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The Republicans’ Endgame

Is the best political game plan available to U.S. Republicans to be refuseniks?

January 4, 2013

Credit: OSSCreations/

Playing a strict version of “Dr. No” doesn’t seem such a promising strategy in a country that (a) desperately seems to need change and that (b) is rooted in a strong history of pragmatism. To be sure, there are plenty of suggestions out there for the Republicans to become more flexible, including attracting more immigrants and minorities to their voting pool.

Underneath it all, these suggestions ignore four fundamental realities of American political life. First, the Republicans will never make any excuses for representing the rich in U.S. society.

That is not just their basic MO, but also their USP — their unique selling proposition. Keeping taxes on them low is the party’s ultimate mission, even if it means shredding any notion of fiscal rectitude.

The latter virtue may be associated with conservative parties the world over, but in the U.S. conservatives’ case, that only applies to cutting expenditures. Without a doubt, the Democrats will need to be prepared to make expenditure cuts.

Their past record clearly points to their readiness in that regard. But the Republicans’ inclination to act like a one-armed bandit — taking concessions and rarely making any — does not make for a prosperous country.

At the same time, the Republicans have always been concerned about not being caught with too obvious an agenda — that is, protecting the interests of the rich and well-heeled. For that reason, they have proven very adept at in throwing other agenda items into their electoral agenda. These goals, from the pursuit of free markets, deregulation, shrinking government, no gun control, being anti-abortion and the like, are mainly just cannon fodder for the masses.

At its core, the party reflects the simple reality that it is financed by the wealthy far more than that is the case the Democratic Party. The benefactors expect delivery of the goods they really want, i.e., low taxes, pretty much whatever the cost to the nation at large.

Second, given their strict focus on servicing the interests of the wealthy, the voting pool that Republicans can realistically tap into, even accounting for a lot of wishful thinking on the part of people aspiring to be rich at some point, does not exceed 20-25% of the American population. With the rapidly increasing voting share of minorities, it is reasonable to expect that the Republicans’ voter potential has topped out demographically.

Third, given that baseline reality, the only viable strategy for the Republicans is to delay the inevitable — the party’s shrinkage to relative insignificance and a permanent minority party status at the federal level — for as long as possible. Fortunately for Republicans, the U.S. Constitution and the entire set-up invented by the very wealth-minded founders of the American Republic gives them ample tools to do so.

Their best ally from hereon out is the founders’ great fear of having a real democracy in the United States. They abhorred any figment of a hothouse of popular will and laid down structures that make American democracy a bastion of delay and structural conservatism.

The most important of those tools is the minority protections imbued in the U.S. Senate. As things currently stand, all it takes to block legislation from even being considered is to have 40 Senators. Republicans can easily get to that margin, essentially by winning the elections to the Senate in the 20 least populated — and often most instinctively conservative — states in the Union.

Those can be obtained, in the ideal case, from a quorum that accounts for only about 10% of the U.S. population. There is some talk about limiting the so-called filibusters, but it is not clear that it will happen any time soon.

In addition, in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans rely heavily on the power of gerrymandering. Because of that democracy-distorting mechanism, Republicans currently hold the majority in the house — even though their representatives, on a national level, only account for 47% of the vote.

Worse, because the U.S. Census, upon which all the custom-designing (that is, rigging) of Congressional districts is based, is conducted only every ten years, this profound level of misrepresentation favoring the Republicans is bound to persist for almost another decade.

And even presuming that the minority protections in the U.S. Senate can be ground down by severely limiting filibusters and the so-called cloture rule, Republicans can always rely on the U.S. Supreme Court.

That institution offers Republicans their fourth line of defense. The conservative justices’ official doctrine is judicial restraint, but in practice they only embrace that principle when it serves their political preferences.

Whenever the logic of the conservative cause requires judicial activism, they are quite happy to engage in it. What these fundamental realities of American political life add up to is a very effective strategy of slowing down dynamic change.

That, of course, runs directly counter to America’s general self-perception as a country embracing change. But that slow motion road to any progress in the economic structures of the country is what is strongly favored by constitutional structures laid down in the 18th century.

If there is a historic parallel somewhere, then it tantalizingly is this: the Republicans’ strategy smacks of the practices of France’s Ancien Régime. It, too, sought to delay the inevitable. Perhaps most astonishingly, though, there is a fifth fundamental fact of American life to consider.

It, too, explains the Republican Party’s current predicament, although it is not at all of their own making. That fifth reality is this: When viewed in a global context, the Democrats are conservative enough a party from an elite vantage point.

Also see The U.S. Democrats as a Conservative Party by Stephan Richter.


Suggestions for Republicans to become more flexible ignore four fundamental realities of American political life.

Keeping taxes on them low is the party's ultimate mission, even if it means shredding any notion of fiscal rectitude.

With the rapidly increasing voting share of minorities, it is reasonable to expect that the Republicans' voter potential has topped out.