Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 6

Note: Before we begin this section, unless otherwise noted all quotes in this article are from Rick Perlstein’s book Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

During the 1960’s, there was an ostensible shift in the conservative dynamic of how to run campaigns and what issues conservative politicians should focus on.  Perlstein writes that in the 1960’s that “millions of Americans recognized the balance of forces in the exact same way –that America was engulfed in a pitched battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light.  The only thing was: Americans disagreed radically over which side was which.”  This continues the use of fear by the Republican Party to take back their party and by extension be able to win the Presidency and enact this agenda.

Nixon as a President and even before then had a method to be able to turn the world into a black and white dilemma.  After the Checkers speech, that we have talked about in the past, the responses were split between those who were supporters of Nixon and enemies of Nixon.  Nixon exploited this idea 16 years later when he was running for President, again.  Nixon after watching Ronald Reagan in California and deployed to swing Congressional districts was able to use the strategy of fear to mobilize voters.

President Lyndon Johnson recognized this pattern and the fear of the Republicans to try to win votes prior to 1966.  He said,” “Fooling the people has become the name—of—the—game for a good many Republicans in Congress.  They have no constructive programs to fight inflation. They have no program to ease racial tensions. They don’t know what to do about crime in the streets, or how to end the war in Vietnam. But they do know that if they can scare people, they may win a few votes!”

Before the election, the Republican National Committee produced a video to be shown days before the election that would show the problems of America including crime, caskets from Vietnam, and riots with Johnson talking about the Great Society.  While some of the more liberal Republicans were trying to pull the video because it was tasteless, Conservatives complained that it wasn’t hard-hitting enough.

Nixon decided rightly or wrongly that the way to get back in the good graces of the Republican Party and be in the White House was to focus on law and order issues.  To back him up was a memo titled “Middle America and the Emerging Republican Majority”.  The theory was that elections were won by focusing on people’s resentments.  One of the aspects that he focused on is that is the assumption that voters will only vote their “blood line, church, neighborhood, or caste.”

Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 5

After the 1964 Presidential election of Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater, there was some talk about the end of the Republican Party.  In a blowout victory, Johnson was able to get 61% of the popular vote.  As Rick Perlstein wrote in Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, two of the nation’s ”most respected” political scientists thought that the dominance of the conservatives within the Republican Party would bring an end to the competitive two-party system.

Johnson sensing an actual mandate from the American people gave a speech where he outlined the role of American government in the next half century to provide for a “Great Society.”  In a commencement speech for the University of Michgan he outlined the role:

“For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people. The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization…The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.”

Perlstein wrote after the election “the Republican National Committee could hardly raise the $200,000 each month necessary to keep its office open.”  It’s not as if this disaster was not predictable.  Nixon lobbied for a draft of George Romney for the 1964 Presidential nomination and called Goldwater’s nomination would be a “tragedy” as Perlstein wrote.

But the part of the Republican Party that was energized by the Goldwater nomination was the fringe portions of the party.  The ones that Goldwater had helped stoke to be able to get the nomination.  The John Birch Society was able to increase their members after the Goldwater defeat.  Unlike the usual #demsindisarray stories that are so frequent throughout the election season, this was more similar to #Republicansindisarray.  The Washington Post wrote that there was an “attempted gigantic political kidnapping by fanatics.”

There are two ways to respond to electoral defeats.  The first way to respond is to try to moderate your stances and to move to the middle to try and find voters.  This is the way the Democratic Party tends to respond to electoral defeats.  After the 1972 beatdown of George McGovern, the Democratic Party nominated Jimmy Carter to be President.   The other way is to not moderate your stances at all and even double down on your stances.  The stances can’t change but you do rely on the world around you to change to be able to match your already held stances.  This would seem like a risky strategy.  However, I don’t think this is technically what happens.

I’ll explore the 1960s and the Republican Party in much greater detail. But the short of it is that I believe that the Republican Party uses natural fears that people have to motivate their base.  When we see them double down on their positions, it is because the positions that they are advocating for are for policies of fear.  That’s what the next few posts in this series will be about.  It will be about how fear is being used constantly by the Republican Party.

Yes, we built that; can we repair it? Pt. 4

In The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, Corey Rubin writes “far from being an invention of the politically correct, victimhood has been a talking point of the right ever since Burke decried the mob’s treatment of Marie Antoinette.”  We see this victim card played by a number of conservative politicians and everyday conservatives.  We hear about how a number of Republicans are routinely discriminated against because of their political views, their religious views, or are otherwise victimized.  They can weaponize this victim accusation to their political gain.  Those who are not Republicans who may have actually been victimized may see their actions backfire when seen through a partisan lens.

