Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Whither the GOP?

As is their wont, 538 has a valuable analysis of the outlook for the House. Bottom line: It won't flip to the Dems this cycle, but it will shift significantly, enough to make a material difference in legislative outcomes. And the chances for the flip in 2018 and 2020 look quite strong.

Stepping back from this election, what's interesting about this picture is the questions it raises about where the GOP is headed. Its current position as a local, rather than national, Congressional rather than presidential, party is almost entirely a function of latency in the system -- of the territory it secured over the years through Karl Rove's master plan. The longer-term secular shifts -- in demographics, in social mores, in economics -- all favor the Dems. And despite the very deliberate and aggressive work over decades to institutionalize the Reagan era, those institutions have almost entirely dissolved before our eyes. There is no longer any ideological glue, nor even any professional discipline to keep the ship in one piece, much less afloat. 

Will it become a nativist rightwing party, a la Le Pen? Will it become a loosely tied network of red state governments -- and can such an inherently fragmented existence last? Will a libertarian party -- either the actually existing one, or a newly reformed GOP -- emerge in its place?

In other words, how long can latencies survive in a complex, emergent system when they are not grounded in actual ideas or broadly compelling goals? The GOP today looks like a fragile shell of its former self, almost incapable of action or coordination or even enlightened self-interest. Krugman's analogy to the Soviet Union in 1989 is persuasive.

Of course, that also begs the question: Whither the Democratic Party? What does it become without a serious antagonist? I expect Hillary's first term to be a spectacular success -- but what then? It's non-trivial for the winner, as well as for the loser, to evolve in a constructive way after total victory.

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