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The Collapse of the GOP and the Coming Realignment (Part III)

By Colonel V. Doner
May 01, 1997
Soon, sometime soon, the elites of the Republican Party had better find the courage to speak for the values of the people whose votes they count on Election Day. My sense is, from traveling around the country, that the patience level is gone. Not another four-year cycle of this. Catch on now, GOP, or suffer the consequences. — Family Research Council President GARY BAUER, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, December 1996
We may be moving into the nadir of the Republican- Democratic party system. — Republican demographer Kevin Philips, Late November 1996
As evangelicals have gained political maturity and experience, they have solidified themselves as a recognizable power block, closely linked with, yet not sheepishly beholden to, the Republican party. Yet they remain dissatisfied with the results. This pair of factors is precisely the combination needed to motivate a large social movement: people must be dissatisfied with the current situation but must also believe that, by acting, they can change it. — Bruce Barron, Heaven on Earth, 139

To foresee the coming realignment we must first examine the rapidly shifting loyalties within the Republican party. As friction accelerates between various camps, the dynamics of realignment will, I believe, inevitably lead to a new third force in American politics. The only unknown will be the precise form it will take. As previously noted, the GOP establishment is composed of its old liberal Eastern core melded together with a new infusion of neo-conservatives (Right-wing secular social democrats), libertarians and business types. Establishmentarians like George Bush, Sr., Bob Dole, William Weld, Christine Whitman, George Pataki, and Pete Wilson are the spiritual heirs of the watered-down Social Democrat "New Dealism" practiced by their liberal predecessors like Wilkie, Dewey, Ike, Gerald Ford, Everett Dirksen and Bob Michael. These "country-club" Republicans basically concur with secular statists that government "is the answer" but that it can be run more efficiently and on a tighter budget. Its growth should be slowed not reversed. The welfare state should be fine tuned, not abolished.

The new partners in the GOP governing coalition (the neo-conservatives) are represented by names like Kemp, Bennet, Forbes, Gramm and George Bush, Jr. The tie that binds these factions is economic, but two groups of elitists do not a victory make. So, the new partners in the GOP establishment have had to rely upon attracting a polyglot alliance of "independents" or "swing voters": Southern Democrats, Northern ethnics, small business people and professionals, conservative Roman Catholics and of course, evangelicals, to fuel its empty tanks. Most of these voters (especially Southern Evangelicals) are recent defectors from the Democratic Party: they are the 15% of the national electorate which first followed Alabama Governor George Wallace out the two-party door in 1968 and who in 1996 defiantly proclaimed their unwillingness to settle for warmed-over Republican New-Dealism by casting their lot with Perot, Buchanan and even Bill Clinton. They are "America First" Populists. In the intervening three decades since 1968, a critical shift took place in electoral dynamics, greatly strengthening the populist coalition: Evangelicals representing a full 20% of the electorate became increasingly active, waking up from their fifty-year dispensational/separatist stupor. It is this massive voting block (America Firsters and Evangelicals), estimated at about one third of all voters, that awarded the GOP their winning margin in 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1994. The defection of these same voters deprived the GOP of victory in 1976, 1992 and 1996. In 1976, Southerners and Evangelicals went for fellow Evangelical Jimmy Carter over a puppet of the GOP's Eastern establishment, the quasi-comatose Gerald Ford. Consider: Carter's essentially populist strategy carried all the old Goldwater states with the exception of Barry's home state Arizona, which Carter replaced with a far bigger plum, the normally Republican, but heavily populist state of Texas! Again, in 1992, after stomaching four years of centrist swill dished out by the affable but clueless Bush, enough of the populist vote defected to Perot (almost 20% of all votes cast) to award Bush the dubious distinction of being the first GOP sitting President to be defeated at the polls since 1932. Deserted by a resounding 25% of Republican voters, his final vote tally was actually 2% less than the infamous Hoover. Finally, someone rescued Herbert Hoover from his solitary seat in Republican Hell as the world's all time-loser. As Kevin Phillips noted of the '92 debacle: "The Republican Coalition crumbled in two directions: . . . Clinton tore off one crumbled chunk and ex-Republican-turned-populist Perot ripped off another."