Mark Sanford was Governor of South Carolina in 2009 when he claimed that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, he was actually in Argentina having an affair.  During his disappearance, there was speculation over who was running the state.  Sanford’s wife claimed that he had previously disappeared like this in the past, as well.  It was later found out that Sanford and his wife were going through a trial separation at the time.  Sanford never thought about resigning from being the Governor of South Carolina.  He did, however, resign as Chairman of the Republican Governors Association.  The South Carolina legislature let Sanford know that they were going to impeach him if he did not resign.  Sanford called what ultimately became a bluff.  He was able to serve out his time as Governor.  His wife, Jenny Sanford, filed divorce which included custody of their sons.

In 2013, the 1st Congressional District in South Carolina held a special election to replace Tim Scott who was appointed the Senator after Jim DeMint’s resignation.  Sanford had previously stated that the last election he was in was his last, decided to throw his hat into the ring.  In the crowded field to replace Scott, Sanford was a heavy favorite to retake the seat.  He was the leading vote getter in the initial primary.  However, because nobody got the majority of the vote, it was headed to a run-off.

In a poll released on March 26, 2013 Sanford had a net favorability in the district of -24 compared to the net favorability of +14 of Elizabeth Colbert Busch who was going to be the Democratic challenger.  His favorability was much higher with Republicans in the district (not surprisingly).  His net favorability with Republicans was +14.  With those who had supported Mitt Romney in 2012 was +14.  Jenny’s net favorability overall was +37 in the district and +43 with Romney supporters.

On April 17, 2013, it was reported by the Associated Press that his ex-wife Jenny had filed a complaint on Mark regarding an incident where he was trespassing on her property.  According to the complaint, this was not the first time that he had trespassed on the property.  Jenny, to her credit, said that she was trying her hardest not to interfere with the race saying that she thought that the documents should be kept sealed.   Mark claimed that he was trying to go to the house to watch the 2nd half of the Super Bowl with his son and that he tried to reach out to Jenny.

Public Policy Polling conducted a poll from April 19 -21 of that year so immediately after the incident became public.  His net favorability ticked upwards slightly within the district to -18.  His favorability was higher among Mitt Romney supporters to +23.  Jenny’s net favorability suffered quite a bit of a decline.  In the district as a whole, her net favorability was +28.  Almost all of this decline was with Romney supporters, as her net favorability fell to +22, a 21 point drop.  64% of Romney supporters said that the trespassing charges gave them no doubts at all about his fitness for public office.

There was very little other news that came out around that time for Sanford that I am able to find.  The debate for the special election did not occur until April 29.  Sanford went on the trail debating a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi after the trespassing news came out.  So it’s not really clear what was driving Sanford’s increased support.

Sanford’s favorability went higher and higher as it was closer to the election.  With Romney’s supporter, he hit a net favorability of +34 in a poll released on May 5, 2013.  Jenny’s net favorability stayed around the same as the last poll showing a net favorability of +25 with Romney supporters.  Despite Sanford’s overall net favorability of -11 in the district as a whole, he won the special election 54-45 against Colbert Busch.

My theory is that while Sanford was most likely trespassing on his ex-wife’s property without her permission.  However, the problem is that voters thought Jenny Sanford was trying to politicize this issue and show that he was unfit for office.  This galvanized conservatives who view every attack on them as political regardless of if it was true.  This effectively gave Sanford a chance to win the special election and he took advantage of the opportunity.

We will revisit the Sanford case as we approach a couple of other issues.  This special election gave us an opportunity to see a number of issues that I will bring up over the coming days and weeks.

Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 3

The troubling case of Rick Perry

Rick Perry ran for the GOP presidential nomination for 2012.  He was considered a heavy favorite at the time.  His gubernatorial record in Texas and his Texan drawl endeared him to a large number of Republican voters.  Perry announced his candidacy on August 11, 2011.  He led the national polls for the Republican primary beginning August 15th and didn’t relinquish the lead until the week of September 25.  Mitt Romney then took the lead.  Romney, for the most part, held the lead going forward outside of about two weeks in February.

Just two weeks after Perry announced his candidacy, Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that he had 33% of the GOP support for the nomination.  He had taken a fairly sizable lead over Romney (13 points).  As they note in their write-up, in a race of the top tier -Perry, Romney, and Michele Bachmann- Perry would win 41-29-19.  His net favorability rating at that point in the race was a staggering +47.  His biggest support was from those who defined themselves as very conservative.  He was the first choice of 40% of those voters.

