27 December 2015

GOP is dead, long live the GOP?

And other political observations for the new year.

Something I've noticed over the last year or so in politics is that Republican pundits seem to think their crop of candidates is a sign of political strength, and that this is a "deep field", with many good options.

There is a problem with that assumption. Actually a lot of problems.

1) Almost none of those people who were thought to be part of that "deep field" are winning polls or likely to do well. He who will not be named has been doing well and mocking the rest of the field. Cruz is a hated figure within his own party. Carson is a surgeon and not a particularly interesting candidate for President. Meanwhile, Jeb has floundered to the point of irrelevance despite raising a boatload of cash. Rand hasn't been able to get any traction on civil liberties and foreign policy as the Republican field has whipped itself into a frenzy declaring who they want to start a war with next. Rubio hasn't really run a good campaign thus far, suggesting he doesn't understand the political situation (perhaps not a good "retail politician", as it were). Christie has struggled to overcome a position of high disdain within his own party. Scott Walker, believed for some reason to be a plausible candidate, didn't even make it out of the summer. This is not an inspiring bunch if they cannot handle a bully, a blowhard, and an out of his depth doctor to overtake them in polls. There's still time of course, as the polling is early, but most of these candidates are probably going to remain irrelevant while these middling idiots run circles around them.

A deep field would imply such candidates would be keeping out the riffraff rather than the other way around.

2) There's very little in the way of major policy differences between the individual candidates at this point (other than the aforementioned Rand disparity on IR and the NSA). This too could change, but there have been several debates upon which to draw this out. That hasn't really happened yet. Some squabbling about immigration. Some squabbling about Putin and Syria. But all of them have endorsed some combination of being anti homosexual, anti choice, pro lower taxes, anti min wage hikes, etc (note: the entire platform jsnt intolerable, but the parts that are most commonly distinguishing from the left often are. Meanwhile. The "interesting" fault lines on immigration, Muslims, Syria, and entitlements, are mostly "interesting" because Republicans are mostly racing to take more and more extreme positions. Positions which are broadly intolerable to wide swaths of the country. The previous method of running for a general election was to stay somewhat near a tolerable center of the American polity. Lacking that center, the farther out one goes the less likely mildly associated voters will stick around, and the less likely partisan opponents might defect. This also has impacts downstream, upon House and Senate races, local and state elections, and so on. It may not be very pretty. (In fairness, several Democratic figures and tbeir positions have strayed far afield as well. The difference is that almost nobody believes a Clinton Presidency would do most of the things that are outside of a centrist orthodoxy, or that she would be capable of enacting all she wished anyway with a divided power structure. This seems likely in some of the Republican cases that they could get some of what they want into law or to adjust courts and other forms of oversight.

Here if there were much depth, we should expect to see fairly interesting arguments about how best to provide sensible answers, or even sensible ideas about what the most pressing questions are, and in so doing see some adjustment and rancor between the field itself. This has occurred on a few topics, but not many. This would instead imply most of their candidates are interchangeable rather than necessary focal points.

3) Clinton is not perceived to be a particularly strong candidate (for now), but virtually anyone doing well among Republicans (with the exception of Rubio, who hasn't gotten a full vetting yet) is much less popular than she is, and usually more despised as well. This is not a recipe for winning a national popularity contest. There may be more names who are believed to compete against her in a national election, but this says little about whether those names actually matter. Hostility toward both the Clintons and liberal policies in general is fairly high among conservatives and has been for many years. But instead of regathering their agenda in a functional way and trying to make sure they would have a candidate who will be capable of beating her, the party establishment seemed content to nominate another Bush. Who would be most likely incapable of doing so. This is not an encouraging sign that they either believed there was much depth, or that they had correctly determined their political problems coming in.

I'm not sure the party entirely survives this election cycle. Party elites, quasi libertarians, anti interventionists, pro big business types, and moderate Republicans (such a species sort of exists still), don't have much of a future where they are. Some of that has been true for decades, some is merely emerging as the conservative voter base becomes more frustrated with being unable to roll back agendas they see as encroaching on their values. I would be very surprised it doesn't partly implode and make very serious efforts to reform to avoid splintering entirely. At the risk of reducing their national footprint further in order to consolidate party power somehow.

4) Bernie Sanders fans remain the Ron Paul fans of this election cycle. Convinced their candidate winning meaningless polls means something, and convinced that his flaws are either an invention of media trying to tank for Clinton, or things that he would overcome if only media gave him the opportunity to reach out to voters who remain roughly unaware of him. As it is, his main problem in this campaign remains the same as it was months ago. He's talking about several issues which aren't as high on the radar for minority voters, and probably shouldn't be, and which they therefore do not fully trust him to handle. This results in polling which shows that he is moderately popular among liberals and Democrats, but has very much higher negatives and unknowns among the same group than Hillary.

This is not a recipe that suggests he will matter. Even on top of unprecedented high levels of establishment and party backing for Clinton, there isn't much he is doing that in any way suggests he is pushing past it and will overtake her in some way. This was never a realistic view. And yet it remains a view that I see pop up at least once a week on social media feeds that something the Paul campaign did also means something now, despite it having failed in conservative circles quite significantly (and repeatedly).

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