Democratic theory is based upon the premise that voters will respond to evidence of performance–that they will fail to return politicians to office when the policies pursued by those politicians demonstrably fail to work.
Democratic theory also assumes a significant level of voter self-interest; that when the policies of Party A have created an environment inimical to an individual voter’s interests, he/she will vote instead for Party B ( or in some places, party C or D).
And of course, democratic theory assumes that accurate information–aka “facts”– will be available to the general public from media sources that most voters consider trustworthy.
Maybe democratic theory is wrong about all of that.
David Atkins has written a provocative post over at Political Animal.
Something has happened over the last 15 years in the American conservative psyche that most journalists and centrist political observers don’t want to admit. Conservatives are locked in an increasingly hostile defensive crouch against reality and demographic trends. Supply-side economics, once unquestioned in its Reagan ascendancy, has been shown to be a failure on multiple levels. President George W. Bush’s signature war in Iraq turned out to be a bungled disaster. Secularism is on the rise, gays can legally get married, and America is fast becoming a minority-majority nation. Climate change and wealth inequality are the two most obvious public policy problems, neither of which has even the pretense of a credible conservative solution. This, combined with the election of the first African-American president, has had a debilitating effect on the conservative psyche, which now sees itself under assault from all directions.
Conservatives have responded by creating their own alternative reality in which rejection of basic facts and decency in the service of ideology is a badge of merit and tribal loyalty. That has created an environment in which the most popular voices tend to be the most aggressive and outlandish.
Add to that Chris Cillizza’s trenchant observation about the public’s growing distrust of media–the insistence (from right and left alike) that all media is biased– in a recent Washington Post column:
Here’s the thing: If there is no agreed-upon neutral arbiter, there are no facts. And, as I have written before, what is happening in the Republican race is that most of the candidates — save Trump and, at times, Ben Carson — are playing by an established set of rules around what you can say and do. Trump is not only not playing by those rules but there are also no referees to enforce his blatant flouting of them.
And that, children, is why–as Atkins notes–the GOP is Donald Trump’s party now.