Can the Republican Party survive 2016?

This season of primary elections is confusing. I grant that. But it may be the last one like this we see for quite a while, so it might be worth our while to try to get some sense of what is at stake this year.

As so often happens, the sources of the word give us a head start on thinking about the meaning. At the heart of reconcile is council. Let’s start with the Latin noun, concilium, a council. Picture a council table, surrounded by people who are counseling together. That noun gives us the verb conciliare, to bring together, to win over. Easy enough.

But what of the re- in reconcile? There is someone who was at the table, had been won over, but thought breconcile 3etter of it and left. Something will have to happen for him to re-turn, to be re-conciled, to be brought back to the table and back into discussion with the others. This is a table that keeps showing up. Interesting.

The New York Times headline here that sent my mind in this direction was this: For Republicans, Mounting Fears of a Lasting Split. “Lasting” means that attempts at reconciliation have failed. The council is broken. Some of “us” have become “them.”

This has been coming for a long time. Once a substantial portion of the citizens has identified the government as “the enemy,” the process of electing representatives to serve in that government becomes problematic. This is not an easy time. The economy looks like the 1920, when the tiniest minority of the wealthy owned most of the nation’s wealth. The polity looks like the 1850s, when “north” and “south” were translated from regions of the United States to armed and belligerent nations.

The economic difficulties are real and are, in my understanding, well beyond the ability of any government to ease them. That means that the grievances felt by the citizens are real too; not only real, but rational. They have a right to yell, as Howard Beal urged them, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” That is, in practical terms, Donald Trump’s stump speech and it is working really well so far.

reconcile 4The New York Times headline warns of “a lasting split.” In my metaphor, that means that reconciliation is either not attempted, or that it fails. So…who is at the table? The short answer is that the Republican establishment is at the table. They are the people who told angry Republican populists to swallow their emotions and vote for John McCain and Mitt Romney. Here are a few descriptions of this group from the Times article.


The Elites

Here are some descriptions of who is at the table, all from the Times article: “wealthy donors and elected officials;” and “traditional power brokers;” and, at a gathering in South Carolina, “a gathering of bankers and lawyers, reliable Republicans;” and, more expansively, “the group of mostly older white men expressed concern that their party was fracturing over free trade, immigration and Wall Street. And they worried that their candidates — mainstream conservatives like Jeb Bush — were losing.”

Here’s how Barry Wynn, who attended that South Carolina meeting, describes what will happen if the dissidents are not (reconciled) brought back to the table where the council is being held. “It’s all really hard to believe that decades of Republican ideas are at risk…”

That’s who is at the table. Who has left the table? Who would have to be re-conciled—notice the re- again—in order for the Republican party to move forward together? Here are some characterizations from the same article.

The Angry Party

Leo Martin, who attended Trump’s rally at Stevens High School in Claremont, New Hampshire, put it this way, “The Republican Party has never done anything for the working man like me…This election is the first in my life where we can change what it means to be a Republican.” Put that on one side of a ledger of emotions and put “decades of Republican ideas” on the other side. Notice any difference?

The dissidents—those who have left the council table—“hunger for an unapologetic brand of conservatism that would confront rather than acquiesce to the political establishment…”

Reconcile 1Laura Ingraham, a conservative talk-show host, says, “All the things the voters want have been shoved off to sidelines by Republican leaders…and the voters [Republican primary election voters] finally have a couple of people here who are saying this table has to be turned over.”

See the image? Return to the table. Turn the table over.

It makes the “reconcile” imagery difficult, but presidential historian Richard Norton Smith said “The nativists aren’t going away. They might, if anything, become more feverish.” What Smith means, if we graft his comment onto my metaphor about the table, is that they have gone away and they aren’t coming back. He means that “the nativist controversy” isn’t going away and that is why the nativists—people for whom controlling immigration is crucially important—aren’t coming back to the table. [1] Except, perhaps, to overturn it.

From the standpoint of the establishment, the Republican party is having its quadrennial circus. From the standpoint of the dissidents and, this year, several candidates who are channeling the anger of those dissidents, this isn’t another round of the same old thing. “It’s time for us, “ they are saying, “to have the candidate WE want. We are tired of your trying to talk us into warmed over Democrats like John McCain (2008) and Mitt Romney (2012). This year, we want our own, not yours.”

I just barely kept myself from printing all that in capitalized bold font. It was close.

reconcile 6

If a flamethrower like Trump or Cruz wins the Republican nomination, then the Republican elites and the Democratic elites will be much closer to each other than the Republican dissidents are to anyone. And the bulk of the Democratic electorate is with those elites or to the left of them. [2]

If the split occurs there, it will divide the Democratic leadership, the bulk of the Democratic voters, the old Republican voters—people like Barry Wynn who see decades of Republican ideas at risk—and the Republican establishment on one side. On the other side will be the current right wing of the Democratic party, all the members of the Angry Party, about a third or so of the current Republican voters [3] and whoever emerges to represent them. Let’s say it’s Donald Trump.

Notice that the split has moved from inside the Republican party to outside. The new Republican/Democratic elites are at the table. The new members of the Angry Party want to overturn the table. No table, no council. No council, no returning to the council i.e., no reconciliation.

This election might be about much more than the anxiety of the Republican elites. It might be about the beginning of a new party era.

[1] They don’t remember the Know Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s, I suppose. That party did really well at the polls so long as “what to do with all these foreigners” was the top issue to be decided by voters. When the issue was obscured by more urgent things, they just disappeared. And the Whig Party split in two over those more urgent things. And we were left with just Democrats and Republicans.
[2] There are also voter who go back and forth between the Democratic party and the Republican party, depending on which one has a candidate that best expresses their anger and frustration. They are, to tell the truth, members of “the Angry Party,” and they vote with whoever seems to understand better how angry they are and why.
[3] How many there are depends on which question is asked and on how it is asked. The feelings of this part of the party are notably stable; the policy ideas are pretty volatile once you get beyond the slogans.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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2 Responses to Can the Republican Party survive 2016?

  1. Jnana Hodson says:

    It’s been building for some time, and not just along party lines.

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