Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Will Conservative Ideology destroy the Republican party?

Despite victories in New Jersey and Virginia, the Republican party is still reeling from the loss of the 2008 election.

To prevent the party tearing itself apart, conservative members like chairman Michael Steele are suggesting a new 'ideology test' to approve membership of the GOP.

They believe nobody's a 'true' Republican unless they support the ten 'essential' Republican positions, as laid out below.

  1. We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill;
  2. We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;
  3. We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;
  4. We support workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check;
  5. We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;
  6. We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;
  7. We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;
  8. We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;
  9. We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and
  10. We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership;
It's a deeply stupid proposition. Editorials have ironically pointed out that Ronald Reagan - the patron saint of modern conservatism - would probably have only signed off on eight of these 'ideologies.' If he wasn't 'right' enough, where does that leave the majority of Republicans?

Or to put it another way, if this new ideology is adopted, will it doom to the Republican party to political irrelevance?

I say 'yes', but I've had people disagree with me on this. CK and other conservatives argue that the way for the Republicans to win the next election is to migrate further to the right, not try to take the middle ground back from the Democrats. This simply can't work, though.

The further right you retreat, the more voters you separate yourself from. You need to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum to win, not a core elite.

Since I like making diagrams, I made a diagram to explain my point:

This is what the American electorate looks like. There are clumps that are die-hard Democrats and committed Republicans and never vote any differently. Then there are the undecided voters - the ones who actually get to pick the next president. As you can see, they're largely moderate, but definitely have a bias to the right.

Here's what last year's elections probably looked like. The blue is the Democratic 'position' and how many voters in encompassed. The red is the Republican position.

In any given election, a party's policies can only appeal to a certain 'stretch' of these voters. Last year, the Democrats had a fairly liberal agenda, but appealed to just enough undecided voters to achieve victory.

The Republicans started out fairly moderate and retreated further to the right (with the selection of Sarah Palin as Vice Presidential candidate, and by forcing McCain to back down on certain principles) and this alienated some of the moderates - costing them the election.

If the Republicans retreated even further to the right, here's what will happen in 2012: They'll lose.

The further right they go, the further they retreat from those undecided voters - and they aren't making up the shortfall anywhere else. Conservatives don't vote Democrat; by appealing more to the core of the conservative movement, you're not winning any more support. You're actually losing it.

The only way this tactic can work is if the electoral layout of America dynamically changes - if voters themselves become more right-wing. That's certainly a possibility (a dark, terrifying possibility) but it won't happen by 2012.

Instead of adjusting something they can control - their policies - the Republicans are relying on changing something they can't control - the will of the general population. This is a recipe for failure, every time.

Instead, Republicans should head back towards the center - to soften their rhetoric on controversial policies (like abortion and the war) and strengthen their resolve on the issues that they have majority support on (like small government and low taxation.)

What would this result in? I think it would look something like this:

By shifting slightly further to the middle - and not much, because American voters naturally have a bias towards the right - the Republicans could put themselves in a position that it would be damn near impossible for the Democrats to oust them from.

But the loudest voices in the party present - conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh - are too stupid to realize this. They're willing to sacrifice political victory in order to preserve 'ideological purity' and as long as they continue to do that, America belongs to the Democrats.


ck said...

You are wrong though.

John McCain is the most 'middle of the road' Republican we have... he STILL lost.

Ronald Reagan had it right. Solidify your base and you win. If you don't have your base, and John McCain didn't, you lose.

The only taboo item in those 10 is the DOMA. In today's political climate, I believe Reagan would have supported all ten. You can't really compare his polices then to now on some of those. It has been 20+ years.

Roland Hulme said...

Hey CK,

Regan failed on the Defense of Marriage Act and immigration - he was the one who brought in a lot of the immigration reforms Bush and the Republicans are trying to back track on.

Here's my problem with your theory - and as a conservative, you'll be able to tell me if I've got a point or not.

When it came to the 2008 election, you thought McCain was too moderate. But you'd still have voted for him, even if Palin hadn't come on board - right?

Because even though he's moderate, he's the Republican candidate and refusing to vote for him was, basically, 'giving' a vote to the Democrats.

This is why I feel that moving to the middle is the only hope for the Republicans. The far right are always going to support the Republican party over the Democrats - they might 'say' they won't vote for a moderate candidate, but I don't believe they'd ever make good on that threat - because if they don't vote, the risk letting the Democrats win (The 'McCain' devil you know is always a better bet than the 'Obama' one you don't.)

The only way your theory works is if a SIGNIFICANT number of Republicans REALLY don't vote for moderate candidates - but who else would they vote for? Or do they not vote at all?

You tell me, since you're the person in that position. I'm just assuming that they WOULD vote Republican, even if they're not happy about it - because if you're not voting Republican, you're basically voting Democrat.

Occasional Professor Tom said...

Well, first of all, I'm not sure that any of those principles is particularly controversial in today's political climate. This is a fairly big tent platform, IMO.

