Unsustainable Trends in the GOP

James Joyner reflects thoughtfully on Huntsman’s campaign and suggests that a post-Tea Party-madness era will come when candidates such as the Utah governor are popular in the GOP again:

It’s pretty obvious to dispassionate observers that the trend of the last twenty years or so is unsustainable if the GOP is to remain a nationally competitive party. Cultural and demographic changes are such that relying on Southern whites and a social message stuck in 1980 will mean permanently ceding the White House and the Senate to Democrats. While Ron Paul-style isolationism will never appeal to a majority of Americans, neither will perpetual war. While safeguarding our borders and enforcing our laws will remain popular, policies and rhetoric that come across as anti-Hispanic will not. And, as the younger generation supplants the older one at the ballot box, anti-gay, anti-science talk will come across as positively alien.

Joyner thinks this train could take a while to arrive, but certain demographic and fiscal factors may bring it home faster than he projects. Republican Party members are not just disproportionately Southern, they are also disproportionately over the age of 60. The Tea Party platform is to balance the federal budget without raising taxes or reducing defense spending. There is one and only one way to do that: Slash federal spending on the elderly. That would drive down Republican support among senior citizens to the point that the GOP would have to either extrude the Tea Party toxin or fade from the national stage.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

28 thoughts on “Unsustainable Trends in the GOP”

  1. If we were living in the 19th century, the Tea Party would be known by the name of PT Barnum, Inc. Coalescing political power around the ignorance and superstition of lesser people is exactly what Dick Army and the Koch Bros. set out to do, and boy did they do it! Aided and abetted by a media that have no Eric Sevareid, I.F. Stone, George Seldes, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, or even Patrick Moynihan and Lowell Wicker to help guide thoughtful and critical journalism these days!

    So, yea, the Tea Party has exerted far more political power than its constituent part would have been capable if it had been left alone in its ignorance and superstition, grumbling how those people are taking over the nation, and how the guvmit is giving money to those people, and being led down the road to hell by pinko-fags!

    But no, now we have a three ring circus instead of political campaigns, and a reality-show instead of sound political debate! Oh, and I almost forgot about Huntsman. Well, at least he’s not so much a nut as all those people he’s been hanging out with on stage!

  2. Yes, but isn’t the Republican platform to slash federal spending on *future* seniors? The whole Ryan “We’ll keep Medicare for everyone over 57 and ‘reform’ Medicare out of existence for everyone younger” plan. And also this argument presumes that the Tea Party actually cares about balancing the budget and not just using deficit concerns as a way to advocate for social goals (less money for poor, dark folk).

    1. “… also this argument presumes that the Tea Party actually cares about balancing the budget …”

      Which they don’t, unless I missed their massive rallies when Their Man was in office.

  3. i can’t be very sanguine about it. how many times have we seen the g.o.p. convince important subgroups in the population vote against their interests?

  4. Nixon re-branded the GOP IN 1968, but by 1980 that coalition began to unravel. Now it’s quite clearly the party of fear. Terror phobia, xenophobia, national debt phobia: one has to wonder whether they’ll stoop to pimping Reichstag fire phobia at some point. The ideological party planks of legislated morality and corporate plutocracy are only compatible when they leverage their individual phobias. If that blend no longer works with the electorate, the GOP dies.

    The Democrats are only slightly better off. They lack the legislative morality agenda, but in many other ways mirror what were once strictly Republican values. The next 12 years of elections seems likely to result in a redefined political landscape. Some of the labels might remain, but the values are likely to be quite different.

  5. Here’s what Romney’s tax plan would do, and his is the most responsible of all the Republican candidates – the other plans cut taxes on the rich more and increase the deficit more:

    “Romney’s plan would save a middle-income American about $1,400 a year—and lighten a 1 percenter’s tax load by $171,000. It would also add $600 billion to the deficit in 2015.”


