Who's the Party Base? (Or, "It's My Party, Damn It")

Mike Warren: Let's get this debate started.

This came about because Katherine and I had a disagreement about who makes up the GOP base, though I guess it would be more accurate to say that the discrepancy came from the question of who should make up the GOP base.

I think the answer to this question really answers the question about who a GOP presidential candidate should appeal to. It may seem like a moot point now that we've had our maverick Johnny Mac in the saddle for months, but, just like the fellas at The Next Right, we're looking toward the future of conservatives and the Republican Party, two groups that, for better or for worse, are intertwined.

Conservatives make up the base of the party, to put it simply. What is a conservative in this sense? I am not speaking strictly in the academic or philosophical sense. Nerds like me read Buckley and Sowell and D'Souza and worry about the philosophy, but normal, everyday GOP voters think in terms of themselves and their families.

What do these people want? They want less government in their lives, national security protection from terrorists and enemy nations, a society that values family, and the chance to be successful in life. These desires just happen to be the very tenets of a successful conservative political group.

If a Republican candidate wants to be president, he must indicate to this base of voters, which populate mainly the South and the West (though not entirely), that the aforementioned values will influence how he will govern. I argue that moderate Republicans rarely get elected unless they appeal to the conservative base.

I've got an altered theory on why moderates have trouble winning. By definition, moderates of any party are not particularly close to the base on average. Moderate Republicans in Congress are such because they often fall into the spending culture of Washington. John McCain, John Warner, Chuck Hagel, Chris Shays, these are the paragons of moderate Republicanism.

They have been in Washington for a while, and they have a Beltway mindset approaching issues. Tax money becomes government's money to be spent with little abandon. Working across the aisle with Democrats makes sense because, after all, they are your friends (how many times have we heard a senator call another "my friend"?). The problem is that Washington is a government city, and liberals are government people, so Republicans working with liberal Democrats nearly always results in caving into their assumptions (e.g. global warming, comprehensive immigration).

Regular people don't live in Washington and don't think like Washingtonians think. They have other things on their mind besides government, if they can help it. That's why conservatives that shun government and praise the free market, the church, and national defense can win; it's about the people, not about the government.

The Republican base that any Republican presidential candidate should seek to appeal to are regular Americans of all races and regions that want to hear solutions that don't involve government. But if given the option of government from the Republicans and government for the Democrats, these voters will either stay home or pick the party that has a better track record running government (even if it ain't that good anyway). To paraphrase Patrick Henry, the GOP base shouts "give me liberty or you might as well give me the Democrats." 

Katherine Miller: Apologies for the delay in debate post; I am fighting off a cold/allergies like a circus person with a chair against a lion. Full disclosure: I will begin by admitting my Washingtonian existence, politically moderate disposition, and subsequent exclusion from the so-called "party base." This entire debate derived out of a disagreement more about what the base should be, so my assertions will be tempered by champagne dreams of mine, I suppose. As Mario says, here we go.

Despite erosion from social conservatives, the actual base remains as traditionally Republican as ever, and against Mike's family-centric model, I will dub mine the Wall Street & Washingtonian base. That's a relatively small group of people -- a small group of people that keeps the economy and politics running. The WS&W is comprised, first, of individuals who identify as Americans, and the guiding principle behind them involves: maximizing individual freedom, while minimizing physical danger. This manifests itself in several ways:

  • A free market, free trade economy
  • A hearty national defense
  • A scientific, metric approach to national issues (healthcare, climate change, etc.)
  • A robust educational system
  • A removal from faith-based focuses on policy (gay marriage, stem cell research)

This is a very policy-based approach to a base, admittedly (strange...I usually don't have too many thoughts on policy). I imagine these people asking themselves two questions: "What must the government do?" and (this is where education comes into play) "How can the individual best be equipped to excel?"

The WS&S is never caught up in this populist hoo ha about outsourcing, the way some in the Republican party have drifted dangerously close to unions and uncomfortably nativist sentiments. Free trade reigns supreme with the WS&S. As does privatization of healthcare and a more metric approach to education (as NCLB began). I know that's a contradiction in terms almost, but superior education for the individual no matter the circumstance, and superiority of American education are critical parts of this base. This is a group of people who sees climate change as an opportunity for American enterprise to advance technologically and develop alternative energies, like nuclear power, in a modern sort of space race of American exceptionalism for private corporations and research groups to develop. "What must the government do?" The government handles the standards of safety, and the courts and justice system maintain a strict, transparent order when the law gets broken.

Additionally, and in some ways, most importantly, my model holds no pretenses of social values. This is such a critical part of what divides the two existing bases in the GOP today. And, while I've heard Mike argue time and time again that Washington somehow strangles politicians with its money-spending culture like a lady of the night, I'm more inclined to look towards "compassionate conservatism." The so-called base includes too many groups and politicians who, at the end of the day, find social policy of greater importance than all else. Values, unlike metrics, are relative.

Perhaps this is an elitist picture of Americans, and capitalist success stories that bundle and trade don't always represent the best of Americans; but the old black-tie, martini image of the GOP isn't exactly dismal, either. It still exists, just amongst a lot more grassroots.

How does a leader relate to and relate this in Washington? Mitt Romney in his governor days came hairline fracture close until he hit the presidential nomination expressway. Rudy Giuliani didn't do too bad of a job in New York. You just need the right ideas and a little charisma, and you can go a long way. The most important thing is to keep the country running like a business: efficient, cost-effective, and capitalist.

Cross-posted at Right-Wing Vitriol 

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