the core ideology of the gop: a response to seth masket

Over at Pacific Standard, Seth Masket expresses surprise at the fact that many in the Republican party have abandoned traditional GOP policy goals and ideological beliefs:

Most recently, this has been apparent in Trump’s responses to reports by American intelligence agencies that Russia and WikiLeaks hacked Democratic National Committee servers and worked to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign… Most recently, this has been apparent in Trump’s responses to reports by American intelligence agencies that Russia and WikiLeaks hacked Democratic National Committee servers and worked to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

And it doesn’t stop with the GOP’s new Russophilia:

Another core tenet of modern Republicanism, of course, is free-market capitalism. The best economic system, the party maintains, is one in which businesses can operate with minimal regulation and thus produce wealth and innovation that benefit everyone. Trump’s approach has literally been the opposite of that. To use the tax code and other tools to selectively bully and punish companies that exhibit undesirable but legal behavior, such as building plants in other countries, is many things, but it’s not free-market capitalism. But many Republican leaders have nonetheless enthusiastically backed Trump’s approach.

I have a different view. My opinion is that GOP talking points are cheap talk and did not express true ideological commitment. For example, Republicans talk free trade, but they feel free to restrict labor through migration restrictions, they were always willing to give breaks to specific firms, and hand out subsidies to specific groups (remember the faith based initiatives?). A strict libertarian approach to trade in the GOP has really been a minority view. In other words, “free trade” is fun to say but in practice, they don’t follow it. It’s yet another example of “libertarian chic” among conservatives.

So what’s my theory? Like all parties, the GOP is a pragmatic coalition. Ideology is secondary in most cases. It’s about getting a sufficiently large block of people together so you can win elections. If you believe this theory of political parties, ideology is really not that important and, in most cases, it can be dropped at any time. In American history, for example, the Democrats and Republican parties switched positions on Black rights as part of an attempt to win the South.

This theory – that ideology is only as good as its ability to maintain a coalition – best explains the GOP policy points that Trump has rigidly stuck to: anti-immigration and abortion. And it makes sense, the two most steadfast groups in the GOP are social conservatives/evangelicals and working class whites in the South and Midwest. These groups don’t care much about foreign relations or free trade. What Trump has shown is that populism will melt away every thing except your most cherished beliefs.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 11, 2017 at 12:13 am

4 Responses

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  1. Certainly true, and refreshingly free of the value judgments one — that is, I — always jump to on this topic.

    A religion-based belief that life begins at conception poses no problem for any system based on freedom of religion. DO you envision any mechanism of governance that explicitly allows people to hold that belief, but just as clearly to not impose it on others? So far our formulations of freedom of religion have not made that very clear.



    January 11, 2017 at 6:47 pm

  2. Dsiclaimer: I am pro-choice, so take that into account.

    Don: I think abortion raises an interesting issue that is not easy to resolve. The issue is that governance (or government?) usually entails rights enforcement by third parties. If we all believe that I own my TV, then we support some sort of mechanism to enforce that ownership.

    If people believe that fetuses or embryos enjoy the same rights as viable infants (post- or pre-partum), then it makes senses that someone will enforce it and that enforcement will have to over-ride the mothers preferences. If you think pre-viable fetuses/embryos have no rights – maybe you approve of abortion or think that abortion is morally wrong/distasteful but entails no rights violation – then you are allowed to have the belief but not have it enforced on others.

    So to answer you question, the possibility of being anti-abortion and not imposing your preferences on others depends a lot the nature of the belief. My empirical observation is that people who use the “pro-life” label fall into the first category while some in the choice camp are in the second box (e.g., Clinton’s “Keep it safe, legal, and rare” attitude.



    January 11, 2017 at 10:09 pm

  3. Agree, Which is why it’s so odd that this is not the nature of the debate. In refusing to take on the personhood question, those of us on the prochoice side end up ceding that position to the anti-abortion side. When that happens, they say we apparently have no objection to murder as long as it serves our convenience.

    But your second point, enforcability, rests on an assumption that the state is supposed to do the bidding of one religion or another. As long as we put it this way, we will keep this debate and others open and raw. One way out is to tell people with a religious belief that they are free and encouraged to maintain it. We just won’t get the police to run around enforcing it for you.



    January 11, 2017 at 10:30 pm

  4. There is another path, which has been the subject of a bunch of sociological research, which I hesitate to mention because I’m not taking the time to look up the citations and I don’t have them memorized. Lots of gender scholars have studied women’s moral reasoning about abortion. In general, women balance competing moral claims; most women neither see abortion as trivial and without moral meaning nor see abortion as an evil that trumps all other moral considerations. I do remember Richard Wood’s work on the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, which stressed women as moral decision makers. There’s also research by Celeste Benson (currently available only in an unpublished dissertation) that shows how abortion opinions have decoupled from premarital sex opinions and that abortion opinion is now more predicted by political orientation than religion. What rarely makes it into public discourse is comparisons of pregnancy with, say, kidney donation. Under all other circumstances, there is never a requirement that a person invade their own body to save another person’s life, and relatives who are perfect matches for kidney donations are not ethically pressured to donate, even though a kidney donation will not harm the donor and will save the donee’s life.

    There are a similar set of moral conundrums around end of life. Most people would prefer to die sooner than endure extensive suffering or advanced dementia on the way to death, but by the time they are in the state that they would prefer not to be in, they are beyond the capacity to choose suicide and, even if they have the capacity, suicide is considered by many to be a morally reprehensible choice. And for sure, helping someone die who has no capacity to choose is considered murder by almost everyone. And even relatives who know that their loved one would rather die are rarely willing to undertake the moral burden of helping them do it.

    So another sociological problem is how it is that complex moral issues that many people can actually discuss in subtle ways because they have personal familiarity with the complexity cannot be discussed politically, and just turn into rigid slogans that almost everything finds frustrating and unsatisfying.

    Liked by 1 person


    January 12, 2017 at 4:38 pm

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