    So please – no more about how the Tea Party commitment to cutting the deficit will hurt Republican electoral chances. There is no commitment to cutting the deficit. There’s a commitment to use anti-deficit rhetoric to cut programs, and then to use the savings from cutting programs to cut taxes on rich people. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  6. I really wish that people would look at Huntsman’s economic views and realize that he is as crazy, kooky and irresponsible as any of the teabagging useful idiots. He has flashes of sanity on foreign policy – but where the US is concerned, Jon Huntsman is anything but a moderate. I understand why so many commentators desperately wish to find a GOP moderate, somewhere, anywhere – but it ain’t gonna happen just by wishing on a star and ignoring the facts.

    1. Morzer: In fairness to Joyner, he doesn’t say Huntsman is a moderate, he says that he’s sane, i.e., accepts scientific facts as such. As a number of us have written here at RBC he is a conservative politically (I don’t think your comment that he is crazy and kooky is fair, you don’t like his conservatism but that’s different than him being Tea Party kooky, he simply isn’t, that’s why they don’t like him).

      1. Sorry, but on economics, Huntsman embraces the Ryan plan, which is utterly innumerate – and is precisely what the Tea Party kooks wanted. Watch the footage of this morning’s debate on NBC and you’ll see him going all-in for it. Sure, he has a little bit of token “moderation” for the cameras – but he’s backed off his belief in climate change and he was never remotely a moderate in Utah. I don’t think you or Joyner have watched Jon Huntsman closely enough. The Tea Party dislikes him because he worked for Obama, because he’s adopted non-white children, and because once in a while he doesn’t take the crazy dial up to 11. I repeat – in terms of economic policy (and the vast bulk of social policy) he is indistinguishable from the Tea Party position, which is, of course, the same thing as the right-wing crazy GOP position. I know that there’s an annual temptation to find the sane, real conservative a la Andrew Sullivan’s quest to make the GOP Shire Tories who love Oakeshott, but it really doesn’t match the reality.

        1. Morzer: No one is saying he is a moderate, neither me nor Joyner, so you don’t need to argue that point (with us at least). He’s a conservative, we all agree on that — which by the way differentiates us from the Tea Party, who sees him as a traitor to the cause.

          You are to my mind leaping from “I really don’t like his politics” to “he is crazy”. That is done routinely in politics, but it’s a bridge too far for me.

          1. “You are to my mind leaping from “I really don’t like his politics” to “he is crazy”. That is done routinely in politics, but it’s a bridge too far for me.”

            Keith, could you explain to me why you have decided to leap from hating the Tea Party’s politics to “They are crazy”? Then could you explain to me just how Huntsman differs from the Tea Party on economic and social issues? I’d really, really like to see your math on this one.

            I suspect that Daniel Larison would as well:


  7. There are a lot of things to appreciate about Huntsman, and I especially liked it when, this morning, he responded to criticism of his having served as Obama’s ambassador to China by saying that he loves his country more than he hates Democrats (though it would have been better if he’d thought to say it in the debate last night, instead of saying something in Chinese, something that might as well have been a paean to Mitt Romney).

    But Morzer is right: the fact that Huntsman defers to reality on select issues should never blind us to the profound extremism of his economic views, which propose to eliminate taxes on the truly wealthy, slash taxes on the moderately wealthy, and boost them on lower-middle-class families and the working poor. Huntsman is extraordinary in today’s Republican party because he isn’t insane on some issues; in the Republican party of a generation ago, he’d be remarkable because he is insane on an issue as important as our country’s economic structure.

    1. Like Keith, I think you are badly misdefining “insane”. The fact that Huntsman is wrong on most issues is not the same thing as insane. It’s just not. Liberals are developing a tendency to throw around charges of insanity with the same lack of perspective that conservatives have thrown around charges of anti-Americanism. Please stop.

      Huntsman is very, very wrong on economic issues. If he became president, it would lead to a lot of bad policies and a lot of pain. This is why we would need to campaign against him if he ever were to get the nomination. But he is not insane.

      That really is an important distinction. Despite those wrongheaded views, a Huntsman presidency would be vastly preferable to that of the complete clowns that were on stage with him last night. I don’t worry that he would blow up the world, for one thing. For another, his desire to both present his policies *and* have his rhetoric retain some connection to reality does box him in in a number of ways that it doesn’t any other.

      Really, I don’t think that his views on economic policy would be as harmful per se. With domestic issues, Congress really does have a lot of the power. Having any Republican in the presidency, presumably with a Republican Congress, would lead to a lot more bad legislation making it through no matter who it is.

