3:22 am
Diane O is delusional as usual. Tell your GOP party to look in the mirror on high unemployment and the sequestration. Besides that war...any war is the only thing the GOP wants to the expense of slashing people's earned social security, infrastructure, education and everything else that once made America f reat. Face it Diane...your do nothing but harm party is a wrecking ball on the country. Tell your useless party to stop freeloading at the public trough and do it's job for a change. And pay up for your BushCo war before signing on for another war you won't want your rich cronies to participate in funding.

Roseann d (178)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 3:28 am
DIANE O ... if we really were ending Cash for Clunkers we would have stopped GOP paychecks and benefits long ago.

Jason R (68)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 10:00 am
When will Diane take "personal responsibility" and stop letting fox do her thinking for her?

When republicans say, Democrats are...fill in the blank, we all know who they are really talking about.

Susanne R (237)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 10:19 am
RE: "Why in the world is this article important? It is a pure opinion piece. The republicans also have their personal opinion articles."

Diane, we're certainly aware of the fact that republicans have their personal opinion articles. That's where you get your "facts" from --republican opinion pieces and, worse yet, long-disproven emails gone viral. It's hypocritical to suggest that this article shouldn't be taken seriously when the majority of what you post comes from less credible sources. Need I remind you about your numerous references to President Obama already having secured a home in Hawaii before the last election because he knew he was going to lose? When I did a search on that assertion, I found that it was a "headline" article for the Weekly World News --which apparently is now only offered online. You were quoting a source geared to people who believe in the existence of "Bat Boy" (half-human, half bat, but ALL American!) or who simply like to laugh at such stories.

Dedication is admirable, and you certainly are dedicated. However, it's just WRONG to criticize what you describe as an "opinion article" when most of your arguments come from less credible sources, and most of them have been disproven on all the fact-checking sites.

Diane O (193)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 2:59 pm
You can't prove that most of my arguments have come from less credible sources. It's easy to say but it is very difficult to prove. I'm surprised that you would make a comment like that. You are speculating at best.

I'm not a liberal. I don't think the way liberals think. In fact, I never want to think like a liberal. What I am reading from the comments here is that I would be okay if "only I could see things YOUR way."

We have three and four generations still on welfare. I wonder what Lyndon Johnson was thinking when he loaded the taxpayer funded gravy train? Marriage among the African American communities is virtually non existent because they would lose money from the government if they got married. Something wrong with that picture.

Regardin the home in Hawaii, do YOU have any proof that he didn't buy it? Show me that proof.

Carrie B (306)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 3:30 pm
Actually Diane, you would be "OK" if you were able to think for yourself instead of just parroting FAUX News talking points. "Marriage among the African American communities is virtually non existent because they would lose money from the government if they got married." Nah, you aren't a racist ~ you just sound like one!

Diane O (193)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 3:37 pm
Actually, Carrie, I think YOU would be okay if you were able to think for yourself instead of just parroting biased left wing media outlets.

Do the research on it, Carrie. I didn't make a racist comment. I stated a fact. African American women are single with three, four, six children and your taxes are paying for their welfare. Where are the fathers? There are a gazillion articles on this topic. And, nah you aren't ignorant you just like to sound like you are.

Even the great Obama stated that there's a serious break down in the African American would you call Obama racist? Of course not!


Carrie B (306)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 3:44 pm
I missed the news about only black women being single mothers, but then I don't watch FAUX Noise.

Diane O (193)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 3:47 pm
I specifically referenced the black community because that is the community that continues to bring children into this world without the benefit of a father. Many do have fathers in their homes but many more do not.
Just do the research. That's the only way you will learn. It's easy to throw personal attacks from a position of little knowledge on this topic. In fact, it is expected.

Diane O (193)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 3:49 pm
Your Savior Obama stated that there is a serious problem in the black community and so have other African American COI's. Don't believe them? They should know and they appear to be worried about it.

Carrie B (306)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 3:56 pm
Diane, has it ever occurred to you that those in our society who are the most discriminated against also have less education, less money, and less chance of success which in turn is the cause of many of their overall circumstances? Of course, people with your racist mindset are also the cause of many of their problems.

The Huffington Post | By Christina Huffington
Posted: 05/01/2013 7:00 pm EDT | Updated: 05/02/2013 10:02 am EDT

The rate of single motherhood, which has been steadily increasing since the 1940s, has skyrocketed in recent years, according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau released on May 1st.

While the birth rate for single women has greatly increased across all demographics -- according to the report, which is based on data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the birth rate for single mothers in 2007 was 80 percent higher than it was in 1980, and 20 percent of that increase happened between 2002 and 2007 -- the numbers are particularly high for recent mothers (mothers who gave birth in the previous 12 months) between age 20 and 24.

In 2011, 62 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 who had recently given birth were unmarried.

Among women ages 35 to 39, the percentage was considerably lower -- 17 percent of women who recently gave birth were unmarried -- but overall, 36 percent of the 4.1 million women who reported they had given birth in the past year were unmarried. That's up from 31 percent in 2005.

The birthrate among single mothers also varied along educational, socioeconomic and racial barriers. Sixty-eight percent of black women who had given birth in the past year were unmarried, compared to 11 percent of Asian women, 43 percent of hispanics and 26 percent of non-Hispanic whites. Fifty-seven percent of recent mothers without a high school diploma were unmarried compared to nine percent of recent mothers with a bachelors degree or higher. Sixty-nine percent of recent mothers who came from households with incomes with $10,000, in contrast to nine percent of recent mothers with households earning $200,000 or more.

"The increased share of unmarried recent mothers is one measure of the nation’s changing family structure,” said Rose Kreider, one of the report’s authors, in a press release.

Jason R (68)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 9:25 pm
"You can't prove that most of my arguments have come from less credible sources."

We can. We're just sick of the insanity of doing your work for you, when you refuse to learn from facts.

"biased left wing media outlets."

Biased against the right wing lies? Yes, guilty as charged and damned proud of it.

Susanne R (237)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 9:55 pm
Diane, we don't know where your arguments come from because you never reference a source.

You stated: "Regardin the home in Hawaii, do YOU have any proof that he didn't buy it? Show me that proof."

The burden of proof lies with the person making the claim, which was you. I did some research to prove you were wrong and came up only with an article in the Weekly World News --which, as everyone knows, is a joke-- and an article in HillBuzz, which admits to publishing political satire --and very bad satire, at that.

Susanne R (237)
Wednesday September 4, 2013, 10:09 pm
(Sorry. My response was "submitted" before I was finished.)

The Weekly World News and HillBuzz, in other words, are the only two sources that back up your claims. Neither source is credible, and neither claims to be credible, yet you chose to repeat that information as though it was proven fact and challenge others to prove you wrong when they question you on it. Your actions speak louder than your words.
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