Politics & Policy

Why Conservatives Don’t Become Democrats

Jonathan Chait. (BookTV via YouTube)
They still agree with the GOP agenda.

On Monday, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait penned an article asking a question frequently uttered by President Trump’s most ardent opponents: If conservatives don’t like President Trump’s character, why don’t they simply embrace Democrats? Critiquing a recent piece by slightly right-leaning David Brooks of the New York Times, who suggested that Democrats might attempt to do a better job reaching out to Republicans, Chait suggested that Republicans were indeed at fault for lack of comity: “The idea of abandoning the Republican Party because it is authoritarian and toxically anti-intellectual was apparently as unfathomable to him as a fish in a polluted river deciding to live on land.”

The natural question to ask after such a statement is “Why?” Why is it that conservatives are so discomfited about leaving the Republican party? Why is it that so many people who disdain President Trump’s bedroom record and find his Twitter utterances degrading refuse to throw in their lot with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer?

But Chait never asks that question, because he already has an answer: Republicans are partisan hacks. He’s not a partisan hack for stating that all of politics be refracted through a Trumpian lens — those who refuse to join him are the hacks.

Now, the truth is somewhat less one-sided. The reason that conservatives aren’t joining Democrats to stop Trump’s agenda is that Trump’s agenda is far more conservative than that of Democrats. According to Pew Research, the parties are more divided now than they have ever been: As of 2017, there is now an “average 36-point gap between Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic leaners.” That number is more than double the 15-point gap between the party constituents in 1994. But what accounts for that widened gap? In recent years, only the extremism of the Democratic party. As Pew Research suggests, “Over the past few years, some of the biggest changes in opinions among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have been on race and the role of government. There has been far less change in the views of Republicans and Republican leaners.”

The Democratic party has cleansed itself of all pro-life voices; there are no advocates of traditional marriage in the Democratic party; issues such as kneeling for the national anthem are now hot-button topics inside the Democratic caucus. Does Chait really expect a pro-life, pro-traditional-marriage Republican to start voting for Elizabeth Warren because she thinks Trump shouldn’t have paid off a porn star?

But apparently, Chait does.

Which raises a more significant question: Why do Chait and so many like him in the Democratic party seem bizarrely puzzled by the lack of movement from the right to the left? Isn’t this all understandable? Nobody on the right thinks that President Obama’s supporters would have jumped to Ted Cruz if Obama had been caught in a sex scandal. So why do so many Democrats believe that Republicans will switch sides on matters of grave import simply because the leader of the party is character-free?

The answer is simple: Too many Democrats believe that the divide between Democrats and Republicans isn’t political. They believe instead that the divide reflects character itself. They therefore find it puzzling that non-Trump-friendlies — whom, they now assume, are “good people” thanks to their distaste for Trump — aren’t simply embracing the other good people, namely the Democrats. In the mind of many Democrats, Republicans aren’t Republicans because they’re in favor of limited government and inalienable, God-given rights. All that is merely a cover for cruelty and nastiness. So Democrats find it puzzling when Republicans who dislike Trumpian cruelty don’t immediately switch sides.

Democrats spend too much of their time trying to claim that all Republicans are people of deficient character.

But that’s foolishness. What’s more, it’s nasty parochialism. It’s merely a watered-down version of Hillary Clinton’s argument that she lost the 2016 election because too many Americans are “deplorables.” And you’re not going to win over Republicans by saying, as Chait does, that the Republican base is “hopelessly immune to reason” and that the only solution to Republican heresy is to work with Democrats to curtail the Republican party’s political power.

It’s no wonder that Democrats can’t seem to pull away in the latest round of congressional-election polls. That’s not because Trump is popular, or because Republicans in Congress have done a bang-up job. It’s because Democrats spend too much of their time trying to claim that all Republicans are people of deficient character.

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