Dead Center: The Republican establishment courts the left and repudiates the right

Article by Paul Gottfried.
There are two compelling reasons that the Republicans keep trotting out faceless moderates who turn leftward once the primaries are over. First, being Republican is a sociological more than ideological choice. The party is predominantly white Protestant; and according to the Pew survey, 81 percent of the Republican votes cast in the 2010 election came from churched white Protestants. On a good day a GOP candidate may be able to peel off 40 to 45 percent of the Catholic vote, 15 to 20 percent of the Jewish vote, 30 to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote and about 3 to 5 percent of the black vote. But this doesn’t change the recruiting problem. Only 5 percent of Hispanics and only 2 percent of blacks identify as Republicans, and despite their often over-the-top Zionist rhetoric and neoconservative advisors, Republicans rarely pick up as much as 20 percent of the Jewish vote.

Party strategy has aimed at expanding this base, and the logical next step would be to work for increased Republican support among white Catholics. (Republicans obtained a majority of their votes in 2010.) While some effort has gone toward this end by appealing to antiabortion Catholics, more energy seems to be directed toward roping in black and Hispanic voters. This has taken the forms of waffling on illegal immigration and minority quotas and making public apologies for past expressions of white Protestant prejudice.

Republican voters can generally live with these maneuverings. They are mostly people who hope to keep things as they are. They rarely undo (or expect their elected officials to undo) what the Democrats have done, and their politicians pride themselves on managing the federal welfare state in a fiscally responsible way. Unlike the protesting minorities in the Democratic Party, Republicans were not inclined to manifest outrage before the Tea Party surfaced. They were delighted with the Bush status quo before Obama and Obamacare, and they still wish to celebrate our government even in its present disarray as a shining and exportable example of “exceptionalism.”

Republicans who think their party has been about cutting back government are grossly mistaken. The GOP has only rarely been a friend to decentralized government or to limited, cautious intervention abroad. In the 1860s, the party was for consolidated government and defeating the rebellious South; then Republicans gave us Reconstruction together with cozy deals between industrialists and the state. They were later the party of imperial expansion, and under TR the Republicans became the promoters of a federal managerial state, even before the Democrats turned in this direction under Wilson. There was never a war until the 1930s that most Republican congressmen didn’t welcome, and the Spanish-American War and the War to End All Wars were more popular among Republicans than they were among Democrats. The liberal interventionist Council on Foreign Relations, created in 1919, boasted such Republican founders as Elihu Root, Herbert Hoover, and Henry Cabot Lodge.

If some Republicans later protested the New Deal and were reluctant to get involved in the Second World War, such attitudes have not been the rule. Republicans have usually embraced both big government and foreign adventures and were ahead of the curve on women’s rights when Democrats were still arguing for a single-family wage for the male breadwinner. Indeed, down to the time of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, the Democrats were generally perceived as the more conservative party, that is, the one that supported states’ rights and commanded the loyalties of fervently Catholic ethnics and the defeated South. What opposition there was to an interventionist foreign policy came typically from the Democratic side, represented by such heroic figures as William Jennings Bryan.

It is no surprise therefore that the Republicans today are crusading for democracy abroad. Discounting such constitutionally-minded leaders as Calvin Coolidge, the Republicans are being faithful to their history. Bush II, McCain, and now Romney are in the Republican interventionist mold. Those who talk about the GOP’s going back to small-government are blinded by the notable exceptions to the party’s real past.

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