What’s The Matter With The GOP?

Remember Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas? Frank took a hard look at that state’s politics and political culture and drew some conclusions that engaged the punditry for months.

More recently, the “chattering classes” are focusing on a somewhat similar question: what is the matter with the GOP? (I know, I know–everyone reading this has multiple responses, incorporating varying degrees of hostility.) Ezra Klein recently considered that question more analytically, in an essay in the New York Times titled “Three Reasons Why the GOP Keeps Coming Apart at the Seams.”

As he began,

For decades, the cliché in politics was that “Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line.” The Democratic Party was thought to be a loosely connected cluster of fractious interest groups often at war with itself. “I don’t belong to an organized political party,” Will Rogers famously said. “I’m a Democrat.” Republicans were considered the more cohesive political force.

If that was ever true, it’s not now. These days, Democrats fall in line and Republicans fall apart.

Klein considered, and dismissed, several possibilities: after all, small-donor money, social media and nationalized politics also affect Democrats , who have responded very differently.

Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination in 2008, but rather than exiling the Clintons to the political wilderness, he named Hillary secretary of state and then supported her as his successor. In 2020, the party establishment coalesced behind Joe Biden. When Harry Reid retired from the Senate, he was replaced as leader by his deputy, Chuck Schumer. When Bernie Sanders lost in 2016, he became part of Schumer’s Senate leadership team, and when he lost in 2020, he blessed a unity task force with Biden. Nancy Pelosi led House Democrats from 2003 to 2022, and the handoff to Hakeem Jeffries and Katherine Clark was drama free.

So why has the Republican Party repeatedly turned on itself in a way the Democratic Party hasn’t?

Klein offers three possibilities–all of which are clear contributors to the present chaos.

The first is the long-standing and awkward alliance between donors and the party’s ethnonationalist grass roots. You can see the conflict playing out in attitudes toward immigration–businesses need immigrants for a wide variety of reasons, while the Christian Nationalists who dominate the party base want to keep Black, Brown and non-Christian people out. As Klein notes, the party elders who once moderated between those factions have “outsourced” most traditional party functions– fundraising to PACS and messaging to  right-wing media–and can no longer act as mediator.

So that’s one explanation for what happened to the Republican Party: It’s caught between a powerful business wing that drives its agenda and an antagonistic media that speaks for its ethnonationalist base, and it can’t reconcile the two.

The second reason is that the memberships of the parties has changed.

Republicans are increasingly the non-college party. When Mitt Romney got the nomination in 2012, the G.O.P. was basically split between college and non-college whites. That’s gone. The Republicans have just lost a huge chunk of professional, college-educated voters — what you would have thought of as the spine of the Republican Party 40 years ago has just been sloughed off.

Today’s Democratic Party is now the party of the cities and the suburbs. The GOP  has  become more rural and more non-college educated, less invested in social stability and institutions, and much more inclined to rock the boat.

The morphing of the once “Grand Old Party’ into whatever it is today (a comprehensive label escapes me) offers us a third reason for the GOP’s internal chaos:

When I asked Michael Brendan Dougherty, a senior writer at National Review, what the modern Republican Party was, he replied, “it’s not the Democratic Party.” His point was that not much unites the various factions of the Republican coalition, save opposition to the Democratic Party.

“The anchor of Democratic Party politics is an orientation toward certain public policy goals,” Sam Rosenfeld, author of “The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era,” told me. “The conservative movement is oriented more around anti-liberalism than positive goals, and so the issues and fights they choose to pursue are more plastic. What that ends up doing is it gives them permission to open their movement to extremist influences and makes it very difficult to police boundaries.”

Klein points out that opposition to communism once kept Republicans committed to a positive vision of the role of government.

There is an irresolvable contradiction between being a party organized around opposition to government and Democrats and being a party that has to run the government in cooperation with Democrats.

Bottom line: Today’s Republican Party is a tribe of people who are against–against Democrats, against “woke-ness” and “elitism,” against diversity, against change, against government.