      The thing is, we really can’t evaluate what a Huntsman administration would look like if paired with the current Republicans in Congress, because any Republican Party that would nominate Huntsman wouldn’t also be electing the current raft of Congressmen it does. He is anathema to the current base for the reasons Keith points out. Largely, that means that it’s kind of pointless speculating what he would be like as president for much the same reason that it was never worth speculating what a Harold Stassen administration would have looked like.

      The reason I like having Huntsman around is that he provides a kind of bellweather for the state of the GOP. If he ever starts building support, which I doubt will ever happen, it’s a sign that some sanity is returning to the party. If so, we could start treating the Republicans as an opposition party that’s just very wrong rather than a bunch of sociopathic lunatics.

      1. “I don’t think that his views on economic policy would be as harmful per se.”

        Then you don’t know his views on economic policy. The Ryan plan – which Huntsman explicitly advocated this morning – is the definition of harmful, dishonest folly. And yes, anyone who endorses a plan that would increase the deficit in the name of deficit-reduction is either out of touch with reality or so utterly cynical that it amounts to sociopathy. It’s time for liberals to stop pretending that by playing nice we shall achieve anything except to be kicked around and regarded with justified contempt by the American people. No-one respect wimps, and that’s where the Democrats with their waffling, false gentility and refusal to face or tell the truth have put themselves for far too long. You can’t compromise with these extremists, because there is no common ground. Unless you grasp the facts, you might as well give up and let the GOP have everything they want – because genteel compromise and surrender will get you there in the end.

      2. J. Michael doesn’t go far enough. None of the Republican candidates and very very few of Republicans in general are insane. Not even, though it might be close, Ron Paul. They are often irrational, deeply selfish, and willfully ignorant about many (not all) things, but they are not insane. In that, they mirror much of human and American society. That’s how people are. Life is hard the world is a complicated often scary place, and people want to believe that Big Events happen for a reason–God’s will or divine justice instead of the product of human failings or random acts of the cosmos. “I know in my heart that if I work hard, hunker down with my family, and could just keep the government from bothering me with all those useless taxes and stupid rules, things will be just fine. God will protect me because I’m good. What did the government ever do for me?” Wishful, narrow, superstitious thinking is natural and takes education to overcome. And when so much of the country has a dim view of those “so-called experts who think they know everything,” the barrier is high. I think that “anti-gay, anti-science talk will come across as positively alien” in the near future is half right: the barrier to acceptance of gays has been breached, will rapidly erode, and can not be rebuilt. That’s not the case with anti-science attitudes–it takes constant, unceasing effort and support, and the battle will never be fully won.

        1. To slightly modify Phocylides:

          “The Republicans are not insane, but they do insane things.”

          You’ll forgive me if I find this delicate parsing of “insane” entirely detached from reality.

        2. “…Life is hard the world is a complicated often scary place, and people want to believe that Big Events happen for a reason–…”

          And every single one of the GOP guys is somebody who nurtures that belief.

  8. While I agree with the premise that the current Republican coalition is unsustainable, I also agree with Bruce_LD’s sentiments regarding federal spending. Bloix is correct that deficits are a red herring. If Romney wins and Republicans hold congress all talk of deficits and the debt ceiling will disappear like magic. Also I agree that the “tea party” is just a rebranding of conservative Republican values. Already we are seeing this in action as the “tea party candidates” forget about jobs and push social conservative values like eliminating abortion.

    1. >>I agree that the “tea party” is just a rebranding of conservative Republican values. Already we are seeing this in action as the “tea party candidates” forget about jobs and push social conservative values like eliminating abortion.>>

      Huh??? I’m old enough to remember “conservative Republican values.” Robert Taft, Dwight Eisenhower, … these were not Republicans who wanted to insert the Federal Government into our personal lives to make us conform to their personal values. Humongous Reagan and Bush deficits, in order to cut taxes on the richest? Gimme a break! That’s not conservative Republican values.

      The closest we’ve seen to “conservative Republican values” in the last fifty years was Bill Clinton. And that ain’t all bad.

