The Corner

Politics & Policy

The GOP’s Crisis of Representation

The Republican party controls all the elected branches of the federal government and yet is hardly able to make policy. Angelo Codevilla argues that it is because the GOP leadership won’t stand up to a “ruling class” composed of “privileged, government-connected elites.” Kurt Schlichter argues the problem is that the GOP leadership is composed of frauds. They are both right and they are both terribly wrong.

Codevilla is right about the power of “government-connected elites,” but he defines them too narrowly. Codevilla describes the ruling class’s constituency as “educators, blacks, never-married women, government employees, corporate executives, etc.” That etc. is doing a lot of work.

The central economic contradiction of the GOP can be seen in this Politico story where business owners complain about having to pay higher wages than they would like because of restrictions on low-skill immigration. The average American (I strongly suspect even the average foreign-born American) reads that story and thinks it is nice that workers are getting a raise and more flexible hours. I also guess that the average Republican elected official sees that story as a horrible tale of America’s true heroes (the complaining business owners) being injured by a heartless government.

Maybe the most important document for understanding the 2016 election was an interview that Governor Scott Walker gave to a local Wisconsin newspaper. Walker said that border security would be unnecessary if the government would just increase immigration.

In his heart, Walker is with the 11 percent of Republicans who support increasing immigration. So are Paul Ryan and John McCain, and probably the majority of Republican congressmen, senators, and governors if you could get them to vote in secret. That is because that 11 percent of Republicans have nearly 100 percent of the respect of Republican officeholders.

Most of the Republicans who favor increasing low-skill immigration are like the ones described in the Politico story. They are hoteliers, real-estate agents, food processors, construction contractors, and the owners of a couple of restaurant franchise locations. Scott Walker didn’t get the idea that we need to increase low-skill immigration from Apple’s CEO. He got it from talking to family farmers in Wisconsin.

The central problem is that neither Republican officeholders nor voters can internalize the idea that sometimes small business is an interest like any other and might want things it shouldn’t have. That means that the local chamber of commerce is the ruling class of the GOP because most Republican officeholders can’t imagine a conflict between the public interest and what the local business interests want.

Meanwhile, rank-and-file conservatives lack a vocabulary for thinking of local business interests as just another interest group. It is all about globalists, and cosmopolitans, and ruling classes. Well, we’ve traced the globalist call and, as in the horror-movie cliché, it is coming from inside your hometown.

Schlichter argues that Republican politicians routinely lie to voters. That is true. Republican politicians lied about their enthusiasm for repealing Obamacare and Obama’s executive-order pseudo-amnesty (called DACA.) But Schlichter is mostly wrong about why they lied.

They lied not because they are spineless, Washington worms, but because they are relentless ideologues. They lied about the ease of repealing Obamacare because they wanted to save money from reducing coverage in order to cut taxes on high-earners. They lied about opposing DACA because they favor increasing immigration above all.

The basic problem of the establishment (and libertarian) GOP isn’t that they are weak and unprincipled. It is that their policy preferences (cutting entitlement spending, cutting taxes on high-earners, and increasing low-skill immigration) are, as a package, toxically unpopular.

The result is that the Paul Ryans of the world resort to misleading euphemism whenever possible. Tax cuts for high-earners become “growth.” Entitlement cuts become “responsibility.” Increasing immigration becomes “starting with border security.” When euphemism fails, then the outright lies begin, but the goals never change — only the method for advancing them.

Republican politicians don’t lie in order to placate an angry media or some overlords in Washington and Davos. The lie so much because they have sincerely bought into the extremely unpopular worldview of a segment of American society. Change begins with seeing the rest of society. For example, only 15 percent of Mexico-born Americans support increasing immigration, and 35 percent of Mexico-born Americans prefer decreasing immigration.

Our tolerant, sophisticated, humanitarian, nuanced Republicans can’t see that overwhelming majority of Mexico-born Hispanics who don’t want increased immigration. Republican politicians can’t see that Hispanic (and American) majority because Republican politicians don’t respect them. Republican politicians have been blinded by their over-identification with a ruling class. Just not the one you think.

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