No wonder it can’t govern.


  1. Let’s make use of the GOP logo, the elephant. The different factions of Republicans are like the blind men feeling different parts of the elephant and identifying which animal it is; each believing they are right…err, correct. The voters, when they get to the polls will all vote for the name with Republican listed as their party, not knowing they are voting for the factions they are against as well as the ones they support. The blind are leading the blind: “Today’s Republican Party is a tribe of people who are against–against Democrats, against “woke-ness” and “elitism,” against diversity, against change, against government.”

    The Republicans are investigating the investigations; this has led to outing two of the investigators doing some of their investigating. They are now “investigating” Covid-19; what were they doing when they were the majority during Trump’s administration and sitting in on the Biden administration dealing, or not dealing, with protecting Americans from the Pandemic? Are they blind or lazy? Investigating what others have already done or are doing and who did or didn’t do anything about anything is much easier than doing their own research on the issue itself and seeking solutions. They didn’t create racism, bigotry, antisemitism, sexism, nepotism, cronyism or using hate as a weapon; they simply drug it all out from under the rocks and released it on the public as being acceptable and necessary to reach their goal. But what in hell is their goal?

  2. Ezra writes for the newspaper of the establishment – the stenographers for the State Dept and Pentagon, which are the same anyway since most of the persons revolve in and out of the DC think tanks.

    The GOP used to be solely the US Chamber (oligarchy), while the Democrats pretended to be about democracy.

    Enter the Koch oligarchy, who were anti-government. Period. They served up the Tea Party, don’t you know.

    Looking at the 23-24 states they run (Indiana), all of them are deep red. Sadly, the Kochs used their money to get what they wanted, and none of their voters got anything – except maybe some red meat about their prejudices (bigots).

    The Democratic Party’s voting base is primarily people of color, and they don’t live in the rural parts of any state.

    The GOP has formed many alliances with voting blocs to achieve power.

    Once again, the “political parties” have one role: to give their voting blocs the illusion of getting what they want. That illusion is melting away rapidly due to “alternative media.” In other words, not the New York Times or Washington Post.

    Look at Hoosiers; they’ve allowed their anti-government, anti-progress zeal by getting the worst air and water in the country. The water is just a way to channel the CAFO ponds, and the atmosphere is belching mercury and other toxins due to Koch/Duke coal-powered plants.

    The southern part of Indiana is known as the “Asthma Alley!” The mentality is, “We are taking one for the team.”

    Oligarchs taking the lead with their money get what they want, and the people are given the illusion of having a choice and ‘socking it to the other team.’


  3. What really disgusts me is the alliance between the R Party and the “Christian” Nationalists. My paternal grandfather and his identical twin were both graduates of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY. At the time and for many years later it was considered a very robust academic institution. Then came Page Patterson and his minions. They destroyed the SBC Seminary in Louisville replacing excellent academics with cultural warriors and wedded the SBC to the R Party. In my grandfather’s day that would have been heresy and they would have damned all the “Christian” Nationalists, including my SBC “preacher” brother, from the pulpit. It’s quite interesting that we were both raised in the First Brethren Church (German Baptist) he went to the extremist right and I’m a unabashed liberal who up until recently was a member of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church. BTW, I’m a disabled combat vet and he never served. My combat experience made me even more liberal.

  4. I’m watching that great old Robert Redford movie, “Three Days Of The Condor”. A perfect day to be watching that particular movie as he surmises there is a CIA inside the CIA; investigators investigating the investigations inside the GOP.

  5. I am not certain if everything Ezra notes as causes might not be effects. The demographics of the parties followed their policies. If they had stuck to “small government, low taxes”, they might not have lost college educated suburban voters.

    A recent NY Times column of Bret Stephens and David Brooks discussing the plight of the GOP shows they kind of myopia that doomed the party. Taking just Reagan as an example, they praised him for his anti-communist/small government/low tax policies, and how he worked with Democrats, but missed two things. First, he started his campaign in Philadelphia, MS, which was to say “Hey if you kill two Jews and a Black man you are my kind of people”, and second, he didn’t say a smaller government is good, he said “government is the problem”, meaning let’s dismantle everything. [Note: following the dismantle theory, I just received a birthday card yesterday — mailed from Michigan on January 5 – great work DeJoy.]