I pretty much agree with everything but retaining the DOMA that Clinton signed. And I suspect that's because I'm more open-minded about gay marriage than the average American--- it's failed every time it's gone up for a vote.

The problem with your theory is that it assumes the pool of voters is fixed; that's not the case.

To me, it seems likely that there is a vast pool of independents that are motivated by excitement more than ideals. When the Republicans got excited about Reagan, so did the Independents. When the Dems got all tingly for Obama, so did the Independent. When nobody's excited, the middle stays home.

If that's the case, then the right strategy is to try and find candidates that can excite the base. Independents do not donate money to a campaign, nor do they work to help get out the vote... that's what partisans do, and you need those partisans to convince the independents.

An interesting thing about American politics is that there are more Conservatives than Republicans, but more Democrats than Liberals/Progressives. This makes running to the right a far more reasonable strategy than running to the left.

(Then there's also the fact that it's easier to run right than run left. A photo-op in a church is a non-brainer; a photo-op in assless pants at a gay pride rally is a bit more complicated.)

Occasional Professor Tom said...

Roland -

Relevant) I wasn't as excited by McCain as I was Bush in 04. I had a W bumper-sticker, but no McCain one... and I think that was true for many people.

Irrelevant) There's a new "The Middleman" comic out, that continues the TV series.

Roland Hulme said...

Relevant: In '04, even I supported Bush as Kerry's entire campaign seemed to be based on 'vote for me, I'm not Bush.'

Irrelevant: Oh my God, that's AWESOME. I'm googling it now.

I have admit, as usual you do present an infuriatingly REASONABLE argument backed up by annoying FACTS and grumble, grumble LOGIC. Quit doing that!

ck said...

My vote for McCain was totally dependent on his VP choice. Be it Palin or another. Had it been a 'moderate' I would have not voted for him.

MILLIONS of Republican's stayed home in 08.

Occasional Professor Tom said...

Sorry. Should I bore you with tales of Verilog instead? I did just design my own CPU for fun, and made it compute the Fibbonaci sequence.

Random thought: Had Bush stuck to those Republican principles, we'd probably have a Republican in the White House right now. Well, depending on if they could have done things like reformed home loans in a sane manner.

The new Middleman book is: The Middleman: The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse. The other bundle, "The Collected Series Indispensibility" is also being reprinted, and is worth getting.

ck said...

Lets not forget the obvious as well. This country, will be a lot more conservative in 2030 than it is now.

Us folks on the right are making babies at a much greater clip than those on the left. 'Conservative' is the biggest ideological group in the nation.

ck said...

You left one thing out. When the Republican's got excited about Bush... so did the middle.

We tend to forget that in 04 it was a SHOCKER that Bush won again.

Roland Hulme said...

So the only way to beat conservatism is to get liberals 'makin' babies' around the clock?

Hmmmm. This presents problems - not least of which, part of the liberal demographic doesn't make 'lifestyle choices' that result in the natural conception of babies.

Also, a liberal baby tidal-wave would create a shortage of cloth diapers, granola bars and bioorganic, fair trade-approved, renewable sourced wooden crib toys.

Tom - I am too innocent to know what the Fibonacci sequence is, but it sounds RUDE. Or delicious. Is it pasta in a creamy sauce? Time to Wiki, I think.

Occasional Professor Tom said...

CK, I wrote:

"To me, it seems likely that there is a vast pool of independents that are motivated by excitement more than ideals."

So maybe that's not as explicit, but 04 was certainly part of what I was thinking of.

ck said...

Also, a liberal baby tidal-wave would create a shortage of cloth diapers, granola bars and bioorganic, fair trade-approved, renewable sourced wooden crib toys.

Only if they aren't a bunch of hipocrites like Al Gore. Lets be real, only the super left do such things. Most liberals do not care about any of that, they just don't go 'right' because the 'right' still stands for family values (even with our own skeletons in the closet).

Roland Hulme said...

Can I just say that technically I must be right because I have pretty graphs. Pretty graphs are very important. I know. Fox News told me.

Occasional Professor Tom said...

I do not post my graphs here, because:

1) People pay me ridiculous amount of money to make them graphs.

2) My graphs will BLOW YOUR MIND.

1 may follow from 2, of course.

Case in point: I gave a Powerpoint slide show on Monday. I used a picture of The Middleman and Wendy Watson to represent the middlemen we'd be having to deal with. I got a 50% raise.

Occasional Professor Tom said...

Oh, and for those of you who haven't bought the The Middleman comics yet, the complete bundle will be on sale for $20 on Black Friday.

Roland Hulme said...

Tom - Do you prefer 'Graph Master' or 'Master of the Graph'?

Susanne said...

Your graphs are lovely.

I am conservative, and I did NOT vote for McCain/Palin simply because they were not Obama/Biden. I, in fact, "wasted" my vote and voted for a third-party candidate. I don't like Obama and hate having him as Pres, but I wasn't excited *at all* about McCain. It was a loss/loss situation for me, but I did vote.

I know of others like me. Die-hard conservative women who voted third-party candidates because they didn't find either main-party candidate a winner.

On that note, happy Thanksgiving!