The New Whigs?

I started to write this as an update to the last post, but then decided it deserved its own post. Anyway, responding to a news headline about a split in the Republican Party, Michael Stickings argues that there is no split:

Powell and Ridge, along with McCain and other such renegades, will continue to garner the headlines, but, again, the Republican Party is Limbaugh’s party, the party of the right-wing base and its leadership both in Congress and elsewhere. There are moderate Republicans, to be sure, but they are now a decided minority in a party that has been shifting ever further rightward in recent years, notably in defeat after the ’06 and ’08 elections.

This is true, but I think this shows us the “split” already occurred. I would argue that the real split was in the 1970s, when the Goldwater/Reagan wing of the party ascended and began the process of casting out Rockefeller Republicans and more moderate Ford/Nixon Republicans.

There has been a hard, take-no-prisoners right wing in the GOP for a long time. I’ve read that when Dwight Eisenhower was nominated in 1952, conservatives at the convention (who supported Robert Taft Jr.) were so angry they spat on Eisenhower delegates. At the 1964 convention they booed Nelson Rockefeller off the podium and put nausea-producing drugs into the drinks of Rockefeller delegates. But until the late 1970s the whackjobs were the party fringe. Since taking over the party they have demanded absolute loyalty to their leaders and ideas — well, talking points, anyway — and demonized any faction of the party that didn’t march in step.

So the split is a fait accompli, the few lingering moderates notwithstanding. But now that their “ideas” have been found wanting, and most of the public is thoroughly sick of them and their bullying, fear-mongering brand of politics, the GOP has been so purged of any alternative factions that there are not enough contemporary Rockefeller or Eisenhower or even Nixon Republicans to step up and take over.

There’s an interesting example of what’s happened at the right-wing site American Power. The blogger writes of Colin Powell’s call for the party to be more inclusive — “his own personal history belies the notion that the GOP lacks inclusion or fails to provide opportunities for qualified minorities.” But then he adds, “Actually, it’s something of a shame for him to be getting into these debates at this point.” But he doesn’t say why it’s a shame. And then the commenters come along and say “Powell is irrelevant to Republicans and conservatives”: “I never understood the fuss about him”; “Colin Powell has no business in the Republican Party”; and “Colin Powell is a media whore.” So much for inclusion.

What the hard Right still has are the think tanks and media outlets, and they still have the big money from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Koch Family foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family foundations and the Adolph Coors Foundation to underwrite the think tanks and media outlets and countless astroturf organizations. This will keep the current GOP alive, no matter if 99 percent of the voters turn against them and their regional clout shrinks to Mississippi.

If we assume that there will be two major parties, in the foreseeable future I don’t see a conservative-to-moderate-and-not-insane party rising up and taking over the niche the GOP used to fill. As many of you pointed out in comments recently, the conservative-to-moderate-and-not-insane politicians are Democrats now, albeit of the Blue Dog sort.

But let’s think about the more distant future. If there is to be a conservative-to-moderate political party that will organize to challenge the Dems, will that be a revitalized GOP, or will that be a new party? I think it could go either way, but it might actually be easier to form a whole new conservative-moderate party than to re-take the GOP from the crazies.

I’m guessing that if the Republicans have another losing election in 2010 — and I’m not making predictions, but right now that seems a good bet — surely a lot of the money currently propping up the GOP will move elsewhere. A whole new conservative party that doesn’t suffer from association with Bush/Gingrich/Limbaugh would be much more palatable to a broader swatch of voters, IMO, and might even siphon off the Blue Dogs from the Dems. Maybe they’ll even call themselves New Whigs.

Also — it’s Memorial Day. Here are some old Memorial Day posts from the Mahablog archives:

Memorial Day 2006

Memorial Day 2007

19 thoughts on “The New Whigs?

