The Iowa caucuses were a bump in the road for Donald Trump’s presidential primary campaign. Trump, a man who is always a “winner,” finished second. Marco Rubio, the so-called establishment Republican candidate, landed in third. Ted Cruz, a theocrat firebrand for the Christian right, emerged as the winner.
Iowa’s Republican voters essentially split their support equally among the three leading candidates.
The political chattering class is largely obsessed with the “horse race” aspect of the Iowa caucuses (which historically have not done a very good of predicting the eventual Republican presidential nominee) and what the results there portend for New Hampshire and beyond. The dominant narrative is that the winnowing process has begun and that Trump, Cruz and Rubio represent three distinct parts of the Republican Party’s electoral coalition. From this perspective, there are various “lanes” to the presidential nomination for the leading Republican candidates.
This is an important type of granular analysis. However, such a focus risks obscuring as much as it reveals about the Republican Party’s policies, specifically, and movement conservatism, more generally.
The Iowa caucuses ended in what is in essence a three-way tie with 4 percentage points separating Cruz (first), Rubio (last) and Trump. While the differences at the margins are important, this outcome indicates a Republican Party that is cannibalizing itself internally, where no clear front-runner had truly emerged, and whose candidates are largely much more alike than they are different.
“What have you done for me lately?” is one of the most basic questions that voters use to evaluate a politician. How voters answer, “What do you plan to do for me in the future?” is at least as important a decision rule.
A focus on the horse-race narrative and an obsessive parsing of the differences between the 2016 Republican presidential primary candidates—and the reasons for their varying levels of success in Iowa—is potentially very dangerous because it risks overlooking the extreme, radical and dangerous right-wing policy proposals that unite the field.
Almost all of the 2016 Republican presidential primary candidates share the following beliefs:
1. That the United States should bomb and kill many thousands of innocent people in the Middle East and elsewhere in order to supposedly stop the spread of ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
2. Torturing suspected terrorists—even though such acts are both immoral and ineffective in retrieving actionable intelligence information—is acceptable.
3. “God’s law” should supersede the United States Constitution.
4. They are anti-science and do not believe that global warming is a real, scientifically proven, empirical fact.
5. Tax cuts for the 1 percent and the American oligarchs should be expanded and protected while the social safety net and workers’ rights are further limited.
6. The Affordable Care Act should be reversed, and action that will result in millions of Americans being left without insurance and forced to seek aid and assistance from private charities.
7. Muslim Americans should be tracked by a national database as suspected “terrorists.”
8. Basic government functions should be privatized and protecting “the commons” should be made the responsibility of profit motivated corporations.
9. Women should be denied the basic human right of making their own reproductive health choices.
10. They are “law and order” racial authoritarians who support police thuggery and brutality against black and brown Americans, the poor and other marginalized groups.
The contemporary Republican Party is a radical political organization that has betrayed the core tenet of “conservatism,” what is a belief in stability in the face of radical change. To that end, movement conservatism seeks to undo the consensus politics of the World War II and post-World War II era because it views the great successes of the New Deal, the Great Society and the civil rights movement(s) as a threat to the excesses of unrestrained capitalism and white male power.
The Republican Party in the Age of Obama pursues radical, reckless, revanchist and dangerous policies because it is not punished for doing so. Why is this?
The GOP’s activist base is extremely out of sync with the mainstream of American public opinion; the party has dragged the Democratic Party to the right; the right-wing news entertainment complex has created a state of epistemic closure for its public that is immune from fact or reason, thus the latter advocates for politically untenable goals; and the Republican Party’s candidates are left beholden to the most extreme elements in their own party…even as those policy positions are unpopular among the majority of American voters.
In all, American politics is broken because the Republican Party has cultivated a name brand based on destroying the federal government. This creates a perverse set of political incentives and a type of feedback loop where the Republican Party’s obstructive and irresponsible behavior is rewarded by its voters—even while the same group of people is increasingly angry and enraged that the policies they want enacted are not put in place.
The political pundits are obsessed with the various “lanes” to nomination (and perhaps eventual victory) in the 2016 Republican presidential primary race. They should instead be focusing on the bigger “highway”—one where the Republican Party is advocating for radical and dangerous policies that are outside of the mainstream of American political thought and decades of effective consensus politics.
The horse race that is American politics is fascinating. The spectacular car wreck that is the Republican Party in the Age of Obama is entertaining. However, the news media and the American public are still left with the fundamental question of how one of the country’s two institutional political parties could be left after the Iowa caucuses with three front-runners who are, respectively, a proto-fascist, a Christian theocrat and an Ayn Rand neoliberal who wants to privatize all aspects of public life while simultaneously waging war on the poor and working classes.
Something is very wrong with America’s political culture. Worrying about “lanes” and paths to victory for Republican presidential candidates does nothing to address such basic and fundamental problems.