Acting as the ultimate political "spoiler" in 1996, this populist powerhouse once again denied the GOP the presidency. First they surged behind Buchanan, providing his campaign with unanticipated momentum until foiled by an unprecedented united front of opposition from the GOP establishment and a deadly stealth attack on their right flank in South Carolina by Dole covert political operative Ralph Reed. With their preferred standard-bearer gunned down, they broke in a mostly unpredictable pattern: hard core-Christian activists holding their nose and voting for Dole, a shocking 36% of all evangelical voters casting their votes to re-elect the "family values President" (who ran a populist-oriented campaign far to the Right of the outmaneuvered and tongue-tied Dole), and many simply staying home. But two thirds of this bloc (20% of the electorate) ended up almost evenly split between Ross Perot with 10,000,000 votes and Clinton with a like number, just enough to provide him the whopping 49% of the popular vote he needed to win. The vital thing for us to understand is that in numerous swing states the Perot vote clearly cost Dole his winning margin. For instance, in conservative/populist states like Florida, Arizona, Kentucky and Tennessee, Perot voters deprived Dole of his margin of victory while simultaneously re-electing staunch conservatives to the House and Senate. If you "back-in" Perot's totals to Dole's in these states, Dole garners 263 electoral votes to Clinton's 277 (270 needed to win). However, a switch of less than 15,000 votes in two states, New Hampshire and Delaware easily accomplished if Evangelicals had been motivated to turn out and vote would have given the Republicans the requisite 270 electoral votes to win versus 268 for Mr. Bill!

In key counties of the heartland states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio) that produced Clinton's winning margins, the amazing fact is that our lout of a President gained no more votes than Dukakis or Carter when they went down in flames, vanquished by Reagan and Bush! What happened in '96 is that 17% of conservative Roman Catholic strongholds that had joined the Reagan Revolution stayed loyal to the themes Reagan struck and voted en masse for Perot. Contrary to the popular perception, Perot's vote came almost exclusively from former Reagan voters and the defectors were more than sufficient to kill off whatever slim chance Dole might have had.

Clearly this force which the GOP thought it had harnessed to pull a new GOP realignment has eluded them.

Common Interests

What commonalties hold these rather divergent members of this populist bloc together? A concern for inflation (and job security) to be sure, but as the Gallop Poll recently noted, an overwhelming majority are concerned with the cultural and moral deterioration that liberalism has nurtured and that is now taking its toll on our streets and in our schools. Crime, sex and violence on TV, drugs, and teen pregnancy, are driving issues. Their children aren't safe, let alone educated, in school and, they're not safe on their own streets. Mostly though, this archetypal slice of America is beset by a diffused yet rising anxiety over the relentless crumbling of the cultural foundations that formerly preserved their families from the ravages of the nihilistic social Darwinism now rearing its ugly head in their local communities.

In the classic pattern of American populism, this huge group of disaffected voters has learned to distrust bureaucracy in all its many manifestations: big government, big business, big labor, big media, etc. They tend to resent both the very rich and the perpetually poor based on their dislike for what they correctly suspect is a Federal wealth redistribution scheme that favors both the wealthy (in terms of subsidies and tax breaks) and the voluntarily indigent (in terms of a self-perpetuating welfare system). They reject the notion that exporting American jobs to Third World countries while importing millions of (mostly illegal) aliens represents justice for those at home or abroad. They recognize that affirmative action is racism, feminism is sexism, and political correctness is the laughably desperate attempt of a decadent and dissipating liberal overclass to hang on to power.

The GOP "moderates" were able to domesticate the social conservative-populist dynamic as long as they availed themselves of an unwitting front man like Ronald Reagan who was entirely manipulated by the fearsome foursome: Chief of Staffs Don Regan and Jim Baker and Deputies Darman and Deaver (and of course the astrology queen herself, The Former First Lady), or a "fellow traveler" like George Bush who employed speech writers and "liaison" staff to manipulate conservative "value symbols." Then Buchanan called the hierarchy's bluff. That Mr. Buchanan represented an implicit threat to their ability to manipulate this vote (for the first time here was the real thing a populist social conservative fire-eating warrior who meant business) was verified by the exceptional speed at which neo-conservatives like Bennett, Kemp and Kristol condemned Buchanan in order to head off a barbarian invasion of their just-won neo-establishment estates. The cause of Buchanan's waterloo was two-fold: being undercut by a supposed ally the Christian Coalition (more about this later) and playing by the enemy's rules. By staying within the GOP fold Buchanan gave the power to beltway patriots to call the shots. And shoot they did. Metaphorically, Buchanan was executed by the Beltway political machine for activities unbecoming a GOP corporate lackey: consorting with America's Firsters, Bible Belters, Populists and the lower classes. While the GOP manicured class was busy congratulating themselves for quashing the unclean forces of Populism, someone else noticed they had left both flanks exposed and ripe for picking. Our hero, the chameleon President, morphed himself into a full-fledged social conservative-family values populist and ran his support up by 10%. Incredibly between Clinton and Perot, the GOP campaign masterminds managed to blow off at least 20% of the 1996 electorate the same voters who faithfully followed the "Populist Path" from Wallace to Nixon to Reagan to . . . Clinton!

