Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, May 09, 2016

What Is A Political Party and How Do You Take One Back?

It goes without saying I've been doing a lot of tooth gnashing since Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee last Tuesday, but I figured that there were enough posts out there venting high octane anger and disgust without adding my own piece to that genre. I won't be voting for Donald Trump in November. I think that Hillary Clinton would make an absolutely terrible president, but I still think she'd be less bad that Donald Trump is likely to be, so I'm not particularly worried about the possibility that my failure to vote for Trump would contribute to a Hillary victory. That said, I won't be voting for her either. I'll either cast my presidential vote for a third party candidate or leave the top of my ballot blank and only vote in the other races.

I'm hardly the only conservative disgusted with the Republican nominee. I've seen a number of friends announce that they are changing their party registration from Republican to unaffiliated. Others have talked about the need to find or start a third party for conservatives to support, providing a way to register their opposition to Trump and a new political home if the GOP turns into the party of Trump. On the other hand, there are those who, however much they dislike Trump, dislike Hillary more, and so are determined to rally to the GOP banner no matter who is holding it, and also those who argue that it's only those who show their loyalty to the party by getting in line behind the nominee who will have a voice in rebuilding the party when the Trump phenomenon finally burns itself out.

All this has left me thinking a fair amount about what a political party is, and thus what it means to try to teach it a lesson or win back control over it.

This isn't as simple as it might seem, because a political party is several different things, all of them mutable in different ways.

First off, a political party consists of the elected officials who were elected under that party's banner and the candidates who are nominated by the party. In that sense, Trump is now one of the leaders of the Republican party. Another way of talking about a political party is its "establishment", which includes not just elected officials but party staffers, activists, donors and other people involved on a volunteer or professional basis in a party's workings. Finally, a party consists of voters who are registered with the party and/or vote for its candidates most of the time. Of those voters, only a minority even cast ballots in the recent primaries. And of those ballots cast, roughly 11 million were for Trump while roughly 15 million were for other candidates.

Trump is clearly neither a social conservative nor a small government/constitutional conservative. His nomination represents a victory of other ideas (celebrity, anti-immigration, isolationism, tariffs, anti-PC, machismo) over a more traditional conservative set of political position.

The variable here is the voters. Voters may vote or not vote, they may support the Republican party or another one. Trump has both gathered the support of a number of Republicans who have supported various other Republican candidates during recent election cycles, and also brought in the support of independents and Democrats who find his personality and political positions appealing. Other candidates draw other sets of voters. Perhaps one of the difficulties this year is that there were a number of presidential aspirants who attracted some portion of the usual GOP set of primary voters, but it was only Trump who cornered a particularly enthusiastic portion of the base along with a faction of outsiders who do not normally vote for Republicans (or if they do, do so only with frustration and disgust.) The result is the Trump coalition of voters.

What remains to be seen is: has the Trump coalition chosen a candidate capable of attracting a winning percentage of voters in the general election?

If Trump wins, and particularly if he wins convincingly, that will begin a shift in the party in which people with views similar to Trump begin to take over the slots in the first two groups, the elected officials and the functionaries, while relying for their success on voters who like Trumpian candidates. Voters, officials and functionaries who find their views incompatible with Trump would go elsewhere -- to the Democrats, to some third party, or to the political no man's land of views not fitting into any of the parties. This would be fairly similar to the process whereby liberal Republicans vanished or became Democrats over the last forty years, and the opposite process through which conservative Democrats became Republicans.

There's been a lot of talk in the recent primary about the "Republican Establishment", with Trump and to an extent Cruz running against it, while others have plaintively asked why the Establishment has sat on its hands while Trump ran away with the nomination. There is a party establishment (its officials and functionaries) and it is at fault during this last election cycle for wasting a lot of resources on the hopeless Jeb Bush bid for the nomination and for ignoring Trump until it was too late to do anything about his insurgent candidacy. However, the establishment's power is determined by who shows up and votes.

