A Bold, New World View, Part 11- Regionalism Still Matters

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Read Part 6 here.

Read Part 7 here.

Read Part 8 here.

Read Part 9 here.

Read Part 10 here.

Who is the Democratic base? This has been the central debate between Hillary and Bernie supporters since 2016. Hillary supporters largely argued that women and African-Americans, and most specifically African-American women, as well as Latinos, made up the “base” of the Democratic Party. Bernie supporters argued that the base were the most feverish ideological leftists in the party. I think Hillary supporters were wrong only in being overly general. I think Bernie supporters are just wrong. The Hillary “base” is slightly too small, unequally distributed, and ignores regionalism. The Bernie coalition is just not a majority, and probably never will be.

I don’t believe either political party has what amounts to a national base. Different political issues animate different regions of the country, and the demographics change dramatically. Even within regions there can be dramatic shifts from places like North Philadelphia to suburban Willow Grove, just minutes into the suburbs. Democrats can’t “nationalize” the question of their base. To be fair, Republicans can’t either, even though their demographic of voter is mostly the same everywhere.

Hillary’s defined base worked well enough to win the nomination, largely because it worked in the South. Hillary had a lot of success in 2008 in the west by winning the Latino base there. Hillary walloped President Obama in the Rust Belt states because she won the “labor/working class” demographic, the same people she lost badly to both Bernie and Trump in 2016. Every region of the country has it’s own “base Democratic” voting block. There are overlapping issues of economic fairness and access to opportunity, but the animating issues change. Labor issues are huge in Wisconsin, but voting rights are huge in Georgia. I can’t imagine a Democratic nominee opposed to either one, but the fight at this point seems to be over which set of issues get to be center stage.

What about the Republican Party though? Right-wing populism dominates in Appalachia and the South, energy issues in Texas and much of the Plains and Southwest, while tax cuts in the North. Rather than fighting over whether the tax cuts for their Northeast donors should take precedence over union busting in Wisconsin, or a border wall for Arizona and Kentucky, they just say all of the above. If their Wyoming Congresswoman wants to talk guns and energy exploration while their Massachusetts Governor talks tax cuts, they’re fine. A national nominee from the GOP will be expected to cut taxes, appoint conservatives to the judiciary, spend on the military, protect gun rights, and be tough on immigration- even though these positions make no sense together at times.

Regionalism also does a lot to explain elected official behavior too. Bernie Sanders famously was less tough on gun manufacturers than Hillary fans wanted. Cory Booker is more pharma friendly than many Midwestern members of Congress, but many of them are friendly towards agribusiness in a way he doesn’t have to be. Members of Congress represent the people who elect them, in fact all elected officials do. For that reason, almost no one has a 100% partisanship score in Congress. It would be nice to be ideologically pure, but most American voters aren’t ideological.

It is a fun, but almost always overlooked fact that the United States has no national election. Even Presidential elections are really 50 individual state elections (plus DC), where you have to win the electoral college, not the popular vote. Inevitably, the concerns of your district or state will occasionally trump the ideological concerns of your party. If you want to stay in office very long, you’d be best to hear that warning.

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The Day After Kavanaugh

The Republican Party is essentially made up of two groups- Evangelicals and traditionalists. The organizing principle that guides them is pretty simple too- the government has forced social change on society that they don’t want. To the Republican Party, they’ve done that through two vehicles- taxation and spending policy, and the courts. This has guided Republican Party policy and politics from Richard Nixon to today, and it is the way to understand the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and even the Trump Presidency.

To the core conservative in America, there is no bad tax cut, nor is there a good spending program that doesn’t benefit *them.* Courts shouldn’t extend new rights to *other* people, or force societal change. Progress should be limited, and it shouldn’t infringe on their lives. You can live here, but on their terms. The traditional societal order should be maintained.

Many of us on the left seem shocked that conservatives have accepted Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh. We seemed caught off guard when Mitch McConnell blew up every norm in the Senate to stop Merrick Garland. I even hear the phrase thrown around, “the Republicans will do this to America just for their tax cuts and judges?” Of course they will. That is the point. Stop government activism. Stop the courts from ordering change. Stop the Congress from giving away *their* tax dollars. If that means getting into bed with imperfect people, conservatives can accept that.

That is the backdrop with which one should view American politics moving forward. Brett Kavanaugh will either be confirmed or not, but we will move forward somehow, and *that* is what will motivate Republicans to move heaven and earth to pass tax cuts and confirm judges. If there is some deep, terrible flaw in a candidate for office, but they will do the things this base wants, they’re going to vote for them. It is fair to assume the treatment that Garland received, and the support that Kavanaugh is getting, are the new norm.

Sometime this week, the Kavanaugh situation will be resolved. Don’t think the politics behind it will be too.

And What Will Become of Them?

In the days since John McCain’s funeral there have been two pressing questions: what will become of the (former) Republican “Establishment” and who will represent it? In the era of Donald Trump, who will take up McCain’s cause and fight to make America a leader in the world order, while upholding the cause of mainstream conservatism at home? What Republican will be the “maverick” that makes deals in the Senate, such as McCain-Feingold? Who among the Republicans will be the check on Trump’s wilder impulses, as McCain was on repealing the Affordable Care Act and opposing the cozying up of this White House to Putin’s Russia? There is some hope for Ben Sasse to serve that purpose. There is a sense that Mitt Romney could serve in that role, assuming he is elected to the Senate this Fall.

My honest assessment is that the real answer to these questions is no one, and that the GOP of McCain that we all imagine, it no longer exists. You can hope that a McSally, Romney, Sasse, or whoever else you want will be the savior, but you’ll probably be disappointed. We have seen would-be critics from Lindsey Graham to Marco Rubio, all the way over to Ted Cruz, all fold like cheap suits. We have seen Republicans with the spine to fight back, the Jeff Flakes and Bob Corkers of the world, end up falling in line when it’s time to vote, and choose to retire, rather than take Trump on. Even Rand Paul loves Russia now. Those who choose to fight Trump, like Mark Sanford, end up decimated in Trump’s wake. Maybe Mitt Romney will choose to fight Trump on a couple of issues, but it won’t be any real, constant resistance. As much as we have romanticized the McCain-Trump feud, it only existed on select political issues. It’s not as though McCain opposed Gorsuch, or voted against tax cuts.

There’s a reason George W. Bush is off painting pictures and John Boehner is driving on some highway singing “Zippidy Doo-Dah” for Labor Day– the Republican Party created a monster it’s old guard can’t control. From Ronald Reagan’s racist overtones of launching his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi to Dubbya running against gay marriage in 2004, the GOP stoked the flames of closet racism to win elections for a couple of generations and wondered how Trump happened. Paul Ryan’s talk of “makers and takers” and Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan beating on “welfare queens” created a sense of victimization in the GOP base. You can’t absolve the last couple of generations of Republican leaders for the current state of the party. With the rare exception of McCain, the rest of the GOP refused to tamp down the fires of birtherism during the first African-American Presidency.

I will grant the generation of McCain, the Bush Family, and the Doles that I think they were by and large above the real grotesque racism and bigotry that currently rules the GOP. I think Trump largely does disgust them. While I think they were complicit in creating the conditions for Trump, I agree that they couldn’t foresee this. Even so, the Trump movement is having no mercy on their brand of Republicanism. History will largely show them being overrun by it.

