Are Democrats better educated than Republicans
by Jakob Wiedekind, M.A. and Prof. Dr. Christiane Lemke
"Let's imagine a different republican party inspired by a different kind of conservatism." With these words, Washington Post columnist and professor at the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown University EJ Dionne, Jr., conjured up the spirit of one in his latest book, "Code Red - How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save our Country" less radicalized republican party. This is not about a thought experiment, but about the direct reference to processes of change, which ultimately culminated in the fact that we are now experiencing a republican party that has been almost entirely taken over by its radical wing. The related displacement of moderate votes has the consequence that even former presidential candidates and actually highly respected Republicans like Mitt Romney or the late John McCain felt increasingly alien in their own party. The Republican Party of today is clearly more ideologically one-dimensional and more homogeneous than it ever was - that is to say, it has become particularly conservative.
In today's debate about the Republican Party, it is all too easy to forget that its radicalization and its current Trumpism with all its populist characteristics did not only begin with Trump's rise in the 2016 primary campaign. Rather, Trump is a prominent expression of an internal party shift that began well before him. From today's perspective it is hard to imagine that it was a Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who enforced the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, that the first national parks in the USA (Yellowstone and Yosemite) were founded by Republican presidents, that Environmental Protection Agency under Richard Nixon came about that Ronald Reagan said "If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would be lost." or that Dwight D. Eisenhower held such views in 1954: "Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history." out some of the dynamics that explain what contributed to today's Republican Party moving so far from its roots, and thus allowing a closer look at the rise of Trump. This is by no means intended to romanticize Trump's Republican predecessors in office, as many of the developments outlined below began and continue to develop during her tenure.
The first central dynamic refers to the so-called"Southern Strategy"Coined in particular by Republican Senator Barry Goldwater for the 1964 presidential election and Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972. TheCivil rights movement and the associated abolition of discriminatoryJim Crow Laws In the 1950s and 1960s, social tensions deepened in many respects, particularly in the southern states of the USA (e.g. Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana or Tennessee). In the course of this, theSouthern Strategy It is precisely in these states that strongly conservative white groups of voters, who previously typically voted democratically, were to be won over to the Republican Party. The 1968 presidential election campaign, for example, showed that this plan would be very promising. George Wallace, then Governor of Alabama and author of the statement "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever", won five states in the southern United States as an independent candidate (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi). The plan of the Republicans was that in particular the emphasis on the so-called "States‘ Rights "the strong opposition of the southern states to theCivil Rights Act could instrumentalize. States ‘rights refer to political power held by the states themselves, not Washington D.C. lies. This goes hand in hand with approaches of “small government”, ie the decentralization of political power with reduced bureaucracy, very business-friendly economic policy and far-reaching deregulation.
These positions are directly related to the severe tax cuts under Ronald Reagan and his economic policies, which are considered to beReaganomics became known together. In many ways, Reagan drove the program outlined aboveSouthern Strategy to extremes and noticeably narrowed the field of vision of Republican politics. These directional decisions, which are still effective today, opened the door to a narrowing of the party ideology towards strongly conservative positions. In the course of this, liberal positions, which the republican party had mainly represented in the commercial and industrial metropolises, faded more and more into the background. At the same time, since the Reagan presidency, the very religious evangelical views have gained increasing influence. The religious right, like the Tea Party movement later, became a major power factor in the Republican Party. TheSouthern Strategy did indeed lead to important electoral successes in the southern states that were elementary for Presidents Nixon and Reagan, but at the same time it caused landslide losses in the African-American electorate.
When Nixon lost to the Democratic John F. Kennedy in 1960, the Republican party was still able to win a third of the Afro-American votes. In the presidential elections that followed, up to 2004, this percentage of votes averaged just under 9 percent. When Obama ran in 2008, that number fell further. TheSouthern Strategy made it possible on the one hand that numerous southern states were republican strongholds in presidential elections, which some successes in theelectoral college (see video on our blog website) conditional. On the other hand, it also began an ideological homogenization, since predominantly strongly conservative values of white voters in the southern states and in the Midwest were played to the detriment of moderate or progressive attitudes. The Republican party strategist Kevin Philipps, who with his book "The Emerging Republican Majority" (1969) decisive influence on theSouthern Strategy, aptly formulated the strategic approach in 1968 as follows: "Who needs Manhattan when we can get the electoral votes of 11 Southern states?"
