The Congressional leadership of the Republican party reminds me of a gang of suicidal men whose every attempt to do the deed fails because the single local bridge is only a metre off the ground. Adding to this is a Democratic party whose every public implosion, inadequacy and lack of originality is the proverbial net that keeps the otherwise useless Republicans on electoral life support.
Nowhere was this clearer than in the recent debacle to replace the failed Obamacare system. Paul Ryan, the House GOP leader ought to take responsibility for the Republicans failing to come up with a suitable replacement for Obamacare.
But this issue is not a cause but rather a symptom of the troubles haunting the Republican party. They are just about acceptable in their opposition to Democrats, but they are excellent in opposing themselves.
The problem is two-fold. On the one hand, there are many ideological constituent elements to the Republican party. Yet only the other hand, few of these elements have equal representation among Congressional Republicans. This is even more true in the Senate than the House. Here, Rand Paul is an exception which highlights the rule.
Here is a list of the various wings of the Republican party.
1. The Trump Wing
The newly emergent Donald Trump wing is broadly authoritarian or even autocratic on security and military measures. That being said it is rhetorically non-interventionist in military matters, protectionist in terms of trade and anti-PC in terms of style. Their go-to sources for news range from Infowars and Breitbart to RT and…well, The Duran.
2. The Old Right
Typified by Robert Taft and more recently by Pat Buchanan, this group is in many ways the intellectual predecessor to Trump and his supporters. The group is stridently anti-intervention, anti-internationalism, pro-protection, pro-business, pro-constitution and less interested in Cold War conceptions of liberty than in a kind of muscular Teddy Roosevelt sense of American independence.
This wing of the party has fared poorly in mainstream Republican circles and was slow to adapt to new media. Crucially the talk radio boom of the 1990s, led by Rush Limbaugh, tended to ignore this wing of the party they support.
In many ways the Trump revolution represents a re-birth of the movement, but as of yet without the intellectual consistency.
3. The Goldwater Right
The Goldwater wing of the party, at times typified by Ronald Reagan, combines a robust, high cost, nominally interventionist foreign policy with general libertarianism in domestic policies. This wing of the party eerily transformed into the neo-con wing, much to the horror of many, including Goldwater himself who thought that after the Cold War, the Republican party ought to be a bit more like a libertarian party.
They like war and lots of it. Unlike the unilateral opposition to communism (and little else) as typified by Goldwater and Reagan, they are opposed to any state which doesn’t offer ideological and accompanying monetary opportunities for ultra-big business.
They are generally pro-ultra big business and in favour of the kinds of trade agreements like NAFTA and TPP that horrify both the Old Right and Libertarian right, albeit for different reasons.
Their support of the surveillance state and the deep state has made them enemies of almost every other branch of Republicanism.
In terms of foreign policy, they are as anti-interventionist and anti-war as the Old Right, but unlike the Old Right who are protectionist and generally favourable to patriotic minded measures to regulate business (for example, Teddy Roosevelt’s trust busting), libertarians are for a wholly deregulated market and have a big emphasis on personal liberty. Ron and Rand Paul are generally emblematic of this movement.
In multi-party states, there would be a strong argument for breaking-up the Republican party into its constituent parts. But this is genreally anathema to American history where a two-party system has prevailed for centuries. The few exceptions (Know Nothing Party, Bull-Moose, Ross Perot’s Reform Party) prove the rule.
The key therefore, is to identify the coalition who support Trump. Broadly speaking, Trump has won either the support or cautious optimism of many on the reinvigorated Old Right as well as many Libertarians, in spite of Trump being far more similar to the Old Right.
Left out of this coalition are the neo-cons and the remnants of the Goldwater movement. Both groups are increasingly out of touch with the kind of populism that has shaped modern American conservatism.
Another fact of recent history is that the religious right which once invested heavily in the neo-cons and proto-neo-cons, has diversified.
The religious right are today, less interested in a ‘big state culture war’ than on being protected from big government measures that ram a politically correct/sectarian agenda into the face of Christians who have realised that both the pre-culture war mentality of many on the Old Right, in addition to the pro-free speech views of Libertarians, would be far better guarantors of their lifestyles than the out of touch neo-cons.
In this sense, Trump may need to wait another two years until the next round of Congressional elections before he has any true allies or partners on Capitol Hill.
If the Donald wants to find sympathetic individuals in Congress he needs to put Republican voters, volunteers and talented alt-media figures into high level positions in the Republican party, a party whose leadership is increasingly out of touch with its electoral core.
First and foremost, he needs to tell Paul Ryan, ‘you’re fired’!