Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The GOP Blame Game

Kirsten Powers on the Republican establishment's attempt to blame Trump's rise on President Obama in USA Today.

Who is to blame for the unraveling of the Republican Party?

If you listen to establishment gurus, you'd be led to believe that the Republican primary voter revolt was birthed by the governance of President Obama, creating fertile ground for the emergence of one Donald Trump. This fairy tale version of reality casts Trump as the villain who has swept in to capitalize on voter frustration with Obama’s alleged weakness, lawlessness and rampant liberalism.

The villain must be stopped or the Republican Party will be destroyed. Or so we are told.

The old saw that you have to first acknowledge that you have a problem to solve the problem applies here. What the GOP "leaders" refuse to accept is that Trump is not the problem. They are.

The dissatisfaction among a large cohort of GOP voters is directly attributable to their unhappiness with a party that they believe does not represent their interests. In exit polls, high percentages of GOP voters registered displeasure with their leadership. In Tennessee, 58% of Republican voters said they felt “betrayed” by their leaders, as did 47% in New Hampshire52% in South Carolina and 54% in Ohio.

Those who feel betrayed have been most likely to vote for Trump. Trump has been a particular draw to white working-class voters who feel left behind economically. Such voters have been treated with dismissal and outright contempt by the GOP establishment even as this group has become more critical to Republican success. Pew reported in 2012 that “lower-income and less educated whites … have shifted substantially toward the Republican Party since 2008.”

The fact that so many establishment types continue to blame a Democratic president for GOP primary voters disliking their own party leadership demonstrates how disconnected from reality they are, how incapable of self-examination they seem to be. This is the same detachment from reality that led them to believe wholeheartedly in 2012 that Obama would never win re-election. That led many to expect a Mitt Romney victory up to the last minute, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. Or more recently, that led them to insist long after it was reasonable that Trump would be slain by Marco Rubio even as Rubio lost state after state.

I have been arguing for some time that the Republican Party is circling the drain as a national governing party. The signs have been apparent: the disconnection from objective reality in an increasingly fervent embrace of comforting mythology, running in the opposite direction from the dead-on prescriptions in the RNC's 2012 post-mortem, the renouncing of policy-based governing in favor of constant posturing for its voter base, the degeneration of the 2016 GOP primary campaign into a policy-free verbal food fight.

We are now seeing it before our eyes as many right-wing commentators are acknowledging, including this column from right-leaning USA Today, as well as George Will, David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Gerson, David Brooks, and others. The coming storm of the Republican convention in Cleveland looks increasingly likely to result in a split in the party between its establishment championing the interests of corporate interests and the wealthy and its disaffected, angry, frightened, white, male, working and middle class voter base.

As a Democrat, I take no pleasure in watching the opposition party implode. As E.J. Dionne and others have written, having one of its two major parties in this state of dysfunction is bad for our political system. Here's hoping that a more functional and modern conservative party can rise from the Republican Party's ashes.

The country and not just the Republican Party would be better off if this very strange election year marked the beginning of a large-scale reassessment by conservatives of the trajectory their movement has been on since Goldwater transformed it in 1964. It is common for conservatives to say that liberals need to free themselves from the 1960s. This is now imperative for the American right.

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