In The Atlantic, David Frum plays catch-up with a lengthy piece on “The Great Republican Revolt”. He rightly distills the causative factor to the GOP’s abandonment of ‘Middle America’ – aka, white middle class Americans.
For instance, Frum reassesses the historical origins of the Tea Party movement that actualized amidst The Organizer’s first term:
It was these pessimistic Republicans who powered the Tea Party movement of 2009 and 2010. They were not, as a rule, libertarians looking for an ultraminimal government. The closest study we have of the beliefs of Tea Party supporters, led by Theda Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist, found that “Tea Partiers judge entitlement programs not in terms of abstract free-market orthodoxy, but according to the perceived deservingness of recipients. The distinction between ‘workers’ and ‘people who don’t work’ is fundamental to Tea Party ideology.”
It’s uncertain whether any Tea Partier ever really carried a placard that read keep your government hands off my medicare. But if so, that person wasn’t spouting gibberish. The Obama administration had laid hands on Medicare. It hoped to squeeze $500 billion out of the program from 2010 to 2020 to finance health insurance for the uninsured. You didn’t have to look up the figures to have a sense that many of the uninsured were noncitizens (20 percent), or that even more were foreign-born (27 percent). In the Tea Party’s angry town-hall meetings, this issue resonated perhaps more loudly than any other—the ultimate example of redistribution from a deserving “us” to an undeserving “them.”
This is critical, and while Frum won’t come out and say it, the more racially non-homogeneous America becomes, the more this friction will exacerbate (qua Western Europe).
The complete tone deafness of GOP, Inc is also acknowledged by Frum:
Yet even as the Republican Main Street protested Obamacare, it rejected the hardening ideological orthodoxy of Republican donors and elected officials. A substantial minority of Republicans—almost 30 percent—said they would welcome “heavy” taxes on the wealthy, according to Gallup. Within the party that made Paul Ryan’s entitlement-slashing budget plan a centerpiece of policy, only 21 percent favored cuts in Medicare and only 17 percent wanted to see spending on Social Security reduced, according to Pew. Less than a third of ordinary Republicans supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants (again according to Pew); a majority, by contrast, favored stepped-up deportation.
As a class, big Republican donors could not see any of this, or would not. So neither did the politicians who depend upon them. Against all evidence, both groups interpreted the Tea Party as a mass movement in favor of the agenda of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. One of the more dangerous pleasures of great wealth is that you never have to hear anyone tell you that you are completely wrong.
Frum thankfully acknowledges the wedge issue between Middle America and the GOP:
Romney ultimately lost the presidential election, of course, to the surprise and dismay of a party elite confident of victory until the very end. One might have expected this shock to force a rethink. The Republicans had now lost four out of the past six presidential elections. Another election had been won only in the Electoral College, despite the loss of the popular vote. Even their best showing, 50.7 percent of the vote in 2004, represented the closest escape of any incumbent president who won reelection since the first recorded popular vote.
And yet, within hours of Romney’s defeat, Republican donors, talkers, and officials converged on the maximally self-exculpating explanation. The problem had not been the plan to phase out Medicare for people younger than 55. Or the lack of ideas about how to raise wages. Or the commitment to ending health-insurance coverage for millions of working-age Americans. Or the anthems to wealth creation and entrepreneurship in a country increasingly skeptical of both. No, the problem was the one element of Romney’s message they had never liked anyway: immigration enforcement.
Frum provides a litany of things the GOP did in the past 8 years to alienate it’s Middle American base, particularly the Gang of Eight amnesty bill and its support by much of GOP Inc, punditry.
Then came the summer of 2015… and The Donald:
What was new and astonishing was the Trump boom. He jettisoned party orthodoxy on issues ranging from entitlement spending to foreign policy. He scoffed at trade agreements. He said rude things about Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers. He reviled the campaign contributions of big donors—himself included!—as open and blatant favor-buying. Trump’s surge was a decisive repudiation by millions of Republican voters of the collective wisdom of their party elite…
… Trump has destroyed one elite-favored presidential candidacy, Scott Walker’s, and crippled two others, Jeb Bush’s and Chris Christie’s. He has thrown into disarray the party’s post-2012 comeback strategy, and pulled into the center of national discussion issues and constituencies long relegated to the margins.