  1. Tim F. at Balloon Juice has a piece on How the GOP Got Here. From his closing: Lunatics running the asylum has become cliche, but that is exactly what happened here. Republicans made a series of short-term grabs for this constituency or that for the votes to repeal the estate tax, kill Social Security and increase taxes on the poor/middle class, but somehow the chump constituencies got hold of the keys and took over the main office. The rest is well worth a read.

  2. Very good points, and I certainly don’t disagree with you. My point, of course, is that there is no such “divide” now, no real civil war beyond what the media are making of it (while giving Powell way, way too much airtime).

  3. The crazies may finally have gotten to be too crazy for any people left who still harbor rational thoughts in the Republican Party.
    I think the country may finally be ready for a third party.
    If someone less crazy than Ross Perot could come along and build on what was established in the ’90’s, there is, I believe, a base to build on. Someone like Mike Bloomberg (and don’t think he hasn’t given it some thought). His problem is that he’s too urban and too Jewish (please don’t think I’m being insulting here) for many voters.
    But someone like him could come along and try to grab the independents. Who? How about someone like Chuck Hagel (no, I don’t like him much at all, but he would appeal to a lot of folks). The late Jack Kemp might have fit the bill, too.
    And if there’s room for a 3rd party, why not a 4th? A true Liberal/Progressive one.
    There’s something to hope for!

  4. I think that’s a decent summation of the movement base, but I think people do overestimate how important these people are to the Republican Party, because they’re so disproprtionately represented in th discourse. Look at th 2008 primary; pro-choice Giuliani got all of the early ink, the conservative movement was ultimately forced to embrace Romney, a guy who signed a healthcare bill that would have been deemed pure socialism if Deval Patrick had signed it, and the winner of the who shebang was the biggest bete noir of them all for the true believers, after Limbaugh and Hannity spent a month going after him non-stop.

    It might sound silly, and there’snot really any way to prove it, but I’ll say straight up; if Colin Powell were to decide to run for President in 2012 (which he won’t), he’d win the Republican nomination. Easily.

  5. It’s my theory that the conservatives only hold power in this country when the Federalists and Know-Nothings (to use early incarnations) manage to work together. And it only works when it’s the Federalists actually running things. Their lover’s quarrels seem to last 15 or 20 years, so (other than being obstructionist), I think they’re pretty much irrelevant for awhile.

    What to watch for, I think, is the Blue Dog / Progressive boundary. and whether it becomes hostile.

  6. I have a few Republican friends who are no longer Republicans: they are now registered as Independents. The reason is because they truly want to do what’s best for the US and are tired of being associated with fundies and nut jobs. Incidentally, they also believe that those speaking for the party would rather see Obama fail than the US succeed and are saddened by how much power Limbaugh has these days. So I would agree that there is a divide in the party, and that it’s chasing off the moderates in droves.

  7. C u n d ulag — it is unfortunate that the way we hold elections in this country doesn’t allow for third or fourth parties to be significant factors, except as spoilers. It’s the winner-take-all thing that’s the problem. If voters could specify second choices, or if there were runoffs when nobody wins a majority, there’d be a chance that more than two parties could be competitive. But until we change the voting system it ain’t gonna happen.

    That said, I think there’s a good chance the Dems will gradually move further left in the next few years, especially once a reconstituted GOP or a new conservative-moderate party emerges.

  8. I think the risk is that in the absence of a viable Republican party the Democratic party will move to the right to capture a larger share of former Republican voters. We’re going to need another party on the left for sure, too.

  9. maha,
    Thanks, I know, and it’s sad. 🙂
    But a guy can dream, can’t he?…

  10. Mahakal, I think it’s much more likely that the Blue Dogs will split off and go shallow right. It wouldn’t surprise me to see people like Jim Webb going in that direction, for one example, probably joined by Rational Repubs like Olympia Snow, maybe. That could be very compelling for a lot of people, depending on who ended up leading it.

  11. There was a time when the Libertarian Party seemed like a viable alternative for conservatives (and even some liberals). Originally (1970s), it had the support of many former hippies who were impressed by the Libertarians support for drug legalization, their anti-war stance, support for low taxes and small government, and their opposition to anything resembling a police state.