Even as late as September 14, Perry still had a significant lead on Romney by 13 points although his total had slipped to 31% of the GOP electorate.  He enjoyed virtually the same level of support from the very conservative portion of the GOP electorate (39% in this poll).  His momentum had somewhat stalled but his vote total of the GOP electorate remained steady after a month of leading the polls.  He had maintained about 30% of the GOP electorate if you look at the Real Clear Politics averages.  Not insignificantly, this poll would have included a debate from September 7, 2011 where Perry and the state of Texas were cheered for their use of the death penalty.

He would maintain about 30% for the next two weeks.  Then a Fox News poll that was conducted from 09/25 – 09/27 saw him slip all the way down to 19%, trailing Romney by 4 points.  Perry would not lead another poll during the cycle.  For the next month, he would stay between 6-19% of the GOP electorate.  So what happened during that time that saw him fall so precipitously?  My explanation is that there was this debate performance.

PPP published this chart after seeing Perry’s performance fall so much during the month of September:

A similar story happened in West Virginia.  PPP noted that Perry’s net favorability dropped 37 points in North Carolina and 30 points in West Virginia.  Nationally, we had something similar.  Perry dropped 17 points in one month from 31% to 14%.  His biggest drop was with those who identify as very conservative.  Nationally, he went from 39% to 20% with them.

So what happened?  The popular idea is that Perry had his famous oops moment.  But that actually came much later.  What did happen near the end of September was only one debate:

Perry was booed for having tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.  Would that be enough to sink Perry so far in the polls?  It’s possible, although his debate performance was not the best prompting some consternation among Republican pundits.  The next performance was much better but his poll numbers never recovered.  He couldn’t get above 14% after October 11.  The next debate was November 9.  This was the infamous oops moment.  This is the one that hurt his campaign worse than usual, right?  The next batch of polls before November 22 don’t show much of a difference in his numbers.  He reaches a high mark of 14% immediately after the debate and CNN has him at 12% for their next two polls.

The evidence doesn’t seem to back the idea that Perry’s “oops” moment cost him the nomination.  Based on the polling numbers, it looks like what cost him was his compassion and his justification for enforcing the Texas DREAM Act.


Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 1


On July 21, 2016.  Donald Trump accepted the nomination of the Republican Party.  He promptly gave one of the darkest acceptance speeches that I’ve ever read or heard.  There was some debate after Trump clinched the nomination whether the media was complicit in the rise of Trump.  This gave undue credence to the media, in my opinion.  I think the nomination of Trump was the natural consequence of the Republican Party going down the path that they have gone down since at least 1960.  I think a Trumpesque nomination was inevitable and what’s striking is that we’re largely ignoring it while trying to normalize his candidacy.  A lot of effort is being used to show that Trump is so far out of the mainstream of the Republican Party that it’s ridiculous that he got nominated. I think he is very far out of the mainstream and I think he is dangerous.  But more importantly, the groundwork by the Republican Party over the last 50 years has led me to believe that Trump’s nomination was not a mistake but an inevitability.

Over a series of posts that I think I may be able to stretch out until Election Day (the good Lord willing), we’ll explore various elections and politicians as their work into building Trump as a candidate.  Finally, we’ll look at what, if anything can be done to repair the Republican Party and why so many progressives are interested in saving it.  The stories and analysis in these posts may be out of order chronologically because I’m working on them as I get the research completed.

Yes, we built it

The title of this series refers to the reaction of the Republican Party to a speech that Barack Obama gave in 2012.  Obama gave a speech about how someone helped you get to your success.  This wouldn’t normally be controversial.  But Obama has become such a polarizing figure (as we’ll explore in greater detail) that anything he says must be distorted and argued against.  I don’t think it was the correct choice of words since he didn’t finish his train of thought.  I think the context makes it fairly clear what he is saying.

The Republican Party seized on these comments to make it a theme in their convention.  When I went to see Barack Obama speak in Iowa in 2012, there were a number of protesters holding signs that said,”we did build that.”  Most of this stuff hasn’t left the political lexicon, yet.  We can still remember most of this happening, I would hope.

Like Obama’s comments, I don’t think the Republican Party necessarily had to go down this path and they’re not the only ones responsible for it.  I think along the way the Democratic Party and the media have contributed to the Republican Party reacting the way that they do.  But like Obama said, the success was found with our own individual drive and ambition, the most important contributing factor were individuals within the Republican Party and voters within the party.