    Words matter.

    The GOP spiral started with the “Southern strategy” and has gone down hill. Each iteration, while having some positive aspects, has gotten worse. Each GOP President has moved the Overton window.Stephens loved the DLC and Clinton, but Clinton (the best Republican President of the 20th Century) just declared that the Democrats were the party of Reagan and moved the Overton window again.

    You got the bottom line right, Sheila. That’s why we have Fox attacking a “candy spokesperson”. Fox sure do hate “the Woke”.

    Apologies if this rant is more rambling than usual – insomnia night.

  6. My gay cousin in Alabama and I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago and touched on this subject.

    His neighbors and coworkers were always the victims. Always against taxation and welfare or food stamps, even as recipients of those entitlements. They “deserved” those things but Joe blow didn’t. They weren’t paying taxes to support some lazy sloth that refused to work. Those lazy bastards didn’t deserve healthcare even though they were using Medicaid. They say that Obamacare raised their premiums because they could lie before and nobody checked/vetted them.

    They hate liberals because that’s what Fox spews, Rush Limbaugh and hate pastors tell them 24/7/365. They live in a separate reality than us intellectuals. We’re limousine liberals, love rainbows and gay people and are woke and for that, they hate us. We are not on their team. All the viciousness comes seeping out of their pores.

    I’ve always rooted for the little guy, the weakest among us. We are judged by how we treat the least among us. And I’m an atheist.

  7. “Tribe” is absolutely not the correct word. Mob is a more accurate descriptor… highly emotional, prone to act irrationally and without any thought, and seemingly trying to achieve a meaningless short-term and short-sighted goal.

  8. Time to re-envision the whole idea of a “party” – what’s its purpose? To build power, money and influence or to promote principles and values to make better lives for the people? Both parties are mistrusted increasingly…do we really need any? Or do we just need individual servant leaders in office?

  9. Len writes, “The GOP spiral started with the “Southern strategy” and has gone down hill.”

    Let me ask; it’s been serving someone damn well since Nixon and then Reagan. But, of course, Reagan was a Friedmanite, and Roger Ailes was in his White House advising. Yes, the same Roger who went over to start Fox News for Rupert Murdoch.

    These guys aren’t interested in morality and truth. Pure greed for themselves and friends like the Koch bros. They used strategy to create a new base for the GOP…they completed a hostile acquisition. They pushed the agenda of why white people were getting screwed; “It’s the black people’s and the government’s fault.”

    It’s working great for Koch and his network. Their fortunes have skyrocketed while the rest have seen their share dwindle. So I’d say the GOP strategy has proven very successful.

    Working people need to stop fighting social and cultural wars and look at what’s happening behind closed doors. The Democratic Party plays its part in this charade as well. 😉

  10. Is there a Republican Party these days as we define political parties, or are we dealing with its captors, who could better be described as mobsters who have stolen the GOP label to be against anything Democratic while opposed to governing and instead offering us “governing” a la Ron DeFascist/Trump/style in the sunny state?

    Governing, the business of state involving taxation, budgets, policy etc. and carried out in a traditional atmosphere of give and take (compromise) as to details is hard work, and the captors have decided not to involve themselves in such matters even though governing is what those who elected them sent them to state houses and Congress to do. Both conservative and moderate Republicans have thus been cheated and are philosophically asea; the captors are in charge of their framework sans either a platform or a set of guiding principles.

    Conservative and moderate Republicans aren’t merely underrepresented; they are not represented at all in matters governmental because their captors such as Trump, DeSantis, McCarthy and their minions have decided not to govern (other than tax cuts for the rich) but rather to destroy our institutions via investigations of their investigators, destruction of our social framework (social security, Medicare, food for the poor etc.), insurrection, election denial, open corruption (Kushner & Mnuchin) etc. all under the banner of cultural change paraded as “freedom” and other misplaced predicate nouns.

