Sunday, December 10, 2017


I wrote back in September that the Republican Party had, in embracing Trump, sacrificed ideological coherence as well as the capacity to build a political national consensus. No one knows what the GOP stands for any more, beyond holding power, and no one knows for what constituencies Republican leaders advance policies, other than their donors (which is to say, themselves). Such an existence cannot be sustained for long in a democratic republic. The party will either break apart or in their quest to retain power jettison democracy for authoritarianism.

Both possibilities can occur simultaneously. While much of the media, especially those on the watchdog left, is obsessively charting the latter, the former process has already begun. The latest example is Kurt Bardella, former Republican staffer and Breitbart employee, who wrote a couple days ago in USA Today that Republican endorsement of Roy Moore caused him to leave the GOP and become a Democrat. Peter Wehner at the New York Times wrote yesterday about "Why I Can No Longer Call Myself an Evangelical Republican." (Wehner's not jumping ship just yet, but he's readying the lifeboat.) Meanwhile, Wehner's colleague at the Times, David Brooks, in another display of vomit-inducing pathos for the plight of the right-of-center, writes "More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: 'I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.'"

There are plenty of other examples in conservative punditry to point to from the National Review to Bill Kristol, from Max Boot to Tom Nichols. The columnists of the Washington Post, especially Jennifer Rubin, have been relentless in their condemnations of the GOP in the era of Trump. So far, though, such defections have occurred on the intellectual right. The rest of the party apparatus remains intact.

A few years back, Julian Sanchez wrote about the "epistemic closure" of the Republican mind that set off a widespread debate among many of these same conservative pundits. (Not coincidentally, this idea has recently resurfaced.) In response to Sanchez and the others, Ross Douthat chimed in with a post, "The Conservative Mind, Circa 2010," that laid out a taxonomy of the American political right that is a useful schema with which to understand the growing fractures within the Party:
Think of American conservatism as divided into three spheres: There’s the elite world of pundits and intellectuals (consisting of think tanks, policy journals, political magazines like National Review and The Weekly Standard, certain blogs, etc.), the broader world of “the movement” (consisting of populist media outlets like talk radio and Fox News, diffuse activist groups like the Tea Parties, websites like RedState and its imitators, and issue-based pressure groups like the N.R.A. and the National Right-to-Life Committee, etc.), and then the institutional world of the Republican Party (consisting of office-holders, staffers, fundraisers, consultants, etc.). 
It is fascinating to watch in real time the calving of the Republican glacier. The pundits and intellectuals have already begun to break away. "The movement" as Douthat termed it, seems to have largely cleaved to Trump, although there have been cracks there too. The Party itself (with the notable exception of Evan McMullin's run, and I would classify him a component of the intellectual right more than the Party apparatus anyway), has cohered, but the campaign of Roy Moore has put enormous strain on the Party. If he is elected, the forces of political entropy will be greater still.

These things can fall apart quite quickly. Watch what happens on Tuesday.

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