Sometimes, a single observation accurately explains an otherwise confounding situation. Such an observation was included in a guest essay in last Wednesday’s New York Times.
The author began by citing survey results showing that Republicans are far more unhappy with their party’s lawmakers than Democrats are with theirs.
He then wrote:
The problem isn’t that Republicans don’t win legislative victories. It’s that legislative victories can’t answer the party’s underlying discontent, which is less about government policy than about American culture. Democrats worry about voting rights, gun control, climate change and abortion — enormous challenges, but ones that congressional leaders can at least try to address. What Republicans fear, above all, is social and demographic changes that leave white Christian men feeling disempowered, a complex set of forces that Republicans often lump together as “wokeness.”
When Donald Trump won the Presidency, those of us who attributed his support to racism were excoriated for oversimplification–characterizing all Trump voters as bigots was clearly unfair! Suggesting that votes for Trump and embrace of his MAGA message were evidence of White Supremacist attitudes oversimplified a complicated landscape and overlooked the impact of economic factors!
In the years since, however, numerous studies have confirmed that the single most reliable predictor of a vote for Trump was “racial resentment.” (As my youngest son has put it, only two kinds of people voted for Trump: those who agreed with his racism, and those who did not consider that racism disqualifying.)
The essay also cited to research identifying the GOP base as the population most upset by the current state of American culture.
Despite Republican power in Washington, these shifts have produced a deep gloom among the party’s base. A 2021 poll by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life found that white evangelical Protestants — the heart and soul of the modern Republican Party — hold a bleaker view of America’s future than any other major racial or religious group. They’re more than 30 points less optimistic than Black Americans, the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting bloc. As the conservative writer David French noted in 2019, “one of the most striking aspects of modern Evangelical political thinking is its projection of inevitable decline.”
This pessimism is inextricably bound up with demographic change. A poll last year by the University of Maryland found that more than 60 percent of Republicans want to declare the United States a Christian nation. But according to the Pew Research Center, the share of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped to 64 percent as of 2020 from 90 percent in the 1970s. Almost 60 percent of Republicans believe that “American customs and values” will grow weaker if white people lose their demographic majority. But non-Hispanic white people now constitute only about 60 percent of the population, down from around 80 percent in 1980, and already make up a minority of Americans under the age of 16.
It is no secret that the frantic opposition to immigration–especially immigration from the country’s Southern border–is an expression of racism.But as the essay points out, even if the United States totally stopped all immigration tomorrow, legal or illegal, the White share of the population would keep declining, because White Americans are much older than the population at large.
And the Court decision in Dobbs overturning Roe v. Wade–a long-held aspiration of the hard Right–will not and can not reverse the changes in the gender norms of American society, changes that have empowered women and infuriated the MAGA base.
A 2020 survey by the research firm PerryUndem found that Americans who oppose abortion rights are also deeply hostile to the #metoo movement and believe that “most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist.” Overturning Roe won’t change the fact that most Republicans think American society discriminates against men.
Bottom line: Looming over all of the other problems faced by a self- emasculated Kevin McCarthy is the real nature of the GOP’s discontent. McCarthy can’t return America to the 1950s or even the 1980, but ultimately, that’s what the MAGA warriors want. The impossibility of that demand is why today’s GOP has no agenda, no philosophy and no platform. The (very slim) Republican House majority can only continue to engage in performative antics, throwing tantrums and acting out.
For today’s GOP, nostalgia for lost privilege is everything. Governing is entirely beside the point.