The GOP’s leading candidate for the White House has staked out a position that ties autism to vaccines. None of the candidates have firmly supported action in response to climate change and almost all of them express doubt that it’s real. All of the leading candidates have taken a hardline stance on illegal immigration and even expressed skepticism on legal immigration. Republican Presidential candidates are tripping over each other to grab the most extreme conceivable positions against abortion, gun control, and culture war compromises. Unsurprisingly, not a single one them has a credible path to the White House.
Previous posts have laid out a potential roadmap toward a saner, more politically relevant Republican future. Some might view that roadmap with skepticism in light of the party’s apparent mood. Perhaps the party could modernize its positions on a host of issues to attract new voters, but what are we supposed to do about the current Republican base? How can you hope to win new voters in new geographies and demographics while today’s Republicans are screaming their insistence on an ever more insane political agenda?
Here’s a little known fact that might surprise a lot of people, especially people who have been working in Republican politics for the past decade or so. Republicans are not crazy. In fact, Republican voters are no more bizarre or outrageous than their peers on the Democratic side. This crop of candidates is not just out of touch with public opinion in the country, they are out of touch with public opinion among Republican voters.
How we came to this strange state of affairs is a subject explored in detail by The Politics of Crazy. The book also offers some explanation of the forces that led to Republicans being more influenced by our crazy extremists than the Democrats, at least for now. In summary, the wildest extremes of the conservative movement have been driving the Republican Party because they have enjoyed better organization, stronger personal involvement, and higher levels of motivation. The good news is that they are wildly unpopular, even inside the GOP. Checking the rise of the far right in the GOP will be like kicking down a rusty door. Someone just needs to decide to do it.
Laying the groundwork to support a modernization of the GOP through institutional steps like creating new think tanks and donor networks will be critical. Those steps are described in previous posts. With that infrastructure in place there’s really nothing to stand in the way of reality-based Republicans in their campaigns for sane policy. The wildly extreme Republican policy templates we hear discussed in public are surprisingly unpopular even among Republican voters. When it comes to a more rational, nationally relevant Republican Party, the old adage holds true: Build it, and they will come.
Polls indicate that most Republican voters favor every single one of the following political positions vehemently opposed by nearly all of our leading candidates:
– Avoiding a government shutdown over funding for Planned Parenthood
– Background checks for private gun sales
– A federal database to track all gun sales
– The details of Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration (so long as Obama’s name isn’t attached to the plan)
– Federal subsidies for solar power
That’s not all. Remember Obama’s terrible, job-killing, unilateral actions to fight climate change? Those proposals are supported by 52% of Republicans – in South Carolina! In the same survey, almost 60% of South Carolina Republicans favor limits on carbon pollution. Most Republicans would be less likely to support a candidate who claims that climate change is a hoax.
A majority of Republicans under 45 and almost two thirds of Republicans under 30 support a right to same-sex marriage. Only a quarter of Republicans support the universal abortion bans proposed by our Presidential candidates.
Half of Republicans support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Less than a third of Republicans support the deportation plans being proposed by our leading candidates. Needless to say, an overwhelming majority of Republican voters disagree with our leading candidates and support mandatory vaccinations.
In order to appease the extreme far right, Republicans have endorsed an entire public platform that ranges from mildly unpopular, to patently insane. Very few of the most public elements of the Republican agenda enjoy majority support even among Republicans.
Inside the rightwing media bubble support for these positions is appears to be universal. That is a product of the better organization and funding enjoyed by the party’s extremes. But this is a manufactured unanimity, stage-managed via carefully limited access to media outlets. Provide credible channels for the rest of the Republican voting base to express their sincere opinions and the hollowness of that agenda will become readily apparent.
What happens to the Republican Party if the hardest of its hardline conservative base threatens to split away? There is no greater gift we could ask for. An independent, national Tea Party would rescue the GOP. We live in a two-party system. The Republican far-right is a wildly unpopular fringe that cannot even begin to compete politically anywhere outside the Deep South and few empty western states. An independent Tea Party, or some other fractured branch of far-right weirdoes would be a road to nowhere. Their departure would free Republicans to pursue sane, humane, market-oriented solutions to policy questions that could be remarkably popular all over the country.
There is no rationale for letting an unpopular political bloc set the policy agenda for the entire Republican Party. It’s time for someone to take an aggressive, unapologetic stand for a 21st century Republican platform.
Republicans have no candidates who represent the party’s sane majority because no one with enough courage has assembled the organizational base it would demand. That political space lays open, waiting to be developed into a successful movement. Build it, and they will come.