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.