So the Republicans are all in a flurry to redefine, adjust or refocus their message, since the past week showed them to be out of step with both their normally conservative brethren on the Supreme Court and American public opinion. It wasn't just a matter of Obamacare, gay marriage or public anxiety over corporate sponsored trade agreements; it was a confluence of a whole host of data points that made them look out of step and quite silly.
Just to string together a few of the threads:
- The nine deaths in a Charleston, S.C., church bared their racial preferences with a nod toward removing the Confederate flag, but not an inch of give on gun legislation;
- A Republican-sponsored bill banning notification of the source of meat products as protection for consumers gets national laughs;
- Their ridicule for Pope Francis's pronouncements on climate change is seen as offensive;
- The bombastic entry of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE into the presidential fray, joined by also-ran Govs. Chris ChristieChris ChristieChristie: McCarthy, not Trump, will be the next Speaker The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Arbery case, Biden spending bill each test views of justice Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to Senate for Biden spending plan MORE (R-N.J.) and Bobby Jindal (R-La.), does little more than highlight the comic element of the Republican presidential campaign;
- A bill tagged onto budget legislation to end net neutrality is called out for the regressive step it is;
- And a notification that the rich donors have already exceeded their spending in the last election gives the public notice to just how much the party is in the pocket of wealthy sponsors.
These were all sidebar issues to the main attraction of the Republican Party leadership's bluster and indignation expressed as being shut down on healthcare and gay marriage, and the demonstration of their decidedly pro-business chops in passing fast-track legislation over Democratic Party objections.
The lead articles are now appearing across the major news outlets that the week's events may force the Republicans to change opinions. According to The Washington Post, the Republicans need to "evolve" their positions to keep up with public opinion, and The New York Times says that they have lost the culture war. The suggestions are coming fast and furious: change intransigence on immigration reform to appeal to Hispanics; support transit services like Uber against unions to appeal to millennials; enact limitations on repayment of student debt to appeal to younger voters; and shift the focus of the national debate to support for the military and a more robust foreign policy as a means of deflecting a weak domestic agenda.
This evolution started before this past week, when we were treated to candidates like Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Rubio: Dropping FARC from terrorist list threatens Colombians, US security This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead MORE (R-Fla.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGermany calls on Congress not to sanction Nord Stream 2 pipeline: report Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' Biden administration resists tougher Russia sanctions in Congress MORE (R-Texas), who started talking about income inequality, and Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFauci says lies, threats are 'noise' Fauci overwhelmed by calls after journal published mistake over beagle experiments McConnell looks for way out of debt ceiling box MORE (R-Ky.), who questions the need for the interference in the private lives of Americans. However, what appeared to be cracks in the litany of the past decade of "tax breaks for the job creators," or the "abomination of ObamaCare" or "get the government off our backs and out of our lives" has sounded increasingly hollow to the frustration expressed repeatedly in the general population that a "just say no" policy has hamstrung Congress and destroyed public confidence in government.
Like all mood changes that take place in a mass society, it takes a great deal of groundswell for there to be any uprising that forces government to change. The cycle we are in has been 40 years in the making. The Republican Party has been masterful in using culture war wedge issues as a means of attracting and distracting voters, while they used their time in office to repeatedly pass legislation that favored business over workers and downshifted costs to individuals, which accelerated the erosion of stagnant wages. They have smugly gone about the business of enriching themselves and their sponsors, comfortable in the knowledge that Americans are largely uninformed and do not pay attention to the details of the legislative process.
This time around, however, the evolution of the Republicans will come too late for them to maintain the control they have had over their base. As the party is forced to shift away from cultural issues, it will become increasingly clear that the Republican stance on economics has not benefitted small business, as they claim; it has not benefited American families, as they claim; it has not benefitted students; and it has not benefitted workers. However, the Republican stance has uniformly and consistently disadvantaged the working American under the guise of "unwarranted government welfare," "freedom to chose," and "liberty from government interference."
As that reality is broadcast by an increasingly progressive Democratic Party, combined with a president who only recently realized that he could display his liberal side, economic issues will continue to erode the Republican Party's control over the public it seeks to attract.
The internal disputes within the Republican Party have further indicated that a more isolationist approach to foreign policy as articulated by Paul has been throttled by the knee-jerk emphasis on "terrorist" threats, military might, American hegemony and tough-guy posturing. These policy positions will undoubtedly prevail as we move toward the election, and the probability is that they, too, will ring hollow to an increasing number of Americans who are simply sick of war and sick of American leaders who misguidedly pursue policies promoting American solutions, an American political model or American exceptionalism at the expense of its domestic economy. Americans are increasingly coming to the opinion that military leadership cannot be the reason for impoverishing its citizens.
It is clear that circumstances have changed in this country. The good news for progressives is that the trends favor them. The bad news for the Republican Party is that, in retreat, it simply has to change, and the likelihood is that it cannot — or will not — do so quickly enough.
This piece originally stated that the bill to end net neutrality was "sponsored by Comcast"; the company has not endorsed any such legislation.
Russell is managing director of Cove Hill Advisory Services.