Will Angry Populism Save GOP?

September 23, 2009 at 12:34 pm (By Randy)

Thomas B. Edsall recently penned a provocative post about the future of the GOP.

Republicans hope – and Democrats fear – that a politically significant percentage of voters will come to see the federal government under Democratic control as redistributing tax dollars to “elites” and to the very poor, as the broad middle class is left on its own to face high unemployment, sharply reduced home values, and gutted retirement savings.

This would be very good news for a Republican party that is otherwise facing potentially devastating demographic trends.

Any thoughts?


  1. lfineaux said,

    Being in a sort of cynical mood today, I see both links as eloquently saying “Republicans are Racist”.

  2. wj said,

    Angry anything has very poor long term prospects of saving any party from anything at any time. And that includes angry populism and the Republican Party now.

    Enthusiasm can be very important for a political party. But it needs to be enthusiasm for something — and anger is almost always against something.

  3. pathmv said,

    Yeah, I’m not going to waste time reading that HuffPo piece, as on initial glance it looks as if lfineaux has nailed it in one.

    Why do so many moderates obsess over the state of the Republican Party, but rarely bother to evaluate the increasingly insupportable tensions of the Democratic party? There are rarely any moderate or centrist articles wondering if the Democratic party can survive on its old partnership between Jackson and Sharpton-esque race-baiters, abortion rights activists, and union workers. There are no articles pondering whether the Democratic party’s future hopes depend on turning illegal aliens into voters. No articles noting that their “strategy” for elections appears to depend on pitting economic classes together. Why aren’t moderates as obsessed with those questions as they sometimes seem to be with claims (by Democrats and liberal bastions like HuffPo) that the Republican party is dying because it’s racist?

    I decided long ago that I will no longer bother wasting my breath arguing with people like the author of the HuffPo piece. Call me or my party or my political philosophy “racist,” and that ends the conversation, to the same extent that any conversation should end when somebody tosses out the n-word. In my book, anybody who writes an article wondering if one party is losing because it’s too racist is no different than somebody who would write an article claiming that the other party is losing because it’s got too many n—‘s in it. Racist is a really bad thing to accuse somebody of being, and I’m tired of how cavalierly it’s being thrown around.

  4. Spud said,

    I love the fact that the far right has control of the Republican party and their spokespeople are the Glenn Beck’s and the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world. All it does is ensure that they will be out of power for a long time to come. I like that.

  5. Randy said,

    Well, this conversation looks like it will go nowhere fast.

    Quick! Someone invoke Godwin’s Law before it gets out of hand!

  6. pathmv said,

    Hey, I was behaving myself. I didn’t say a word in response to Spud!

    More seriously, I am so very tired of people trying to analyze the demographics, and the politics of it all. To me, every bit of it is wasted energy, which should be focused on analyzing, say, the actual merits of the health care reform bill(s). There’s WAY too much attention paid to the “game” part of politics, rather than the substance of policies. It’s easier, less hard evidence to be refuted, no real details to master. It is part of what focuses attention on what divides us. No matter how dressed up posts like Edsell’s are, they amount to efforts to discredit opposition by painting them as ignorant, rather than addressing real policy differences.

  7. Randy said,


    Anyway, I thought the most interesting points in the article were below, namely because of who made them :

    “The problem stems from TARP [the Troubled Assets Relief Program] and the aid to General Motors and Chrysler,” says Democratic pollster and strategist Stan Greenberg. Greenberg has extensively studied key, volatile voting constituencies, including Reagan Democrats, “angry white men,” and single women. The view of many voters voiced in focus groups, Greenberg says, is that “the unworthy are being taken care of….There is the sense that government is taking care of people who are irresponsible.”

    “There has been TARP, followed by the stimulus, followed by the GM bailout. Here you have trillions being spent without any microeconomic benefit apparent to the middle class,” argues Steve Murphy, cofounder of the Democratic firm, Murphy Putnam Media. “This has not been a situation where [Obama] has been able to provide voters with anything they are looking for in the way of change.”

