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Monday, July 11, 2005


Does the GOP need it's base?

posted by Aziz P. at Monday, July 11, 2005 permalink View blog reactions
There's a lot of conservative teeth-gnashing about the possibility that Alberto Gonzales will be nominated to the Supreme Court. The reason for this is that he isn't suitably conservative by their estimation. Note, of course, that "conservative" in this context means "religious conservative" (I don't like the "religious right" moniker because it feeds the perception that religion is solely the Right's purview). When we refer to the GOP's "base", that's who we really are speaking about: the conservative Republican voters who are strongly pro-life.

But does the GOP really need the Base? No, because they have Al Qaeda. Here's why ...

The GOP enjoys near-total dominance in government at the federal level today. The party got there by leveraging the Base as part of it's GOTV efforts, turning the 2000 and 2004 elections into an arms race of volunteer foot soldiers. Arguably, Ohio was delivered to the GOP by virtue of a superior ground operation, but ascribing the President's re-election victory solely to the Base is short-sighted. From Day 1 of the post-9-11 era, this Administration has immersed its rationale in the war on terror, arguing that terrorism is an existential threat to us, and making that the bedrock of its argument for continued governance. I don't think conservatives themselves would disagree on this point: the main argument against John Kerry was that he could not be trusted on this front. In fact, the overwhelming selection of Kerry by Democratic primary voters themselves also suggests that they shared the same perception of the war on Terror as being central to the election outcome. Howard Dean's electability, the Swift Boat veterans, the overwhelming 9-11 references during the GOP convention - all served to underline national security as the central issue for the election.

And arguably, it was indeed the war on terror that delivered the votes, not gay marriage or any other social issue on which the GOP Base would theoretically be motivated by.

The GOP leadership surely realizes that embracing the most extreme elements of the Base is a surefire ticket to electoral loss. The writing on the wall after the Schiavo case was clear: the majority of Americans didn't appreciate federal level intrusion into a private medical affair. The Base however has become even more agitated since Schiavo, and are publicly demanding that their time has come. Meanwhile, the war on terror delivers GOP votes consistently and eats into the Democratic base as well - but more crucially, is a far less threatening message with which to outreach to the "moderate" voter (defined as someone who doesn't particularly think of themselves as liberal or conservative, but just formulates opinions on issues based on their personal experiences and whatever media exposure they have access to).

Ultimately, viability of a party's power status hinges on a sustainable majority. The GOP can't maintain its dominance with the backing of an increasingly demanding Base who are still a numerical minority with respect to the mainstream. Given that 49% of registered voters are clearly not the Base, and some lesser fraction of the remaining 51% are, the long-term outlook is negative.

I think that we will see the true long-term GOP strategy reveal itself in the judicial nominations to SCOTUS. If two conservatives, vetted by the Base, are appointed, then I am wrong and the GOP will be committed to trying to maintain power with the Base at the helm.

However, if the President appoints one moderate, or two (unlikely), then its clear that the GOP is hedging its bets. The outcry and backlash from the Base will be furious if anything less than two anti-Roe judges are appointed; so the SCOTUS appointments are essentially a toe in the water to see how far that anger will go. By 2006 will that anger have cooled? It's a question that the GOP can probably best afford to answer now rather than later, with the midterms rather than a Presidency at stake.


I'm a little late. But FWIW, constructionist judges (i.e. not Gonzales) appeals not only to Social Conservatives but also to fiscal conservatives, small government advocates, and libertarians. To characterize the opposition to Gonzales as only in the SoCon wing, is to mischaracterize it.

- Adam C


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.