Clinton, the only candidate awake enough to look beyond his own pre-conceived notions to see what was actually happening outside the Beltway, quickly abandoned his own Left-of-center agenda in order to attract the populist vote the GOP had made a free agent by unnecessarily humiliating their standard bearer (Buchanan) and methodically eliminating every trace of their concerns (affirmative action, immigration, morality, abortion, crime, etc.) from the GOP's newly sanitized agenda. Clinton's pollsters quickly identified the 20% of the electorate considered "switch hitters" and, unlike their blind counterparts in the GOP, immediately seized on the appropriate "wedge" issue": America's moral decline, which scored a much higher level of interest in focus groups than Kemp's supply-side nostrums.

Thus it was that the GOP Fortune 500 agenda (sans social issues) went up against Clinton's formidable populist formulation: school uniforms, "v-chips," curfews, more cops on the street, a balanced budget, and welfare reform (most of which he lifted from the GOP without so much from them as a coherent protest). Did you hear or see Dole yell "thief" during the so-called debates? If this wasn't enough, Clinton finished off his Oscar-winning performance (in the dissumulation category) by wrapping himself in a family values cloak centered around the issue of "family leave time" for employees with ill family members. Then following his horrific endorsement of partial-birth abortions, he flooded Christian radio stations with spots portraying himself as "pro-life" while overwhelming the nation's TV viewers with the hands-down winner of the year's most blatantly cynical TV spot: "President Clinton protecting your values." Meanwhile Dole/Kemp droned on about 15% tax cuts, which probably helped solidify their base with the $100,000+ crowd. Guess which agenda was more apt to attract populist voters? According to exit polls an astounding 25% of self-described conservatives and an even larger percentage of "moderate" but "culturally conservative" voters succumbed to Clinton's strongly populist and values-oriented charade. In the final analysis, it appears Clinton won the Goldwater South and the conservative Roman Catholic vote in the North because these voters would rather gamble with a Democrat who at least pretends to be a populist as opposed to a secular/centrist carrying the GOP's big pro-business flag.

Why Social and Economic Conservatives Are Divorcing

Earlier in this series of essays I suggested that the GOP establishment seems to be more comfortable with secularists even rather liberal secularists than they do with Christian conservatives. By the same token, it appears we have more affinity with populist "cultural conservatives" than we do with the GOP establishment or even neo-cons, economic conservatives, etc. Let's examine why.

Many pundits postulate that we could all be one big happy family if we will just resist the temptation to "Christianize the party" but the conflict is much more complex. What's at issue here is two very different moral world views. This gap is fundamental to the science of governance (politics). For starters, our world view shapes our notions of education and crime, two of the biggest issues and budget items on the political agenda. It doesn't take a membership in Mensa to realize that all social policy and law is based on moral concepts held by the ruling elite, whether liberal Democrats or establishment Republicans. Clearly the context of this morality (and hence the resulting public policy) flows from certain presuppositions about God (does He exist?) and His law (is it applicable)? For example, public education a favorite of GOP candidates (i.e., George Bush, the "Education President") is based on the theory that children are born as good citizens and need only to be "educated" (in a values vacuum) and they will make all the right choices on their very own. Thus, there is no need for moral instruction or corporal discipline since both imply something is inherently wrong with the child (i.e., his sin nature). This is also why unbelievers have trouble with the concept of being born again when nothing was wrong the first time! If one adopts this sunnily optimistic view of man's nature as many Republicans do (following in the footsteps of Jefferson, Franklin, et al.) any remotely "moralistic agenda" seems suspect as an intrusive attempt at proselytization or enforced religious conformity (a la Iran).

Likewise our assumptions of the moral nature of man frame our position on criminal justice. Recently one of Clinton's policy advisors lamented, "We don't have the slightest idea what causes crime." As unbelievably stupid as this admission seems, it makes perfect sense from a humanist point of view. If men are born good, some mysterious unknown aberration must have turned them from their true nature (a la Darth Vader). Thus the answer is humanistic therapy at "correctional institutions" to correct "what went wrong." That is why liberals resist capital punishment so vehemently. It serves as a radically stark and finalistic judgment on the failure of all their rehabilitation schemes, based on their Enlightenment concept of man. While Republicans in general are well known for being "tough on crime," their reputation is largely undeserved. What "toughness" actually exists is usually driven by social issues of religious conservatives within the GOP not by the Jack Kemps or Bob Doles. Even when secular or economic conservatives agree to take a tough-on-crime stance it's a defensive reflex rather than a thoughtful policy rooted in a Christian understanding of man's nature. In GOP hands the weighty matters of "crime and punishment," even justice itself, often are treated as no more than a convenient wedge issue (e.g. George Bush's "Willie Horton" blitzkrieg on Dukakis).

