Let’s try to end the week on a glass half-full note, shall we?
Kevin D. Williamson has a piece up at National Review sparked by Bill Kristol’s ostensible proposal to start a new conservative political party. In fairness, as Williamson does not link to Kristol, note that he’s apparently referring to a Kristol tweet mocking Trump Chief of Staff Reince Preibus for extreme sycophancy, followed by a Twitter poll — and we should remember that Mr. K’s troll game is strong. So the debate here is perhaps not entirely serious, but good fodder nonetheless.
Williamson argues that globalization poses a problem for a conservative party and more broadly that Americans do not want what conservatives are selling. Sadly, Williamson is likely correct in many respects.
The good news is that a new conservative party is unnecessary. The snarky version of this is that a mostly ineffectual conservative faction in the GOP is largely interchangeable with an ineffectual conservative third party, except that it would free up the GOP to be even less conservative and likely shift national politics leftward on balance.
The less snarky version involves looking at what Emily Eakins of the Voter Study Group calls “The Five Types of Trump Voters.” As the title suggests, Eakins found that there really is no monolithic bloc of Trump voters, but five clusters: American Preservationists (20%), Staunch Conservatives (31%), Anti-Elites (19%), Free Marketeers (25%), and the Disengaged (5%).
I won’t go through this analysis in detail, though I do (if only for entertainment purposes) want to quote part of the description of American Preservationists, who tend to be the popular stereotype of Trump voters:
“These Trump voters lean economically progressive, believe the economic and political systems are rigged, have nativist immigration views, and a nativist and ethnocultural conception of American identity.
“Although American Preservationists are less loyal Republicans than other Trump voter groups, and nearly half had positive views of Clinton in 2012, American Preservationists comprise the core Trump constituency that propelled him to victory in the early Republican primaries.
“American Preservationists have low levels of formal education and the lowest incomes of the Trump groups—and non-Trump voters as well. Despite being the most likely group to say that religion is “very important” to them, they are the least likely to attend church regularly. They are the most likely group to be on Medicaid, to report a permanent disability that prevents them from working, and to regularly smoke cigarettes. Despite watching the most TV, they are the least politically informed of the Trump groups.”
As noted above, this demographic is only one-fifth of Trump voters. Eakins found that overall, “Trump voters hold very different views on a wide variety of issues including immigration, race, American identity, moral traditionalism, trade, and economics.” Moreover, “[f]our issues distinguish Trump voters from non-Trump voters: attitudes toward Hillary Clinton, evaluations of the economy, views about illegal immigration, and views about and Muslim immigration.”
This study, interesting in itself, also suggests why a new conservative party is unnecessary, even if the clusters Kristol likely favors only constitute 56% of Trump’s voters.
As Jay Cost noted shortly after the election:
The problem with the Emerging Democratic Majority is in its title. Majorities do not emerge. They are FORGED and MAINTAINED by good pols.
— Jay Cost (@JayCostTWS) November 12, 2016
Cost went on to note that even FDR’s coalition of urban ethnics, Western populists, and Southern segregationists did not hold up for as commonly thought.
Sean Trende elaborated on similar ideas in The Lost Majority. In the introduction to that book, Trende faulted pundits who looked at presidential coalitions and failed to recognize they were tenuous and dependent on unique historical circumstances, not durable majorities conjured up through the force of personalities.
With this backdrop, we can better assess the future of the GOP versus some offshoot conservative third party.
Is Pres. Trump’s coalition is likely to be long-lasting? The diversity found in even the four major clusters would tend to argue against it. That large segments of the coalition are comprised of people who were favorable to Hillary Clinton in 2012, but became disenchanted with her suggests the potential for poaching by good Democratic politicians.
Indeed, given the rockiness of the past few months, it is far from obvious that Trump — who succeeded largely by instinct and improvisation — possesses the sort of political skills that may be required to maintain his own coalition. This is not necessarily a yuge knock on Trump; Cost and Trende would tell you it’s a very difficult task even for the best of politicians.
Furthermore, as Eakins notes: “The 17 candidates who competed for the Republican primary nomination remind us that when Republican primary voters had other options, many chose someone other than Trump. In the early primaries held during February and March, Trump garnered only about a third (36 percent) while a majority (64 percent) of Republican primary voters cast their ballots for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, or one of the other candidates.”
Thus, for those who despair of the current state of the GOP, the solution is not to start a third party. The solution is to recognize that heterodox Presidents generally do not change the basic ideological bent of their parties in the medium-term.
Trump too shall pass. Find the promising politicians who might assemble the next coalition. Conservatives will need to focus on an agenda that is principled, but targeted to that next, better coalition. That’s almost certainly easier blogged than done, but given the number of GOPers who outpolled Trump in their states or districts in 2016, it should be doable.
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