In The New York Times today, Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin report on fretful Republicans:
For Republicans, Mounting Fears of Lasting Split
The Republican Party is facing a historic split over its fundamental principles and identity, as its once powerful establishment grapples with an eruption of class tensions, ethnic resentments and mistrust among working-class conservatives who are demanding a presidential nominee who represents their interests.
At family dinners and New Year’s parties, in conference calls and at private lunches, longtime Republicans are expressing a growing fear that the coming election could be shattering for the party, or reshape it in ways that leave it unrecognizable....
Never have so many voters been attracted to Republican candidates like Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who are challenging core party beliefs on the economy and national security and new goals like winning over Hispanics through immigration reform....
The issues animating grass-roots voters -- opposition to immigration, worries about wages and discomfort with America’s fast-changing demographics -- are diverging from and at times colliding with the Republican establishment’s interests in free trade, lower taxes, less regulation and openness to immigration.
Sorry, but that's not nearly enough to lead to a permanent rift between the rank-and-file and the party elites. The GOP rank-and-file may not prioritize decreased regulation or lower taxes on the rich, but mention deregulation in a speech, or lower taxes in general, and you'll get cheers even from angry Trump or Cruz backers. And while Trump and Cruz may not pass every neoconservative litmus test, their stated desire to "bomb the shit out of" ISIS or "carpet bomb" Islamic State strongholds ought to reassure Sheldon Adelson -- the proles are absolutely not going isolationist.
That leaves free trade, on which, yes, there's a prole-elite split, but not enough of one to animate a voter revolt. No, the source of the rank-and-file revolt is anger at immigration -- and the party has had that tension for years, at least since the revolt against George W. Bush's effort to pass immigration reform, and the GOP has won quite a few elections in spite of it.
What worries the elites is this:
... party leaders like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina say Republicans are in a “demographic death spiral” and will not survive unless they start appealing to Hispanics and young people....
That may be true long-term, but in the short run, polls say any race pitting Clinton or Sanders against Trump or Cruz would be as tight as Obama-Romney, and no lock for the Democrats. And, really, why not? In off-year elections in the Obama era, white voters outside the South have been voting GOP almost like white Southerners. Why do we assume this will automatically stop in a presidential year? If whites turn increasingly Republican, that's going to keep future contests competitive no matter how offputting the GOP is to non-whites. It will probably save the Senate for the GOP. It may even win the White House for the party, given the low favorable ratings of the Democratic presidential front-runner.
If, with Trump or Cruz at the top of the ticket, the GOP finds a way to hold Congress and remain competitive in the presidential race, elite fears will vanish. They'll look for a way to hold the angry voters in the future with dog whistles rather than overt appeals to hate - in other words, they'll look to run Richard Nixon in '68 after running Barry Goldwater in '64.
We all know that in the aftermath of Goldwater's landslide defeat, the GOP won five of the next six presidential elections, as the party's presidential candidates found ways to appeal to his voters without alienating too many people in the middle. But even before that, in the 1966 midterms, the GOP gained 47 House seats and 3 seats in the Senate. Extremism rarely hurts the Republican Party for very long.
Post-2016 elections will probably look just like 2014, when the GOP Establishment gave grooming lessons to some extremists (e.g., Joni Ernst) and plenty of old-line Establishment candidates -- Lindsey Graham, Lamar Alexander, Mitch McConnell -- won reelection. Voting GOP is part of white tribalism. That won't change anytime soon.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog