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Democrats traditionally enjoy playing up their internal disorganization (often using some sort of analogy to “herding cats”) while tweaking Republicans for that party's top-down style. Now, however, as Peter Beinart pointed out in a Thursday post on the Atlantic’s website, there’s an “unprecedented crisis of authority in today’s GOP,” whereas among Dems “party hierarchies are clear and largely unchallenged.”
What caused the reversal? Beinart argues that it starts with Democrats’ optimism and Republicans’ pessimism about the prospects for what they want America to become. Dems looking to the future “see a growing constituency for tolerance and social justice,” while GOPers “see a growing constituency of takers, who want to turn America away from its exceptional nature.”
From Beinart’s post (emphasis added):
[There is an] unprecedented crisis of authority in today’s GOP.
…Over the last two years, [John Boehner] has repeatedly retreated in the face of opposition from rank-and-file conservatives who treat him with barely disguised disdain…
…Mitch McConnell only avoided [Eric] Cantor’s fate by attaching himself to his Kentucky colleague Rand Paul…Like Boehner, McConnell is treated with striking disrespect in his own caucus.
…In recent cycles, Republican presidential primaries have been relatively orderly affairs where the party establishment rallies around a frontrunner…This year, however, that kind of elite control looks unlikely...
In the Democratic Party, by contrast…party hierarchies are clear and largely unchallenged.
…90 percent of Democrats approve of their party’s heir apparent, Hillary Clinton, who looks headed towards a coronation in 2016. To a remarkable degree, the parties have switched roles...
Grassroots Democrats certainly get frustrated with their leaders, who they consider too cautious and too beholden to Wall Street. And were an unusually compelling candidate like Elizabeth Warren to run, many would rally behind her against the Clintonite establishment. But these anti-authoritarian impulses are held in check by a greater optimism about the direction of the country. Over the last few years, a younger, more tolerant, Democratic-leaning generation has helped elect the country’s first African-American president, helped make gay marriage mainstream and may soon help elect America’s first female president. As a result, although Democrats may be upset that Obama can’t pass immigration reform, they’re inclined to believe that because of demographic change, another Democratic president will soon get another chance.
Republican activists are more pessimistic. Even [under George W. Bush], they grouse, government kept growing. And unless something drastic changes, it will only get worse. When grassroots Democrats look at the growing percentage of Latinos, African Americans, and young people, they see a growing constituency for tolerance and social justice. When grassroots Republicans do, they see a growing constituency of takers, who want to turn America away from its exceptional nature.
It’s because Republican activists are more fearful of the future that they demand politicians willing to take extraordinary, Ted Cruz-like measures to reverse history’s course. Conservatives like Cantor, who accommodate themselves to demographic trends by supporting citizenship for some undocumented immigrants, must therefore be replaced with politicians who will stand militantly on principle.
The irony is that by preventing the GOP from adjusting to a younger, less white, less Anglo country, grassroots Republicans are hastening the very liberal dominance they fear. As Ezra Klein has noted, by defeating Cantor—and thus making congressional Republicans too afraid to pass immigration reform—the GOP just makes it more likely Latinos will flock to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Like National Review at its founding in 1955, the GOP base “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” And, in this case, the people who have no patience are the very people Republicans must win if they are ever to hold the presidency again.