      1. Social conservative values like eliminating abortion has been a plank of the Republican party since Nixon. That was over 40 years ago. There are 2 generations of voters that cannot remember a time when Republicans weren’t the party of social conservatives.

  9. Joyner thinks this train could take a while to arrive, but certain demographic and fiscal factors may bring it home faster than he projects.

    Yes got to love those demographic factors…
    They led a few other chaps to write a book: The Emerging Democratic Majority.
    [insert guffaws here.]

    Before Joyner pens a book…
    May I humbly suggest that anyone with a PhD in political science (or sociology) seems to be consistently more clueless about the future than just about everyone else.
    Here’s WaPo’s David Ignatius reminding us that Francis Fukuyama (PhD in polysci) got it all wrong:

    It’s a sign of these unsettled times that the analyst who famously announced “the end of history” in 1989, when the Soviet empire was crumbling and liberal, free-market democracy seemed inevitable, has published a new essay with the provocative title “The Future of History.”

    Fukuyama has the temerity to quote statistics dating to 1970 in his new essay.
    [insert guffaws here.]

    Suggestion: If you want to know about the future read Vonnegut’s Player Piano instead.
    There’s more truth about the present and future in 100 pages of that, than anything Fukuyama, Joyner, Judis, or Teixeira will ever write…

    1. The title of “The End of History and the Last Man” has often been misinterpreted, and it looks as though David Ignatius does it, too. In Fukuyama’s words:

      The distant origins of the present volume lie in an article entitled “The End of History?” which I wrote for the journal The National Interest in the summer of 1989. In it, I argued that a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism. More than that, however, I argued that liberal democracy may constitute the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government,” and as such constituted the “end of history.” That is, while earlier forms of government were characterised by grave defects and irrationalities that led to their eventual collapse, liberal democracy was arguably free from such fundamental internal contradictions. This was not to say that today’s stable democracies, like the United States, France, or Switzerland, were not without injustice or serious social problems. But these problems were ones of incomplete implementation of the twin principles of liberty and equality on which modern democracy is founded, rather than of flaws in the principles themselves. While some present-day countries might fail to achieve stable liberal democracy, and others might lapse back into other, more primitive forms of rule like theocracy or military dictatorship, the ideal of liberal democracy could not be improved on.

      In “The Future of History”, he is talking about the lack of a convincing and overarching left-wing philosophy, the “ideology of the future” to counterbalance right-wing ideologies.

      Now, I don’t think I buy that thesis (it’s at the very least too America-centric and seems a poor fit for European social democracies), but there’s no inherent contradiction between what he writes in “The End of History” and “The Future of History”.

      1. I find Fukuyama very worth reading. He’s an extremely bright guy and IMO he’s part of the reality-based community in that he’s really trying to understand how things work as opposed to promoting an ideology. I’m just getting into “The Origins of Political Order” and I’d think most people who come here would find it interesting.

        I know he suffers in some left-leaning circles because he was the darling of the neocons for a few minutes while they were justifying things like the Iraq war. My experience is that most of the people who dismiss him have not actually read what he’s written and know of his views only via the misinterpretations that Katja mentioned.

        1. He aged better than many of his peers. I remember when Amy Choa was know for her thoughts on globalization. Now she is known for being a bad parent. Sam Huntington is dead. And Tom Friedman is a total joke. By default doesn’t he win?

    2. koreyel, just curious, what’s your critique of “The Emerging Democratic Majority”? Given that Obama won handily in 2008 while getting roughly the same percentage of the white vote that Carter did in 1980, it seems to me there are at least a couple of kernels of insight to be gleaned from Judis & Texeira’s work.

        1. Again with the lies. It’s that the demographics have *changed*, Brett. They are allowed to do that.

          Or do you want non-white votes down-weighted to keep the demographic balance as it was?

          1. “The demographics changed” is kind of like “mistakes were made”, too passive to accurately describe the situation. “The demographics WERE changed.” more accurately describes the result of deliberate, sustained policy, such as facilitating illegal immigration on a massive basis for decades.

            Politicians wanted a population more like Mexico, (Because they aspired to be another PRI, I guess.) and set out to get it no matter what the people already living here thought about the matter.

            “The demographics changed.” Yeah, right.

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