The reason that old-line conservatism is losing to Trumpism is because Trumpism is actually who their base always was. All the talk of “small government” and neoconservative war didn’t mean what they thought it meant to their base. The culture wars of God, gays, and guns wasn’t just a ploy to the Republican base. Men like Donald Trump knew that, while Mitt Romney did not. In the face of a more global, more diverse, more intellectual world, a huge chunk of America wanted someone like Donald Trump- someone who would oppose feminism, “the browning” of America, campus intellectuals, and an America that didn’t seem to value “their” way of life anymore. The motivating factor in conservative politics is stopping the liberal vision of America’s future. Nothing more, nothing less. If it takes giving rich people tax cuts to secure the funding for electoral victories that give them conservative judges and a White House that halts the changing world, the Republican base will take it. They will endure lies, corruption, and hypocrisy to defeat the liberal vision of America. Donald Trump promised them to reverse the Obama course in absolute, culture driven terms, and he didn’t dog-whistle about it. That’s why he owns the GOP now.

So as I said above, there is no new McCain coming, to the extent there ever was one. The “Republican Establishment” is dead, to the extent it ever existed, and it stands no chance against the blue-collar, white politics of Trumpism. What will become of them? At best, not much. At worst, ruin. One can hope the GOP’s future is the “younger” Republican libertarian ideals, which at least give lip service to a less bigoted party. I’m not betting the house on that right now.

Real America, Re-Visited

Yesterday, the New York Times put out an interactive map of the 2016 Election, broken out down to the precinct level. While some critics have noted how the map doesn’t depict population density or the “swing” of the districts, I find the map to be very fascinating and useful, particularly for understanding the basic structural contours of America and it’s politics.

The most basic thing the map accurately depicts is the biggest problem Democrats have- while they may make up a plurality of the electorate, they all live together, which doesn’t work in a federal republic. It’s great that we can win California by a couple of million votes, but it doesn’t really do us much good winning Presidential elections. We win blue districts by 60%+, and still only get that one seat. They win an exurban seat by 20% or less and it’s a wash. You can only really draw so many seats in San Francisco.

What also stands out to me is in how much of the country we are simply uncompetitive. Sure, Republicans are nearly non-existent in urban areas now, but they’ll take that trade when they dominate nearly the entire Midwest and Appalachian Trail states. This split of the country probably insures a long-term Senate dominance, and it tends to reinforce itself at the House level. A Democratic caucus so entrenched in urban America is a Democratic Party that in turn tends to move left on issues, making itself uncompetitive with voters who aren’t from their base.

Democratic operatives are largely unprepared to run elections in the nation that is. They understand statistics and data, but really don’t understand margins. They’ve figured out that a huge portion of a Democratic candidates votes will come out of cities, and that it’s easier and cheaper to get votes in base areas, but they’ve failed to understand that even a huge city like Philadelphia can’t carry Pennsylvania when they lose by dramatic margins everywhere else. It’s very clear when you look at Philadelphia and Detroit that the politics make a stark change the minute you cross the city line.

American elections are, and will continue to be won in suburbia, at all levels. If there aren’t enough city-based blue seats for Democrats to form a majority, and the rural areas are too far gone politically, then the only pathway forward for Democrats to win legislative majorities and win statewide victories are the suburban voters. One of the most alarming things about Trump’s Pennsylvania victory in 2016 was just how well he did in Northeast Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, and even in some of the Philadelphia exurbs. While the “Main Line” area became more blue, Eastern Lancaster County, Berks County, Northampton and Monroe Counties all moved in the wrong direction. This will have to reverse itself for the Democrats to win the House in 2018.

The question Democrats have to ask themselves moving forward is who are the voters they are going to pick up, and what kind of message is going to get it done? The good news for the national party- I see hope in the South. There may not be a more geographically sustained “blue” strain on the entire map than the one running from the Mississippi River towns across the Deep South all the way to Georgia and the Carolinas. There are systemic reasons this region hasn’t produced majorities for Democrats- voter suppression, gerrymandering, voter apathy, and resources to run campaigns- but the future could be bright here. If Democrats continue to fight for voting rights and move forward embracing their base, perhaps the Deep South may be the one region where current electoral trends break well for Democrats.

