Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Republicans' Two Track Strategy

After losing to Barack Obama handily in 2012 despite his lackluster approval ratings, many in the GOP decided it was time to broaden their appeal.  There was much talk of drawing Hispanic and black voters, doing less to alienate young women, of softening the Republican image, of downplaying the Tea Party fringe and avoiding the stigma of the "stupid party."

Despite all of that talk and some sidelining of Tea Party fanatics, Republicans have been doing a lot to alienate the voters they claim to be reaching out to, all in the interests of ginning up their base to get to the polls.  In the states there has been a massive wave of anti-abortion legislation, and Republicans are attacking Obamacare provisions for birth control.  One of the party's "intellectual leaders" (scare quotes necessary here), Paul Ryan, recently fanned the flames of racial resentment with his coded language of "inner city" poor people too lazy to work.  Despite the "small government" rhetoric, there have also been attacks on Obamacare on the basis that it will reduce Medicare payments.  (Remember, it's not an "entitlement" if old white people are the overwhelming beneficiaries.)

What are we to make of this?

Obviously, Republicans know that they have a winning strategy for midterm elections.  Turnout is already low, and voter ID laws and such in many states will drive that turnout lower, especially among Democrats.  When fewer people show up, the side that can motivate its base will win.  In politics hate and fear are very powerful emotions, and the GOP has ridden the wave of hate and fear regarding the president among their base to victory.  It worked in 2010, it will work again in 2014.  (They also benefit from the woefully short attention span of the electorate, who seem to forget that Republicans shut down the government last year in a destructive temper tantrum.)  With Citizen's United in effect and the Koch brothers spending freely, the Democrats will have a hard time winning.

Republican leaders also know that this strategy is a big time loser in higher turnout presidential elections, where moderate voters hold the key.  After this coming election, expect to see a major pivot among Republicans.  Support for immigration reform will magically re-appear, as will outreach campaigns that are more intended to get wary whites to think the GOP isn't racist rather than win over any actual support among people of color.  The party establishment knows that they can't nominate an ideologue, (hence Romney winning last time despite lack of base-level enthusiasm) but that they need a candidate with the common touch, unlike the Mittbott 3000.  Conservatives have prospered by playing class politics and portraying liberals as cultured elitists; having a venture capital raider who talks like everyone's boss as your nominee doesn't help with that messaging.  This is why Christie is still beloved of the Koch brothers, despite his troubles and the wariness of many in the GOP base towards him.  He has the common touch, he can be very likable when he needs to be, and has proven an ability to win over moderates in a blue state.

Of course, this can all be derailed if the Tea Party refuses to stay leashed.  Its members won't support immigration reform, won't tone down the culture wars rhetoric, and won't even necessarily give their backing to a moderate Republican nominee.  The irony for the Republican party is that the very force that wins them midterm elections is the same one that hurts them in the race for the White House.  Considering that they have basically decided to use all the levers of obstruction to prevent an opposing president from carrying out his agenda, they might just be willing to accept that situation.

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