The great Republican contradiction Skip to content

The great Republican contradiction

When the “new” Repub voters see what the “old” leadership wants, there could be - uhm - issues.

3 min read

Republican leaders, local, state and national, are excited by the growing number of American voters who have switched their party registration from Democrat to Republican. This has happened gradually over the past decades.

Two years ago, an excited Senator Mitch McConnell thanked his fellow Republicans for finally making their party the majority one in Kentucky, saying this was “great for the Commonwealth.”

Well, this change may not be “great for the Commonwealth” if our Republican-dominated legislature continues to pass laws weakening the state’s “open records law” and punishing the homeless with incarceration.

And there are other problems that our Republican friends need to consider before crowing about their registration advantage. Most importantly, they need to recognize just who those new voters are.

One reason for Donald Trump’s political success has been his promise to make life better for the disgruntled members of the middle and lower classes. This “populist appeal” helps explain why so many people in red states like Kentucky, especially blue collar and non-college-educated voters, have switched their registration to Republican.

This apparent good news for the Trump GOP has created a problem. In a NY Times column this past March, thoughtful conservative Russ Douthat noted “the great tension inside the Trump GOP.” Many voters in this group actually expect to be helped by Trump and don’t want an end to Obamacare or lower taxes on the very wealthy.

In fact, a recent poll of voters in swing states found that “58 percent of self-described conservative Republican strongly or somewhat strongly supported raising taxes on Americans making $400,000 or more a year.” (Douthat)

And many of these new registrants are not eager to see abortion totally forbidden. We need to remember that most Republicans are not members of right-wing evangelical religious groups, despite the attention these groups get in the media.

The word “contradiction” in my title refers to the gap that exists between the policies being pursued by the leaders of the Trump GOP and the wishes of many of their newly arrived voters. These leaders, including judges, governors, and congress members in most red states, are not interested in this new populism. They continue to favor strict abortion restrictions, more tax cuts for the very wealthy, and less government spending on Medicaid, Obamacare, and other entitlements in order (they say) to pay for the tax cuts they propose.

These Republican policies precede Donald Trump; they go back decades to the days when Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan pursued this “help the rich” program. Donald Trump will not talk about this on the campaign trail because he knows how unpopular the “fat cats” are with many middle and lower class members of his new voter base. Yet these Republican positions are still popular with GOP leaders.

The political philosophy that might best represent the Republican leadership is libertarianism, a term Douthat claims represents the views of most Republicans in Congress.

Libertarians, according to the Oxford dictionary, is “a political philosophy that advocates only minimal state intervention in the free market and the private lives of citizens.” They also are people “who advocate civil liberty.” Trump himself, of course, is not a true libertarian since, as narcissist, he would likely and willingly deny people their civil liberties if he saw them as enemies. Yet, those who would run his government, men like Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, have shown little respect for civil liberties, or love for the poor.

Do Trump supporters want government to leave them alone? Not really, I suspect, since they see Trump as a savior / strongman who will help them. A poor person wants help to get out of poverty. A Trump voter may need money to see a doctor, or even a government program to help get an education and a job.

Many of the new members of the Trump base joined it because they felt government had ignored their needs. They will be disappointed if Trump and the libertarian Republicans take over our national government.

Democrats are not perfect, but they are certainly believe in a government that helps people. May the Republican base come to understand this before November—for their own sake.


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Ken Wolf

Ken Wolf spent 40 years teaching European and World History, punctuated by several administrative chores, at Murray State University, retiring in 2008. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)