There are two opposing dynamics a play for conservatives wanting to regain and rebuild the Republican Party. On the one hand, victory tends to cement the power of the winners within a party. It builds the loyalty of the voters who supported the victory, gives positions of power to elected officials and functionaries within the party, and it pushes away voters who dislike the people elected.

On the other hand, a party's power structure is determined by the people who show up, make donations, and cast votes. If only Trump supporters are showing up to during the next couple election cycles, while conservatives sit out, waiting for candidates they like better to be put forward, the party will end up looking more like Trump, not less, because it will be formed by the people who are active in it.

To regain control of the party, the difficult needle which conservatives will need to thread is to make sure that Trump loses, and that others like him fail to gain nominations for other offices, while at the same time remaining active in the party in order to further their own candidates and causes. If Trumpism is mostly driven by its celebrity banner-holder, then defeat should send his hard core of supporters off to wherever they came from. If there's a deep desire for his kind of politics among the Republican base, then a more protected power struggle is likely to ensue.

Either way, the method by which conservatives can wrest control of the party back from Trump and his followers is by showing that more people turn out and vote for conservative candidates than for candidates like Trump.


Anonymous said...

If you are only loyal to things you control, are you loyal to anything at all?

A theological question - can you, should you, effectively advocate for someone who is in turn ashamed of you?

These are both related, perhaps, to a link in your sidebar:

Trump is filling a legitimate appetite. National leadership is apparently ashamed of them. These voters are blamed for everything, abused and insulted at every turn; now, for supporting Trump. Meanwhile, he joins them, as a target. He stands with them. He voices opinions that the elites view as disqualifying; and he doubles down.

Trump may be an addiction; acknowledging the appetite but denying it will be filled. At the same time, that forces you to imagine an alternative that respects and represents those same voters as well as yourself. If you cannot imagine that union, then you too are ashamed of those voters. You sit in judgement over them, rather than in community with them, and offer two options - they reform themselves in your image or choose excommunication (exile).

It sounds like a version of "love it or leave it" - theologically, it is.

August said...

Trump is, inadvertently, doing exactly what you want to do.
If you remember, most of stupid insults- racism, six kinds of crazy, etc... all that stuff was said about Ron Paul. Ron Paul fans tried to take back the party, but the rich elites who don't care about you, fetuses, or anyone else marshaled their considerable powers against the grassroots movement.

They made a little mistake of not realizing a billionaire somewhere out there might get a little tired of their nonsense.

I wouldn't even worry about taking the party back. Make a new one. And thank Trump because you know have a metric via which to get all the fake pro-lifers out- either you are for some sort of punishment for women who seek out illegal abortions, or you are a sham.

What I think I see, and I hope is true, is that the two party system is going down. It has been a complete bar to any true change. It is something the people have not been able to touch. We should be grateful that Trump managed to upset it, if nothing else.

I've already seen over the weekend, all our hypocrite elites falling over themselves to not endorse the presumptive nominee. If you want to continue supporting people who lie to you and tell you they are pro-life, well, I suspect a new party will be available for you soon. At least some of those guys with big money will want a new party- and they are likely going to be the ones imparting the death blow I want to see to the party system.

TS said...

This election cycle seems like an indicator that economics (the dismal science, not the home variety) needs to be taught in high schools. If you've been exposed to economics it's hard to go with a potential free trade obstructor like Trump, or a socialist (Bernie) or socialist light (Clinton).

Darwin said...


I think that the way in which we would look at stability and commitment in regards to a political party is very different in which we would look at stability and commitment in regards to a parish, a monastic community, or a family.

A political party is a means for advancing a certain agenda for the ruling of a country. A think a Christian ought to choose an agenda for ruling a country in relation to the Good. I'd advocate certain strategies for "taking back" control of the Republican Party not because I think it is good to be in control in and of itself, but rather because I think that Trump's expressed political beliefs are on the whole much inferior to those of the party prior to his advent. So advocating for "taking the party back" is not so much a power play as attempting to steer the organization back towards advocating what it good rather than advocating what is bad.