Our world view also frames our approach to economic policy. In Jack Kemp's remarkably inane performance during the Vice Presidential debate (where he at least accomplished, by default, rehabilitating Dan Quayle's reputation as a debater), he stated his belief that all the world's evils had been "banished" (Nazism, Fascism, communism, apartheid) except one: poverty. Overflowing with enthusiasm, Kemp blathered repetitiously about full employment and prosperity (the imagined result of unfettered capitalism) being the panacea for solving all America's problems racial tension, crime, incivility (perhaps even low self-esteem!) and so on. Following in the philosophical footsteps of LBJ and his "war on poverty," Kemp's position would logically prioritize economic policy as the number-one solution to pursue in an attempt to remedy our most pressing social problems. This is precisely the course chosen by the economic conservatives that dominate the GOP; "grow the economy" is their constant refrain to banish forever the ills that beset us! That's why Kemp/Dole campaigned solely on a 15%-tax cut and left moral issues to Bill Clinton and his family-values advisor Dick Morris to sort out. Of course the Christian community as well as the populist/social conservative bloc realized that more jobs and prosperity are not the answer to the frighteningly rapid disintegration of the nation's moral fabric. (After all, drug dealers' violent tendencies don't seem to be noticeably ameliorated by their more than adequate income.) The entertainment business, awash in cash flow, seems to be more interested in destroying decency with each passing year, and Wall Street, with the Dow Jones at its all time high, shows little inclination to reclaim its early role as a moral pillar of the community.

Conversely, Christians realize that education, building more prisons (as opposed to restitution or the death penalty) or the government creating more vocational training programs or even jobs is not the answer. Men are fundamentally flawed morally; and when we act like they aren't, we create a school system that produces violence-prone imbeciles, a criminal justice system that creates more crime than it cures, and government-subsidized wealth redistribution programs that are as wasteful as they are immoral.

Thus it's unavoidable that when these crucial public-policy issues are debated, social and economic conservatives will approach them from two very different and ultimately very antagonistic world views. In perfect timing to illustrate the unbridgeable nature of this gap, a civil war has broken out within the Neo-Con camp over, of all things, moral issues. It seems Neo-Con Richard John Neuhaus had the termerity to invite several conservative Christian scholars (mostly Roman Catholic) but including several Protestants like Charles Colson, to dialogue on how to face an increasingly antagonistic culture. When the Christians suggested the government may be losing its moral legitimacy to govern a number of leading Neo-Cons (essentially conservative statists) walked out in a huff. The two camps then broke into open warfare even questioning each other's motives or sanity. If the Neo-Cons can't agree amongst themselves how do we expect to reconcile our even deeper disagreements with the antinomians?

ISSUE*

Christian Right

Populists

GOP Moderates

Neo-Cons/Libertarians

Liberal Democrats

Identify self as Christians

YES

YES

NO

NO

NO

Pro-Christian/Biblical Values

YES

YES

NO

NO

NO

Frequently attended Evangelical or Conservative Church

YES

YES

NO

NO

NO

Prioritize moral family issues

YES

YES

NO

NO

NO

Identify self as social conservative

YES

YES

NO

SOME

NO

Special protections for churches, Christian schools and Religious freedom

YES

YES

NO

NO

NO

Prefer separation of Christianity from politics

NO

NO

YES

SOME

YES

Tougher Immigration

YES

YES

NO

NO

NO

Protect Jobs (America First)

UNKNOWN

YES

NO

NO

NO

Eliminate corporate subsidies

UNKNOWN

YES

NO

YES

NO

*Assumes 75%+ assent to issues

Since one of my former organizations. Christian Voice, was the first Christian political group to employ Report Cards, Score Cards, etc., I’m taking the liberty of creating “Doner’s Report Card on Political Compatibility.” You decide which camps will end up aligning together.

