Tuesday, February 02, 2016

American establishment fails. One party notices.

New York Times conservative Ross Douthat reminds us that we live in
A society where people have fewer children and hold diminished expectations for the future, where institutions don’t work particularly well but can’t seem to be effectively reformed, where growth is slow and technological progress disappoints. A society that fights to a stalemate in its foreign wars, even as domestic debates repeat themselves without any resolution. A society disillusioned with existing religions and ideologies, but lacking new sources of meaning to take their place.
Our elite is failing us.

For a different view, we turn to Nate Silver, formerly of the New York Times, now running his own “FiveThirtyEight” website. Silver is one of America’s smartest political observers. He correctly called the 2012 presidential election outcome in all 50 states.

Today, Silver offers his take on what’s going wrong with Republicans, doing so in the process of reviewing The Party Decides (2008) by political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller. The book claims “American political parties are strong institutions. . . able to make presidential nominations that further the party’s best interest.”

Silver boils down the book’s thesis to:
You ought to pay attention to what influential people who care about a party nomination are doing, since they can have a lot of say in the outcome.
Or in the authors’ words:
Parties are a systematic force in presidential nominations and a major reason that all nominees since the 1970s have been credible and at least reasonably electable representatives of their partisan traditions.
Silver adds that parties nominate candidates who, in the book’s words, are:

1. “Credible and at least reasonably electable”;

2. “Representatives of their partisan traditions.”

I’m sure that Silver, progressive that he is, is perfectly happy with a Republican Party that nominates George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, popular vote losers in five of the last six elections.

Republicans don’t necessarily share Silver’s satisfaction.

Silver says it’s “extremely rare” for a party to nominate a candidate scoring poorly both on electability and party faithfulness -- as does Donald Trump.

What’s going wrong? According to the book, after all, parties are supposed to employ “soft power” -- manipulating an electorate “open to suggestion.” In the book’s words:
An electorate that is usually not very interested, not very well informed, and attracted to candidates in significant part because they are doing well is probably an electorate open to suggestion about whom to support. If, as we know to be the case, many primary and caucus voters are also strong partisans, what they want in a candidate may be exactly what party insiders want: someone who can unite the party and win in November.
This isn’t happening with Republicans in 2016, Silver suggests, because of an “erosion of trust” between party elites and rank-and-file voters. Only the “influential people” stand between the GOP masses and disaster, and
the GOP would qualify as a weak, fraying party if it can’t avoid nominating Trump, a candidate who might at once reject large parts of the party’s traditional platform and potentially cost it a highly winnable general election.
One can almost see Silver and his progressive colleagues in the background jumping with joy, as they contemplate their Republican elite colleagues’ inability to block Trump’s nomination and the subsequent GOP disaster.  

Comment: Silver’s thinking reeks of top-down elitism. The Party Decides is all about one elite fighting another, and the far superior progressive elite -- whose media helped nominate the other party’s John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 -- is outsmarting the conservative elite once again. Who cares about issues such as the sick economy, national security disasters, and Big Government’s obvious inefficiencies? The only thing that matters is “the game” of holding onto power, with Silver’s elite the game master.

As we said, Democrats are still playing the old intra-elite game at a time when Republicans have completely lost confidence in the establishment, so are battling over more direct popular control -- even if the fight costs this election.

Yet in that bleak context, how about Iowa? Maybe Trump isn’t as inevitable as Silver hopes he will be.

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