A self-reinforcing dynamic developed in which ideological homogeneity mobilized a hard core and increasingly excluded other positions. Bit by bit, overlaps with moderate views were lost, which contributed to the strong polarization between Democrats and Republicans. The fact that this could develop to the disadvantage of the Republican Party, especially with a view to demographic change in the USA, was already indicated by the two election successes of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Overall, the coupledSouthern Strategy the Republican Party firmly with strongly conservative values and unleashed an ideological energy in favor of a group of voters who became convinced Trump supporters in 2016.
The second dynamic is the polarizing rhetoric, which was particularly boosted by Newt Gingrich, who was elected to the House of Representatives for the 6th district in Georgia in 1978. In 1983 Gingrich founded theConservative Opportunity Society (COS), which steadily expanded its influence within the Republican representatives and further removed the party from moderate positions. TheCOS eventually had a strong influence on Ronald Reagan's second term as president and provided the ideological basis for a 10-point "Treaty with America," a programmatic platform that gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives in the 1994 congressional election for the first time since 1954 made possible. Gingrich's influence continued to grow when he was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives that same year. In addition to cementing strongly conservative positions, Gingrich used his growing influence to write very aggressive rhetoric, especially against the political opponent - the Democrats - in the DNA of the Republican Party. The repertoire of rhetorical repertoire of the Republicans increasingly included words such as “destroy”, “betray”, “lie”, “pathetic”, “shame”, “traitors” when it came to opponents and their politics.
In contrast, Republicans presented themselves as the representatives of the "real America", which is betrayed by the Democrats. This stylization as a representative of the true America continued well after Gingrich. Sarah Palin, for example, as a candidate for the vice presidency during the election campaign of John McCain in North Carolina in 2008, spoke of the fact that the real America can be found in the small towns and in the hard-working and very patriotic sections of the population. Many of the rhetorical building blocks that are typical of President Trump today actually have their origins in the strong hostility that Gingrich actively promoted. So it is hardly surprising that Gingrich was one of the key advisors to Donald Trump during his 2016 election campaign and is now one of his most important defenders. The rhetorical attacks based on Gingrich's model were now also directed against the patriotism of the Democrats, which was portrayed as particularly weak.
After 9/11, President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign was fundamentally based on challenging the determination of Democratic challenger, John Kerry, to fight terrorism. Democrats were portrayed as too soft, too indecisive, and too weak. The statements made by the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives at the time, Tom DeLay, are particularly memorable. He always referred to Kerry as "French" to make a connection between the French non-participation in the Iraq war and the alleged powerlessness of the Democrats in the fight against terrorism. It even went so far that he began his speeches in Congress with "Hi, or as John Kerry might say, 'Bonjour" ". DeLay had worked closely with Gingrich on the aforementioned "Treaty with America" and adapted his confrontational rhetoric. Gingrich's electoral successes in the early 1990s, but also George W. Bush's renewed victory in 2004, the control he gained in Congress in 2010, and the gains of the radical tea party wing of the Republican Party in the 2012 congressional elections encouraged many Republicans to continue to follow Gingrich's example consequences. The rhetorical sharpness increased and reinforced the trend that had already started with theSouthern Strategy had started: Moderate voices, which could potentially have meant more resistance to Trump's rise, were increasingly in the minority in the Republican Party and were constantly under pressure to justify why they took more moderate positions.
The majority of Republicans rhetorically linked genuine patriotism with only one side of the cultural and sometimes religious rifts in the USA - namely with the strongly conservative white electoral coalition in the southern states and some states in the Midwest. The north-east and especially the west coast (e.g. California) were taken over by the Republican Party in the spirit of theSouthern Strategy largely abandoned and excluded from the definition of the real America during the second Bush administration - a trend that deepened the political divisions between the urban and rural regions of America. Anyone who did not attack the Democrats and their moderate progressive positions sharply was no longer a true Republican and was by no means a representative of the true America. Agitation and breaking taboos were increasingly the preferred rhetorical tools and continued to drive polarization. The breeding ground for the next stage of radicalization (rhetorical and programmatic) by Trump had been prepared well before his actual rise.
The third dynamic describes xenophobia in general and the hostility towards immigrants from Central and South America and from Muslim countries in particular. A particularly prominent trademark of Trump's election campaign and his presidency can be seen here, which becomes clear, for example, in the entry ban for seven Muslim states imposed by executive order shortly after his inauguration. Trump thus responded to the fears of foreign infiltration and the rejection of other cultures in parts of the white population; this attitude reflected, for many, the emphasis on “real America”. How strong thisanti immigration energy was within the Republican Party during the Bush administrations, shows the failure of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, which was launched by President Bush in 2007.
The reform planned to guarantee the then 12 million illegal immigrants in the USA a right of residence and a path to American citizenship while at the same time strengthening border controls should be promoted. The first pillar of the reform was sharply criticized from the start by Bush's own party. The fight against the bill was led by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who was later appointed attorney general by Trump. In a central vote on reform in the Senate, only 12 of the 49 Republican senators voted for the president's proposal from within their own ranks. What is interesting at this point is that a very close connection is already developing here between extremely conservative media channels such as Fox News or Rush Limbaugh radio broadcasts and central actors of the Republican Party. As the Project for Excellence in Journalism found out at the time, the verbal attacks by conservative radio stations on the reform of immigration laws coincided with the content of the opposition in the Senate.
Sessions himself pleaded for the negotiations to be postponed until Rush Limbaugh could explain the true content of the law to the Americans. The function of these media channels as a mouthpiece for particularly radical positions is therefore a development that reached its inglorious climax under Trump, but began long before him. Social media like Twitter made communication even more direct and immediate. The rhetoric and program of the radical right wing of the Republican Party increasingly came to the fore, which is particularly evident in the debates over immigration. Years before Trump put Mexican immigrants under general suspicion of being rapists, the Republican position toward immigrants became increasingly hostile. This development was given a further boost when Barack Obama defeated his Republican adversary John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. The Republican backlash drove the party further to the right on the partisan spectrum in the US and motivated them to take an absolute blockade in Congress during Obama's two terms in office. How far the polarization had progressed in 2008 shows the statement by the then Republican minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
There was particularly strong rejection of Obama's positions on immigration, which were expressed, for example, in his “Dream Act”. This envisaged a reform of the immigration law and included a procedure that would enable qualified immigrants who entered the US illegally as minors to obtain residency status. Here it is again the Tea Party that takes a particularly leading role. Slogans such as “Amnesty for Millions, Tyranny for All”, which were mirrored by numerous Republican representatives in Congress, represent typical attacks on Obama's ideas about reforming immigration laws. This also highlights the fears of the Republican party, of the demographic change in to be left behind in the United States. The path that starts with theSouthern Strategy and its steady radicalization, encourages increasingly conservative positions that are not attractive to a growing segment of the American population. Electoral coalitions are becoming more diverse and heterogeneous, which runs counter to the homogenization of the republican party ideology described here. To conclude, the third dynamic shows that Trump's radical positions on the immigration debate ran open doors in the 2016 Republican party.
Using three separately described but strongly interrelated dynamics, this post makes it clear that Trump's success with nieces is an anomaly. Instead, his rise and the loyalty of his party base are based on developments that have unfolded and strengthened within the party over the past few decades. This also means that even a success for Joe Biden in November this year and the associated end of Trump's presidency in January 2021 by no means slow down these developments in the long term.What this means is that the Republican Party's tough conservative line is only successful because it is attractive to a significant, albeit declining, segment of the American population. Associated with this are larger social developments, from which the feeling of being left behind by globalization stands out. Especially the opposition to immigration and the polarizing rhetoric want to convert real fears of a crumbling middle class into electoral success. This means that the ideological homogeneity of the republican party will be difficult to check, while the democratic party has to master an often very complicated balancing act between moderate and progressive positions. This is clearly evident in the current Democratic primary campaign between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.
In conclusion, it is important to mention that underlying social tensions play a far greater role in Trump's political success than this post has been able to show. In addition, the focus on the Republican Party in no way means an acquittal for the Democratic Party when it comes to dealing with social centrifugal forces. The focus presented here on the internal party dynamics in America's Conservative Party described above are nevertheless instructive in order to better understand how the Republican Party has become Trump's highly radicalized platform. Against this background, it will be important for the Democrats not only to combine their own moderate forces with the progressive views of the young and well-educated generation, but also to convince moderate Republicans, who are deterred by Trump, of themselves. It is clear that ideological and political diversity will remain unchallenged territories of the Democrats for the time being, which the Republicans have deliberately abandoned. How the Democratic Party can successfully forge such complex electoral coalitions is shown by the overwhelming successes in the course of the congressional elections in 2018. This shows a strong backlash to Trump's presidency, which will definitely have a decisive mobilizing effect in November.
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