As you can see, it appears we have a great deal more in common with our cultural conservative/populist friends than we do our current co-belligerants. If you’re still unconvinced, here’s one last test — who do you find more representative of your world view, Alan Keyes and Pat Buchanan, or Bob Dole, Jack Kemp and Phil Gramm? If you still can’t decide, the good news is you don’t really have to. The GOP establishment has made their preference very clear — we are the unwanted stepchild. Like Cinderella, we’re condemned to do all the dirty work and shunted off to the kitchen when the inaugural ball commences (“From the start, Reagan aides were quick to downplay the difference the Religious Right had made on election Day” [1980] — Kevin Phillips — Post-Conservative America, 191).

Of course, such lines are not easy to draw. Not everything is black and white. A few neo-conservatives and many “paleo-conservatives” may have empathy for us on various issues and to varying degrees. But the reality is that they need the financial resources of the GOP Fat Cat financiers more than an alliance with hard-scrabble populists and seemingly other-worldly “born-again Christians” (a euphemism frequently employed in place of “Weird Religious Fanatic”). Neo-Con eyes glaze over at the first mention of supply-side economics or capital gains tax cuts but become outright incensed on those “off limits” moral issues.

Two Parties, Two Strategies

In summary, whether we like it or not, or choose to acknowledge it, a realignment is taking place. The train is beginning to pull out of the station. The question is, will we be helping to drive the locomotive, or clinging frantically on to the caboose? As Kevin Phillips has noted, “as traditional politics breaks down, ‘the center’ becomes radicalized: a huge slice of middle America has come loose from its electoral moorings.” As we have seen, by withdrawing its support from Ford, Bush and Dole (via Jimmy Carter and Ross Perot and even Bill Clinton) this disaffected third of the electorate has sent an unmistakable signal that they will not be corralled into the GOP camp by establishment Republicans — even Right-of-center candidates like George Bush Jr., Fred Thompson or Jack Kemp. This thrice-verified thesis proves the GOP cannot win a national election unless it nominates a strong cultural conservative with populist sympathies (remember Ronald Reagan?) which, of course, the party bosses will not allow.

Clinton with his fast track to the Right of center will try to co-opt this movement. He will fail because the rest of the DNC liberal cabal does not share his desire to win at all costs through compromising their statist shibboleths. Ross Perot will try to institutionalize his populist base through his Reform Party; he too — for obvious reasons — will fail, though the Reform Party itself may remain a viable voice for a reform-oriented populism. The Christian Right must decide whether it is content to stay in the COP dog house, learning to love our ugly stepchild role, or whether we will seek to independently build a bridge to these culturally conservative but independent voters. Obviously such a realignment could find one of the current minor parties (Reform, Taxpayers, etc.) a useful vehicle. Such a party could even endorse (and thus elect) GOP candidates to state and Federal legislatures who merited (and desired) their support. On the national level we could offer an effective lesson for the GOP top brass to learn — keep nominating establishment types and we will deny you the White House. In other words, we could pursue a two-pronged strategy appropriate to the two GOP’s that actually exist — local and national. The oft quoted cliché “all politics is local” was first pronounced by a member of the legislative branch — for which it holds true. It is here, where local grass-roots movements can “hold their feet to the fire,” that we have the best rationale for supporting the truly good men we have in place — and defending current bastions of conservative representation (the 15 or so states where 75-100% of the congressional delegations are Republican conservatives). It is also here where the threat of running a Third Party candidate who could draw off 5-20% of the vote could be a powerful incentive for our local representative not to “stray” once the GOP establishment cracks the whip. This is GOP One — the local GOP.

GOP Number Two, the national GOP, must be approached differently — and much more carefully because it is here that is the center of the “Evil Empire’s” (to borrow a phrase) power. The money bags who control the national party have rigged the game in their favor by grouping many presidential primaries close together early in the campaign year. This unfairly weighted process makes it all but impossible for a “people’s candidate” to do well in one state and then state by state, systematically raise funds for the next effort, gradually building support over an extended period. Instead, a candidate must be heavily funded in advance (of public popularity) to survive from New Hampshire to “Super Tuesday” just a few weeks later. Guess where the funding comes from?

If we think of ourselves as loyal members of GOP # 2 — the National Party — we will be unmercifully sucker-punched (like Pat Buchanan) until we roll over in submission to the likes of Bob Dole (or George Bush, Gerald Ford, Jim Baker, etc.). Only by maintaining a distinctly separate identity on the national level can we force the GOP to nominate “our” choice of candidate — or suffer the consequences — i.e., the loss of the populist vote. Of course if the GOP doesn’t play along — which it may well not — we are well positioned to take our case to the American people — and begin building our own long-term base.


Topics: Economics, Education, Culture , Government, Justice

Colonel V. Doner

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