    As a consequence, Murphy says, “it has created an intense fiscally conservative environment, especially among independent voters, and Republicans have done an outstanding job taking advantage, speaking in unison effectively.”
    Story continues below

    Along similar lines, a third Democratic consultant, Tom King, contends that “the economy is driving this, people just don’t see any results [from the stimulus package].”

  8. pathmv said,

    See, if I were writing the headline for that section, it would be “Democrats’ solutions fail; public convinced that they have rewarded irresponsible decisions, Democrats suffering electoral consequences.” But HuffPo uses it as an excuse to describe the Republicans as the party of “Angry White Men.” Obama won the election. He’s losing public opinion now. That suggests that either some of the now-angry white men voted for the black man for President or that other groups, not just white men, are also coming to the same conclusion as those angry white men, that the Democratic solutions are not working and are rewarding irresponsible behavior by all sorts of people.

  9. Peter Hoh said,

    A couple random thoughts, and then I’ll address the core of this post.

    First, didn’t it use to be conservatives who decried the appeal to class warfare?

    Second, gutted home values? Hah. Bubble money is imaginary money to all but those who timed it right and sold at the peak of the housing bubble. Unfortunately for most of those people, they used the proceeds of that sale to purchase an more expensive, similarly inflated property.

    This piece by Nate Silver has some interesting ideas. Among other things, he points out this crucial difference between Limbaugh and Beck: “The difference between Beck and Limbaugh is that Beck is much more of an anti-establishment figure.”

    The problem for the GOP is that by ceding leadership to Beck and Limbaugh, et al, they have hurt themselves as a party. Beck and Limbaugh will make good money playing to the 20 percent who strongly like them. It doesn’t hurt their bottom line if they have high negative numbers. However, a party can’t win elections that way.

    Consider the notion that Republicans didn’t win the presidency in 2008 because they didn’t nominate a “true” conservative, and you see that it’s hard to believe that a centrist Republican could emerge as the nominee in 2012.

    Andrew Sullivan linked to an interesting chart that suggests that the GOP has become a regional party.

    I think one-party rule is bad for our country. I wish for nothing more than a vigorous, principled conservative party. I just don’t know where to find it.

  10. Peter Hoh said,

    And what will the angry populists make of Sarah Palin pulling in six figures for speaking to a French owned financial firm, based in China?

  11. Randy said,

    Peter: I imagine they’ll say “Good for her!” I think Silver is probably right about Beck, which raises the question why you and others think he is leading the GOP. As to the chart mentioned, it has been all over the internet. I haven’t seen the corresponding one for the Democratic Party, if there is one, so I’ll reserve comment until I do. Finally, while its a good bet that the GOP nominee in 2012 will be either Romney or Huckabee, its far too early to think about it IMO.

    Pat: The “angry white men” shorthand isn’t something new – it’s been around since Reagan at least. It pre-dates the “soccer mom” label.

  12. Charlie (Colorado) said,

    Peter, I’m guessing that the first thing they’ll think is “if she’s going to have a half-million dollars in legal bills for repeated nuisance suits, she’s better make some money.” In any case, the people who keep complaining about making a lot of money aren’t generally GOP voters — they seem to run heavily to Democrats who somehow make millions of dollars on a relatively small Democratic salary.

    In any case, I’ve lived through two predictions of the imminent death of the GOP — really three, although I don’t much remember the one post-Goldwater. Let’s review:

    1964: LBJ beats Goldwater. End of Republican Party predicted.
    1968: Nixon wins
    1976: Carter wins. People ask if GOP can ever recover from Watergate.
    1980: Reagan wins.
    1992: With control of the House and Senate, final ascendancy of Democrats is assured.
    1994: Newt and the Contract take over the House and Senate
    1996: more GOP gains even though Clinton re-elected
    2000: Bush wins
    2006: Democrats win off elections, take control of Congress.
    2008: Obama wins. Predicted end of GOP. Will there be a new third party?
    2009: Obama popularity collapsing, Democrats start thinking about what happens if they lose the House again.