It is true that Trump has appealed to voters who are not currently feeling appealed to by other candidates. However, I don't think one should endorse bad policies simply because they currently appeal to disaffected people. Indeed, one of the many things I think is bad about Trump is that I think his promises to help those relying on him are false. I don't think he actually intends to slap a tariff on China, but even if he did, I don't believe it would bring jobs back to the struggling old manufacturing towns where he has found many supporters. In this sense, he's knowingly selling these people snake oil.

It's true that party elites should not ignore these people. Indeed, winning their support is probably key to the GOP winning elections in the future. Bringing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota into the GOP fold is probably its best path to the future. But working class rust belt votes need to be won with real help, not with Trump's false promises.

Darwin said...


I think it's likely that the structure of the US and it's powerful elected presidency (as opposed to a parliamentary structure in which a prime minister can be elected by a coalition or parties) will always tend to keep the US a two party country.

The question is basically just which two parties (will the GOP survive) and what the parties will represent.

Darwin said...

TS, Amen.

August said...

The parties aren't necessary for constitutional governance.

More importantly to this particular discussion, if the elites decide they want to run against Trump, they will have to use their influence to weaken the stranglehold the Republicans and Democrats have on the process. They did what they did to Ron Paul without thinking about blowback a few years later- hopefully they will throw their weight around now with a similar amount of ineptitude.

Anonymous said...

I very much appreciate your response, but I think it is still a bit misguided. The issue is not the 'disaffected' but the 'disrespected.' You have a clear vision of the Good. You would like other people to work with you in accomplishing it - or, alternatively, you want to use them as the means for enacting your vision of the good.

These are very different. Entirely different, in fact, with respect to the Good which Catholicism proclaims.

In a Buber or Kant sense, objectifying the people as tools to achieve your vision of the good is a problem, not a solution. A traditional reading would put it at odds with the instructions on Love, with respect to the clanging gong and so on.

Meanwhile, if you can't convincingly demonstrate respect, it is reasonable to understand that there is doubt about the authenticity of the invitation to enact a Good that is Good for those involved. In a sense, Trump isn't selling snake oil, he's selling respect - and appealing at the same time, to some very real resentment.

A very Yoda formulation would paint a web of causation among disrespect, distrust, anger, defensiveness, and so on. The natural prisoners' dilemma response is tit-for-tat.

[As for economic policy; being hung up on economic policy is a very real symptom of another underlying illness. Without virtue in the populace, all other policy is entirely pointless.]

I can't make a bold statement for supporting Trump, but I can make a statement for openly respecting those who do, even in their own rage.

Darwin said...


I'm not sure that we're entirely talking along the same lines.

Yes, I have a vision of the good. The pre-Trump GOP platform is certainly not entirely aligned with that vision of the good, but it is significantly more aligned with the good than is Trump's vision.

Further, I know a lot of other fellow conservatives who are incredibly upset at having Trump become the GOP nominee. These are people who have identified with the GOP as an organization for a good portion of their adult lives, and they feel disgusted and betrayed to have someone they perceive (I think rightly) as rejecting and trampling upon their moral and political beliefs nominated to run for the presidency in the name of their party. A lot of their talk has thus been about what we conservatives should do in the face of the Trump nomination if our goal is to return our party to something like the set of values which we liked and admired.

My argument in this regard is that formally leaving the party or trying to start a third party is unlikely to work, but that voting from Trump is unlikely to see the beliefs that we hold come back to prominence in the party, so the line I think we must walk is to both stay active in the party (including supporting the other candidates on the ballot this year) while witholding our votes from Trump so that he'll lose.

All this is implicitly written for those who already share my basic aims of seeing the GOP return to the conservatism we espouse. For those who see Trump's vision as far superior to our vision of conservatism, I wouldn't expect my advice to have any appeal, since their desires are directly opposite to mine. I'm not trying to use anyone as a means to accomplishing my vision, I'm simply laying out a path by which those who share my vision might seek (with me) to accomplish our vision.

