Sunday, March 13, 2016

The History of Party Splitting

David Frum has a bit of history for Republicans thinking of running a conservative alternative to Trump, should he be the nominee:
When people bolt their party, the party changes behind them.

Take, for example, the Progressive Republicans. When they bolted the party to follow Teddy Roosevelt’s independent campaign in 1912, they left conservatives in control of the Republican apparatus. Before 1912, it was very much an open question whether the reformist movements of the 20th century would find their home in the Republican or Democratic Party. After 1912, the most important of those reforms would be carried out at the federal level by Democrats, and opposed by Republicans. When Republicans regained the White House in 1920, it would be under the leadership of the man who’d delivered the nominating speech for William Howard Taft at the 1912 convention. The young people who’d looked to Teddy Roosevelt for change in 1912 would in many cases end up as followers of his cousin Franklin in 1932—most notably, the former Bull Moose who ran most of the early New Deal, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes.

Or consider the example of George Wallace. When he bolted from the Democratic Party in 1968, he offered downscale Southern whites the same political mix they’d supported since Reconstruction: populist economics joined to racial conservatism. His bolt was intended to frighten national Democrats to jettison Kennedy-Johnson liberalism and return to something like the old ways. Instead, Wallace accelerated the great political realignment of the 1970s: minorities and highly educated whites moving into the Democratic party; downscale whites leaving it, especially in the South.

Or take Ross Perot’s 1992 insurgency. The Republican Party dominated presidential politics from 1968 through 1988, winning every election except 1976, and gaining in 1972 and 1984 two outright landslides: 60.7 percent and 58.8 percent of the vote, respectively.

But in 1992, Perot smashed the old Nixon-Reagan coalition. He won over 20 percent of the vote in the state of California—a solid Republican state before 1992, and never again thereafter. His very best state—Maine—had likewise been a Republican stronghold before 1992, and would never vote Republican again. Perot exposed Republican vulnerabilities in the new purple states of the South, notably North Carolina, where Bill Clinton finished within less than one point of George H.W. Bush.

The white voters most resistant to the Perot message were those who attended church most often. Post-1992, the GOP redefined its base vote in religious rather than economic terms. And while that redefinition reestablished the party’s competitiveness, it also denied it the majority support it had enjoyed pre-Perot. Only once after 1992, in 2004, would the Republican win more than 50 percent of the vote in a presidential election—and then only barely.
Interesting. Anybody have an opinion on whether this is accurate?


Dallas said...

Frum's historical analysis may be accurate, and clearly movement conservatives face a difficult choice.

The remaining question: "How relevant is this history to the current situation?" The Democratic Party is also very vulnerable. In large sections of the country, especially rural areas, the infrastructure no longer exists to even nominate credible Democratic candidates. A landslide at the presidential level need not translate into significant gains in congressional and state elections. Modest gains at those levels may not translate into plausible policy-making ability in the face of the ongoing intransigence of well-organized minority groups like "The Freedom Caucus."

The real threat may be to the "Two Party System" itself.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that if a party divides, it's because of deep and long-standing divisions over major issues, not just because somebody runs a split-off presidential campaign. The most epic division was certainly the disappearance of the old Whig Party in the 1850s, and that was over the deepest of issues (slavery). The same with the 1912 election: there was probably no way the reformist and conservative wings of the GOP could have stayed together long-term, TR's Bull Moose campaign or not. Same with Wallace.

In other words, the rise of Trump is the result of important divisions within the Republican coalition that are reaching a crisis point, and I doubt mainstream Republicans can preserve their coalition simply by choosing not to run a split-off anti-Trump campaign. The split is already ruining the GOP's ability to function as a congressional majority.

Shadow said...

I'm not sure, but Frum may be guilty of practicing the fallacy of post hoc history: If event B follows event A, event A must have caused Event B.

Part of the Republican.Conservative mantra has been trickle down (low taxes for the rich) and that government should stop mucking around in business (less regulation). The thing that surprises me is many Trump followers seem to reject this. They seem to not favor the rich over working class or trickle down, and they seem to very much want the government to interfere with companies sending jobs overseas. Have I misunderstood?

If I am correct, then conservatives have completely misunderstood what has been going on its own party over the past 25 years.

Shadow said...

I should add, I haven't bothered looking into Frum's claim because I find it uninteresting. I see such things as he describes as healthy, certainly not a problem in themselves. All he's describing is change.

What I find interesting is the tenacity with which the republican party holds onto the Ronald Reagan mythology. I had my problems with him, but even if he was a good or great president, he was a president of his era and not of this one. He left office 28 years ago and died over 10 years ago. Sheesh! Give up the ghost. This is a different era with different problems that require different solutions. I'll know there is a strong republican candidate for president when I see him or her never mention Regan's name and, instead, offers new solutions. Time to modernize. Too many republicans are stuck in time.

Shadow said...

I think a viable third party would be healthy for this country. By viable, I mean a party that can elect sufficient numbers to congress to make a difference. Right now I see a tug of war between two parties, each hoping if things go their way they will be in the majority. A third party presence would smash this notion, and we might see some things get done.

I guess this is my day for posting.

pootrsox said...

I am liking what you have to say, Shadow Flutter.

This week's Time Magazine's cover story on the GOP is very good indeed. It does not appear to be behind a paywall:

Shadow said...

Wow! He must have been listening to me. :-)