Ultimately though, electoral trends should scare Democrats. Even if the Deep South moves towards Democrats, that will not offset the negative trends in other regions. The Rust Belt is already a swing area where Trump did very well. New England isn’t safe either. Republicans hold the Governor’s mansions in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine, and the Governor’s mansion and legislature in New Hampshire. Donald Trump won an electoral vote in Maine, and narrowly missed carrying Maine and New Hampshire, on the whole. Minnesota narrowly avoided joining Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania as states that flipped. If all of these states continue to trend Republican, the Senate could disappear for a long time, and the electoral college will crush the emerging majorities in the “big blue” states. With the House having a natural bias against cities in the first place, this will kill the party.

On a final note, the most alarming thing about this map was looking at my own “neighborhood” here on the “enlightened” East Coast. Here in the first county over the stateline from “blue” New Jersey, Donald Trump more than just carried the county- he won some places that Republicans usually don’t win. He won places that don’t look and seem like “Trump Country.” While he didn’t really infiltrate Allentown, Bethlehem, or Easton, he made large sections of Northampton and Lehigh Counties solid red. He won seemingly tolerant suburban neighborhoods. The results of 2017 county elections in the region suggested some movement away from him, but it remains to be seen about the long term electoral trends.

Donald Trump is the Republican Voter, Jeff Flake is Not.

I like Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ). I don’t agree with him on particularly much, but I think he cares about the country, has principles, and tries to represent his constituents. He’s conservative, but genuine. If he tries to primary Donald Trump in 2020, he will get humiliated.

There is a type of Republican, one that mostly lives inside the DC Beltway, who thinks the GOP is a principles party, and not an identity one. I think they’re slowly realizing they’re wrong, as is evidenced by Senators Corker and Graham mostly falling in line behind Trump. They think all of their winning from 2009 to 2017 was about limited government and tax cuts. They thought the party firmly supported free trade. Time and events are slowly showing them though, that was never what all of this was about.

Donald Trump is the Republican base voter. Old, white, bigoted, sexist, and hated by elites. Editorial pages, Generals, political leaders, and all sorts of other intellectuals hate him. Economists and diplomats think he’s wrong. They don’t care. He’s angry. He’s xenophobic. He was willing to hit Hillary. He mocked all opponents, from Senators to cripples. He talks tough about starting wars. He’s willing to isolate America and pull out of diplomatic agreements. He tells them he’ll bring back “the good ole’ days.” He tells them they’re the best, without quantifying that in any way.

It’s true that Donald Trump won the primary without a majority of Republican votes. If you add the votes up for other, similar but less authentic versions of Trump though (Cruz, Carson, Huckabee, etc.) and compare them to the votes for the Kasich, Rubio, Jeb “moderate” types though, it’s no comparison. The GOP base prefers a Trump-esque version of itself. It’s why their voters fell in line. It’s why their members of Congress fall in line now.

At the depths of George W. Bush’s fall from grace, he had about 30% support in public polling. At his worst, Donald Trump has been similar. Contrast that with Trump’s 46% Election Day 2016 showing, Mitt Romney’s 47%, McCain’s 46%, and even Bush’s 2000 48%. It’s clear that about two-thirds of the GOP voters are willing to publicly and openly support the GOP at it’s worst. The other third are who Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse think the GOP actually is. They’re mistaken.

I was having a conversation with friends today, and they made the point that Trump’s unconventional style defies logic, particularly pointing out his attacks on John McCain for being a POW and attacking the Pope. I made the point that it made perfect sense if you know their voter. The two-thirds majority of the GOP hate McCain for being the “Beta Cuck” who lost to Obama. They hate Pope Francis for embracing the poor and weak, or the “losers.” I said it made strategic sense to me. The Trump team knew their audience.

I think a Jeff Flake primary challenge to Donald Trump would be a waste of his time. He will get crushed. The GOP is quite literally who Donald Trump is, and not who Flake is. He may want a return to the party of Jim Baker and Colin Powell, but that party is dead and gone.