I suppose a separate question, which you're implicitly touching on, is what attitude people of my views should take of those who actively support Trump's agenda. The post is not really written with them in mind, since it's a post about how to turn the party away from Trump's agenda.

It's true that I've seen a fair amount of talk among some Trump leaners about how important it is to respect and remain in solidarity with Trump's supporters. Of course, it is important to respect and remain in solidarity with all people. Indeed, one of my reasons for rejecting Trump is that he seems to me to so completely lack respect and solidarity with many people --such as the Mexican immigrants from whom I am descended.

However, I think it is false notion of respect and solidarity which insists upon agreeing with or granting undue respect to views and policies which are not in an of themselves good. People deserve respect, but often people embrace bad ideas, and those ideas do not become better just because people embrace them.

So, for example, the activists of the Black Lives Matter movement are, as humans, worthy of respect and solidarity. And it's even important to understand honestly and fairly (and in perspective) their complaints about their treatment in society. However, that does not mean that it's necessary to endorse or agree with everything they do or advocate.

Anonymous said...

First, thank you again for your response.

Standing in solidarity seems to mean something different to me than to you. I cannot stand in solidarity with 'all people.' If some people are excommunicated, then solidarity is by definition being intentionally rejected.

Brandon said...

If some people are excommunicated, then solidarity is by definition being intentionally rejected.

This is a baffling claim. Solidarity is a property of charity, which does apply toward everyone, in different ways. And excommunication is not exile to the nether realms; it is a penalty of noncommunion within a society, and like every penalty can only be justly applied for common good -- which by definition is the good of the person penalized as well as everyone else. If we take away someone's driver's license, that's a serious penalty in our society; it doesn't follow that we now share no solidary good at all. In fact, such a penalty establishes the opposite -- only if there is the potential for solidarity could any just penalty be applied at all.

Anonymous said...

At first I presumed you were baffled because you were educated and I was not. I read to understand better the relationships in doctrine between charity and solidarity. I do not see evidence for your claims.

As much as I dislike dictionary definitions, there is a time and place for them. Solidarity is 'unity or agreement of feeling or action.' Read loosely, I suppose this could be sympathy (agreement of feeling) but I read it closer to 'unity of action and intent.'

Brandon said...

As you extremely vague about what claims you don't see evidence for, it's impossible for me to know precisely what you are regarding as a problem. You need actually to specify; I cannot read minds.

If you are actually interested in the links between solidarity and charity, you might consider looking at sources that would be expected to discuss them. For instance, here is the very first thing said about solidarity in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC #1939):

The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of "friendship" or "social charity," is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood.

An error, "today abundantly widespread, is disregard for the law of human solidarity and charity, dictated and imposed both by our common origin and by the equality in rational nature of all men, whatever nation they belong to. This law is sealed by the sacrifice of redemption offered by Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross to his heavenly Father, on behalf of sinful humanity."

Darwin said...


"As much as I dislike dictionary definitions, there is a time and place for them. Solidarity is 'unity or agreement of feeling or action.' Read loosely, I suppose this could be sympathy (agreement of feeling) but I read it closer to 'unity of action and intent.' "

This may a source of some confusion between us.

Given that you seemed to referencing Catholic sources when you referred to "solidarity", I thought that you were using the term in the sense that it tends to be used in Catholic moral teaching. In this sense, we are called to have "solidarity" with all human persons. This doesn't necessarily mean treating people all the same, but it does involve recognizing the human dignity that we share with them and providing for their basic human needs through our actions.

So when you said that we needed to give Trump supporters respect, I guess I had taken you to be referring to basic human respect of the sort that all are owed as an element of solidarity.

If we go from the dictionary definition of solidarity that you quote, then I guess I would say that I do not have solidarity with Trump supporters, in that I have neither unity of action nor feeling. However, I would say that attempts to oppose them which involve denying their basic dignity as people (attacks of the "F-- these stupid rednecks. Their towns deserve to die out." variety) are clearly not in keeping with basic Christian norms of respect and dignity.