Overall, 2012 was a bad year for our side politically. Sure, there were bright spots (Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, some state legislatures) but for the most part, we got skunked. This diary is not going to attempt to diagnose what went wrong or assign blame; scapegoating is an exercise in futility. Instead, over the next few weeks, I intend to publish a series of posts breaking down the Democrat coalition and offer Republican strategies to fight back.
Like many on this website I consider myself conservative first and Republican second, but history (and Duverger’s law) suggest that for better or worse, in a republican democracy, two parties are inevitable. And as a party, the Republicans have much in the way of political capital that, if used effectively, could go a long way towards promoting conservatism. So given the adversarial nature of mainstream political parties, I think it’s important for us to be aware of how “the enemy” operates.
Even though most Republicans don’t agree on everything, it can still be said that the Republican coalition is rooted in ideology. Reagan spoke of the three-legged stool of conservatism, consisting of limited-government proponents, values voters, and big-stick foreign policy types. While there is often overlap between these ideologies, for all intents and purposes they are each separate ideologies. Additional coalition members include budget hawks and business interests, who can generally be united under the term “fiscal conservatives” as they prioritize the economy. Again, while these factions have different priorities, they can still be said to be ideological, as those priorities are all centered on a broad, value-laden idea about how government should be run.
The same cannot be said of the Democrat coalition. The Democrats are a patronage-based collective machine that amasses votes by doling out policies and gifts to groups, true masters of identity politics. A macro version of the big city machines from the gilded age, the Democrat Party is skilled at uniting single-issue voters, identity groups, special interests, and the occasional ideological faction under its tent, all with the promise of a targeted payoff. It is a broad coalition with several member groups, each of which work together to keep the Democrat Party well-oiled, so as to accomplish their main goal of beating the Republicans.
I don’t have to remind you how vulnerable this leaves us during nasty Presidential primaries, where our competing ideologies form circular firing squads that make uniting afterwards difficult. In 2012 for instance, our factions split on ideological grounds with fiscal conservatives pushing Romney, limited-government types backing Paul, values voters backing Santorum, and foreign policy types favoring Gingrich. Compare that to the Democrats in 2008. Even though it was a nasty primary and a lot of their factions split their support, uniting afterwards was easy because neither Obama nor Clinton deviated from each other on patronage promises.
Because of these fundamental differences, we need to focus on how to break the Democrat machine. As Newt Gingrich put it in a recent Human Events article, “as a general rule, machines beat campaigns.” The Republicans have the political capital to fight back. As Congress is divided, it is unlikely that many substantive policies, especially partisan-tinged ones, will pass. Thus, most policy recommendations will be directed at state level Republicans. In addition to policy, I also intend to recommend overall strategies for targeting each piece of the machine, focusing heavily on undermining, co-opting, and retrenching, depending upon the group. And as no one can reasonably expect to get 100% of what they want, 100% of the time, possible bargains will likewise be included. Sometimes we need to be strategic and let some issues go. I’m not calling for us to abandon our principles and (despite my own political opinions,) I’m not advocating throwing any current coalition group under the bus. I’m merely advocating that we start playing smart with the resources we have.
In my next post, the first coalition member I will be addressing is private sector unions.