The Sailer Strategy and the Post-Policy GOP

Progressives on Twitter often criticize Republicans for doing nothing to help create jobs. I understand the criticism, but it misses a key point. Today’s Republicans are about identity politics, not policy.

I understand the frustration in tweets like this:

I don’t know the source for that data, or if those are only bills in Congress or also bills in state legislatures. I also don’t know if the totals include only bills passed in a floor vote, brought to the floor, passed in committees, or all bills that were introduced. So I won’t vouch for those statistics, but I would not be surprised if those statistics were at least arguably accurate.

Again, I understand the frustration. I also think it misses a key point. Today’s GOP don’t really care about job creation … or childhood nutrition, clean air, clean water, climate change, education, equal opportunity, food safety, health care, infrastructure, or most of the other policy issues that motivate progressive Democrats.

In Maddow Blog writer Steve Benen’s phrase, today’s Republicans are “post-policy.” He quotes this exchange between Rachel Maddow and Ezra Klein back in March:

MADDOW: Does that mean that [Republican policymakers are] post-policy, that the policy actually – even some things that seem like constants don’t actually a matter them, that it’s pure politics, just positioning themselves vis-a-vis the president, and they’re not actually invested in any particular outcome for the country?

KLEIN: I would like to have an answer where that isn’t true. I really would. And I’ve tried – I’ve been trying to find it. I’m sure part is I’m not smart enough to do so, that I’ve not found the right people to have spoken to them. But it is hard to come up with one.

The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent has also written about the GOP’s “post-policy nihilism,” as has Jonathan Bernstein at Salon and at the Washington Post:

One of the core functions of political parties is fighting for the interests of their aligned groups. But Republicans aren’t doing that here [in refusing to fix gaps in Obamacare]; they’re willing, essentially, to sell out very practical gains in order to reap symbolic victories (such as the House’s constant votes against Obamacare).

Again, this presumes a progressive view of both politics and government: promising and then enacting policies that help solve problems in Realworldia. But as Noah Millman implied in 2011, today’s Republican Party doesn’t really offer such promises:

The only people whose interests are served by identity politics are politicians, because when identity drives politics, politicians no longer have to work to win votes by delivering services or promoting economic development. If you are a partisan strategist – for either party – the holy grail is to assemble a stable coalition of voters who are not thinking about the quality of the schools or the crime rate or the unemployment rate, but instead about whether the candidate is “one of us.” Then all you have to do is bribe a handful of voters at the margins to win elections. But if you actually care about policy outcomes – whether you are on the left or on the right – that’s disaster.[…]

Now ask yourself: in whose interest is it to frustrate the citizenry from organizing around common interests?

It ain’t the citizenry’s.

While Millman would probably argue that he intended that criticism at both parties, his article is titled “The Return of the Sailer Strategy,” referring to Republican strategist Steve Sailer’s view that the GOP should try to win elections solely by appealing to white voters:

In this scenario, boosting the GOP share of the white vote from 58% to 60% percent, say, gives the GOP candidate the national popular vote victory. And there are obvious Electoral Vote opportunities where a lot of whites held their noses and voted for Obama in the north-central Slippery Six, each of which Romney lost narrowly because he didn’t get a high enough share of the white vote: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. These states are not likely to be flooded with newly voting Hispanics by 2016, either.

MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin summarized the shift in Republican thinking since last November’s defeats:

After November’s stunning loss, an array of influential Republicans argued that immigration reform was the party’s best chance to claim Latino voters before they become permanent Democrats. But in a mere eight months, a counter-narrative has taken hold in conservative circles, nurtured by a shrewd group of anti-immigration lobbyists and Tea Party enthusiasts. The new argument sees immigration reform at best as a divisive distraction from the GOP’s real problem of countering “white flight” from the polls. At worst, they view it as an electoral apocalypse, a seventh seal behind which lies an unbroken line of future Democratic presidents.

This comes despite polls that suggest Republicans who take the lead on immigration reform could win at least some Hispanic voters. Instead, in states like North Carolina, Republicans are rushing to take advantage of last week’s Supreme Court decision overturning a key provision of the Voting Rights Act:

Just days after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina is moving forward with a host of bills to roll back voting rights. Republican lawmakers are accelerating a new agenda to eliminate early voting, Sunday voting hours, and same-day registration provisions. GOP leaders also vowed to move quickly to pass a controversial voter ID law that would make it much harder for minorities, seniors, students, and low-income voters to cast their ballots.

Among their ideas is a tax penalty for parents whose children register to vote at their colleges and universities. The idea is that parents will tell their college-age children to come home to vote – or, better yet for Republicans, not vote at all – rather than give up their children’s state income tax dependent status.

All of this makes sense if your party’s core philosophy is that government should preserve and enhance wealth, white, heterosexual, Christian, and male privilege or, as conservatives call it, “natural law.”

If your core philosophy is a Darwinian struggle where only the fittest deserve to survive, then you don’t want to promise and enact policy solutions on childhood nutrition, clean air, clean water, climate change, education, equal opportunity, food safety, health care, infrastructure, jobs, or similar issues. You want to let all of those problems play out in favor of those most likely to survive them without government assistance … and that happens to correlate nicely to the existing privilege structures.

But even Republicans know they can’t win on a platform that heartless. So they ignore policy and instead run on identity politics – trying to stoke white resentment and boost white turnout – while making it as hard as possible for Those People to vote.

The Sailer Strategy and “post-policy nihilism” fit hand-in-glove with the core platform of today’s Republican Party … and that’s why they haven’t yet given up on either.

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