    What to do? Remove these brigands from their pretended role as “Republicans” and the cover it affords, though such may be unnecessary since I think the Republican Party most of remember has ceased to exist and is only awaiting political undertakers such as Wills and Klein to take journalistic note of such reality for the rest of us.

  11. Starting with Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” the GOP gave up any old claims
    to speak for anyone except the bigoted, and St. Reagan rode that horse
    for a long time. My Reagan loving cousin-in-law is a Former Guy loving,
    although generally intelligent, well educated, lawyer clown, for what that’s worth.
    In my estimation, for what THAT’S worth, the GOP took a wrong turn with
    Nixon, who lied almost as much as TFG, set the stage for Reagan, for whom lying
    was also an art, and found that the fools/bigots in the public were a source of unthinking
    support. So, with the help of the Limbaugh types, and Faux News feeding the bigotry
    and hate, they let go of any pretense about governing, for the sake of accumulating
    nothing but power. now, the greediest among them are battling it out in a fight to the bottom.

  12. It’s the men who are blind – not the smart and kind elephant! A better GOP mascot is a caricature of a schlubby, unkempt pasty white male. Mouth open, hands grasping. Eyes and heart shut.

  13. I believe it’s a huge mistake to use the word ‘conservative’ (Big C or little) in reference to today’s Republicans and a disservice to their readership for columnists and reporters to indulge them in its use.

    Republicans are no longer attempting to conserve anything but their own power and status. In a very real sense, they have become the party of Chaos, Radicals who would tear everything down before allowing any beside themselves to enjoy the bounty of democracy. ‘Radical’ is the best word I can think of to describe them.

    The term ‘conservative’ is today much more applicable to Democrats as they attempt to preserve our Constitution.

  14. I don’t know which if any of those theories fit Indiana. Somehow in our educated Indianapolis suburbs voters largely still vote for Republicans. Even in a midterm election when our State legislature stripped away bodily autonomy from over half the population, they were rewarded with re-election. Except Dr. Victoria Garcia Wilburn that won House District 32. I think for some it’s like they would rather not vote, than vote for a Democrat, no matter how good the candidate. Others are just listening to stupid sound bites from Fox & not bothering to research the candidates running and the incumbents voting history. The Republicans know how easy they have it, in Indiana that they don’t even bother to fill out the questionnaire covering hot topics on candidates running put out by The League of Women Voters.

    I listened to this on NPR this morning. Very interesting historical reference to the slang term woke from UK linguist Tony Thorn. I’m just gonna put this out there & see if it catches. Funny UK slang word that he said became very popular during BREXIT to refer to white, angry, bigoted, right wing, middle aged & older men as a Gammon or Gammonista. He also described them as red-faced in their anger. Who does that sound like? Gammon is boiled pork. Give it a listen. It’s funny. https://www.npr.org/podcasts/458929150/the-new-yorker-radio-hour

  15. Increasingly, today’s GOP also is against true education at K-12 and post-secondary levels. If education so much as exposes one’s mind to other cultures, other races, other religions, accurate biology, and an accurate account of our own history, they hyper-ventilate, censor, smear, and sometimes engage in violence.

    So while GOP politicians have worked tirelessly for the last 40 years to push every child into college, they have also sought to replace true education with training only – student preparation to become compliant workers in the workplace and technology producers who increasingly displace workers with robotics. More credits have been required in science, math, technology, and/or engineering instruction with less time for and emphasis on literature, writing, research, health, civics, economics, fine arts, critical thinking, world and American history, foreign languages, and all sorts of additional humanities. In another example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s employment face, there’s even less time for vocational education.

    Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost sight of the fact that making better neighbors and citizens also makes for more caring, responsible, and enthusiastic workers.

  16. Nancy, Interesting perspective on the push for STEM education. Even if the intent was not deliberate, you make a good point to the effect.

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