Ross Douthat writes essentially the same column his colleague Bret Stephens wrote a day earlier: Trumpism is triumphant worldwide, therefore liberalism is in serious trouble. The only difference is that Stephens believes Trump will win in 2020, while Douthat thinks "Trump remains eminently beatable" -- but only because of his own personal flaws, not his illiberal ideology.
Stephens, as I noted in my last post, thinks liberalism would stand a chance if liberals weren't so damn liberal -- they should be more like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton! Douthat's position is a variation on that theme, but he puts it in terms of rigid allegiance to a range of liberal ideas:
... on our op-ed podcast, The Argument, ... my colleague and co-host David Leonhardt interviewed Pete Buttigieg, the Midwestern mayor running for president with promises to build bridges between the heartland and the coasts. Leonhardt pressed Buttigieg on whether that bridge-building might include compromise on any social issues, and the answer seemed to be “no” — in part because Mayor Pete argued that on abortion and guns and immigration most middle Americans already agree with Democrats, that the liberal position is already the common ground.
The strategic flaw in this reading of the liberal situation is that politics isn’t about casually held opinions on a wide range of topics, but focused prioritization of specifics. As the Democratic data analyst David Shor has noted, you can take a cluster of nine Democratic positions that each poll over 50 percent individually, and find that only 18 percent of Americans agree with all of them. And a single strong, focused disagreement can be enough to turn a voter against liberalism, especially if liberals seem uncompromising on that issue.
Here's what Shor points out:
But why is it that "a single strong, focused disagreement can be enough to turn a voter against liberalism, especially if liberals seem uncompromising on that issue"? The same doesn't seem to be true of conservatism.
Approximately 90% of all Americans, including an overwhelming majority of Republicans, support background checks for all gun sales. Republicans are, as Douthat puts it, uncompromising on that issue. A recent poll showed that 67% of all Americans oppose the overturn of Roe v. Wade, including nearly half of all Republicans. Republicans are relentless in their efforts to undermine Roe. Polls show that approximately 70% of Americans -- including, in some surveys, a majority of Republicans -- support tax increases on the wealthy. The Republican Party cuts taxes on the rich whenever it can. President Trump's wall is opposed by 60% of Americans, and 81% of Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Republicans won back the presidency by becoming more ideologically extreme on immigration.
Douthat believes that liberals need to compromise on guns (or abortion or climate change, or some other issue or set of issues), because support for liberalism is extremely fragile. He probably has a point. But for some reason, Republicans don't need to do that -- in fact, Republicans can support a range of unpopular policies and never suffer for it at the ballot box.
Why is this? I think in part it's because Republicans -- and other conservative/white nationalist parties worldwide -- are much better at hijacking the symbols of patriotism. They have stronger branding because they're shameless about waving the flag and defining both the members of the tribe and the enemies of the tribe. There's a clear "us" and "them," and these parties hammer home the message that they're on "our" side (even when they aren't).
Liberal parties -- and, in Europe these days, some established conservative parties -- struggle to find a non-white-nationalist equivalent to this. In America, Democrats don't marshal patriotic symbols the way, for instance, FDR's National Recovery Administration did:
The pre-Trump GOP seized the flag in the Nixon years and has never let it go, and now America's party of white nationalism is the party seen for years as the party of patriotism.
Democrats shouldn't need to make compromises and tradeoffs in a desperate attempt to retain voters -- Republicans never do this. Democrats need to find a way to get large numbers of people to rally around the idea of being Democrats.
Republished with permission from No More Mister Nice Blog