    Moral: don’t count your chickens.

  13. pathmv said,

    Peter, the thing is a “true” conservative, of the type those people you describe are talking about, will pull in lots of centrist votes… just as did Ronald Reagan. What the GOP are largely looking for is somebody who doesn’t say “the Democrats want a $1 billion bill, we want a $0 bill, so I’ll vote for a $500 million bill as a compromise.”

    As for Beck and Limbaugh, in my view, it’s mostly the media who turn Limbaugh and Beck into “the” leaders of the Republican party. There’s plenty of people in conservative circles, who do not care for either of them. There are plenty of people who were making real, serious criticisms of Obamacare before Sarah Palin’s “death panel” post on Facebook helped sparked a popular uprising. But the media didn’t cover them.

    It’s not entirely the media’s fault, of course. The GOP hasn’t had any terribly good, charismatic leaders who can meld the sound-bites of Palin with the substance of, say, a William F. Buckley. That’s more-or-less what President Reagan was able to do.

    And, as I noted here or somewhere recently, it continues to be odd to me how many centrists or moderates (and certainly the media) like to talk about problems of Republican leadership, without ever really focusing the same way on the many dysfunctions within the Democrats.

  14. Randy said,

    1992: With control of the House and Senate, final ascendancy of Democrats is assured.

    I’ll take issue with that characterization of that election result as viewed at that time.

  15. Peter Hoh said,

    I don’t recall people speculating about the death of the Republican Party after the 1976 or 1992 elections.

    Pat, I don’t focus on the Democrats because I have such low expectations for them.

    If Limbaugh and Beck aren’t the de facto leaders of the GOP, then who is? I’m sure that you’ve seen Tom Delay’s thoughts on the matter.

  16. lfineaux said,

    Peter, that is the problem — the GOP is leaderless right now. Beck and Limbaugh can’t fill that void.

    I know of no one who can… yet. General Petraeus would suit me fine and perhaps it is to the military we should be looking. Or General Honore. “Don’t get stuck on stupid” would be a great campaign slogan, wouldn’t it?


  17. Spud said,

    Personally, I don’t see the death of the Republican party because the pendulum always swings. But it does seem to me the far right element of the party is in control right now. Look what happened to GOP chairman Michael Steele when he spoke out against Rush Limbaugh. In my view the far right has a lot more influence than the far left ever has. Far left groups like PETA and 9/11″ truther’s” do not have big microphones like the “deathers” and the “birthers” do. Until Republicans start condemning people like Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck, Republicans will be in trouble for quite awhile no matter how much Obama falters. And even if Obama does go down, I’m quite confident the far right wingnuts will not take over.

  18. Spud said,

    pathmv said, “The GOP hasn’t had any terribly good, charismatic leaders who can meld the sound-bites of Palin with the substance of, say, a William F. Buckley.”

    How does one meld “Obama pals around with terrorists” with substance?

  19. wj said,

    It isn’t that the GOP is leaderless. It just lacks a consensus, national leader. Which, having recently lost a Presidential election and not having anyone particularly charismatic among the Congressional leadership, is hardly surprising.

    But that still leaves, for example, a number of governors, etc. who are a) at least leaders locally and b) positioned to step up at some point, especially if they can build up a track record of actually accomplishing something. Of course, some of them are not eligible for the Presidency — but that, in itself, doesn’t mean that they might not emerge as leaders of the national party. However, the way a national leader emerges is a bunch of people competing (however informally) for the position. Which can be misread as a lack of leadership.

  20. Randy said,

    Peter: You’re right about the 1976 elections, too. It was after the long agony of the Watergate scandal and 1974 Democratic landslide that questions were raised about what the future held for the GOP. Ford’s 2% loss to Carter, after the bruising GOP primaries and convention, was impressive.

    WJ: Great points!

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