    But then big business discovered the Libertarian Party, and were quick to co-opt their ideas. Reagan adopted the Libertarian “get government off our backs” platform, and in a 1975 interview said, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. The Libertarian Party disgustingly supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton (as if using millions of taxpayer dollars to dig into a president’s sex life isn’t the very antithesis of libertarianism). Bob Barr, the LP’s presidential candidate in 2008, wasn’t much of a Libertarian:

    Bob Barr even failed to show up for the one third party candidate debate in 2008, which was broadcast live on CSPAN. Interestingly, Cynthia McKinney (Green Party) failed to show too, which made me lose all respect for her. Only Ralph Nadar and Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin participated.

    Like Maha, I have little hope for third parties – the laws in the USA make it almost impossible. But the Republican Party implode, and something will have to replace it. And as it appears that the Libertarians are already being corrupted by money, if they ever gain any real power, they may quickly evolve into Republicans.

  12. What are the Modern Whigs then? I think they could use all of this bickering to their advantage. If they could pull in a big name like Powell… game on.

  13. Wow, very close to what we are trying to do. Just instead of New Whigs, we are the Modern Whigs, founded last year by returning veterans. Check us out at
    We have a long way to go, and it will be very difficult, but we are going to give it a shot. We already have some candidates lined up.
    Join us, you will be welcome. We are attracting members such moderate Republicans to Democrats upset about the deficit.

  14. …they still have the big money from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Koch Family foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family foundations and the Adolph Coors Foundation to underwrite the think tanks and media outlets and countless astroturf organizations.

    I can foresee a time in the not too distant future when an overwhelming percent of the population votes democratic, but the monied interests still buy our legislation, achieving more or less the same result as having a strong republican wing in the government. What difference does it make what party is in power if legislation is bought by the corporations and ultra wealthy either way?

  15. I’ve read that when Dwight Eisenhower was nominated in 1952, conservatives at the convention (who supported Robert Taft Jr.) were so angry they spat on Eisenhower delegates.

    Richard Hofstadter wrote that after Ike won the Presidency, one hard-core GOP woman said it would be “8 more years of socialism.”

  16. I think you’ve got Goldwater all wrong. He was too libertarian for the religious right, which he opposed.

  17. Stuhlmann:

    “I think you’ve got Goldwater all wrong. He was too libertarian for the religious right, which he opposed.”

    Nevertheless, in the 1960s Goldwater was the champion of the pseudo-conservative/hard right faction of the Republican Party, and political and social historians will tell you that Goldwater Republicans are the faction that evolved into Reagan Coalition Republicans.

  18. i think we need a party on the left, a green party. Haven’t the democrats have become the conservative party?

  19. No new political party will assume the place of the current ones. Too many institutional barriers stand in the way.

    This does not mean that coalitions within the parties cannot change, or realignments under the current organizational structures cannot occur. New leaders who represent different constituencies can take the levers of institutional power and achieve the ballot access and other privileges that belongs to the political party as an institution. And it is the activists who typically control these levers.

    I think we are seeing the fracturing of a coalition between religious conservatives on one side and the business community and libertarians on the other. All three depended on racism and religion to maintain political and economic power.

    But today’s corporate leaders resent restrictions on what they can sell and how they sell it. The also worry about maintaining a work force in an advanced society when religious leaders lobby against real science in education.

    Libertarians have no more interest in religious than government control over their lives.

    So far the corporatists and some libertarians have shifted their support to the Dems, and have become more amenable to collective action on some issues. This may hold as long as the liberal party remains center-left. Still, the realignment has not ended, and if moderate Republicans can seize the levers of power from religious leaders and anti-taxers, they may be able to siphon off some blue dogs.

    This is why Obama should plot a moderate course that creates a constituency for collective action on health care, education, and the economy. If he can do this, he should be able to build a lasting coalition to the left of center and marginalize the extreme right.

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