The Republican Party seems to be losing ground.
The latest and perhaps most interesting journalistic analysis of the fix the GOP is in can be found within an August 7, 2014, New York Times article by Robert Draper, “Has the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Finally Arrived?” The party is a coalition. Its current challenge is that two legs of its proverbial “stool” — the social conservative and neoconservative/foreign policy hawk factions — are suffering from decreasing support (voter repudiation), while the third leg — the libertarian leg — remains … “problematic.”
That’s not a word from the article. It’s the favorite term of art of “TV’s Andy Levy,” libertarian co-host of Fox News’s gonzo late-night news chat show Red Eye, who uses it to satirize political correctness in modern times (everything, apparently, is “problematic” when seen through the progressive lens). But I’m using it literally to describe the status of libertarians within the GOP alliance.
Though “free markets” and “free enterprise” have become watchwords of the Republicans, the use of the terms from the social cons and the neocons have been mostly honorifics — honored in utterance, breached in practice. For years, libertarians felt like the most abused partner of the stool. This was especially true during the Bush era, when the GOP solidly pushed war and deficit spending to new heights, while ramping up the surveillance state and short-changing Americans on civil liberties.
But it’s worth remembering: the Republican Party has always been a coalition party. The abolitionists and former Whigs who made up the original organization were pretty good about keeping together. They had an advantage: their very existence on the political map split the federal union — or, more precisely, the success of their first presidential candidate split the union, as slave states split off — and they could seem more united as they stuck to the goal of forcing the union back into one.
Nowadays, however, things are different. The Grand Old Party can no longer rely on 19th century policies of big-business/big-government partnerships, high protective tariffs, and “internal improvements” (the old standbys) and certainly not on the politics of assimilating former slaves. Arguably, as the Democratic Party took over the mantle of Progressivism in the 20th century, they took up GOP policy initiatives. The Republicans had defended former slaves in the 19th century; by the end of the 20th, the Democrats had successfully transformed American politics of anti-slavery into a general politics of race and race-based ideology. Identity politics mattered in new ways.
Anyone who’s not a Democrat has been scratching his or her head ever since.