Why haven't Americans turned against the GOP in the wake of the shutdown? That is a question almost nobody, not even Republicans, is asking. Only Clive Crook is asking it.
Why is he asking? Crook is a Bloomberg View columnist of the respectable centrist variety, which is to say, he agrees with moderate Democrats on nearly all policy questions, but labors to maintain a pose of nonpartisanship. Crook’s last few columns have weighed in on the Democratic side, and so fairness, as Crook defines it, dictates that the time has come to rebalance the scales.
There are all sorts of ways Crook could go about this. He could lament Obama’s failure to transcend partisanship, or, if he chose to go with the newsy angle, castigate the failed launch of healthcare.gov. Instead, Crook chooses the rare gambit of venturing an original thesis. This turns out to be a huge blunder.
Crook devotes his column to solving the following mystery: “Why has the anti-Republican backlash, such as it is, been so mild?” This is an odd mystery to delve into, a bit like exploring the question of who murdered Clive Crook, because the anti-Republican backlash has in fact been extremely intense. The Republican Party favorability rating now sits at what nonpartisan pollsters at the ABC News/Washington Post poll, Pew Research, and NBC News all call “all-time lows.” The gap in favorability ratings between the two parties is cavernous, with the public about evenly split on the Democrats (46–49) and massively negative on the Republicans (32–63). The GOP appears to have alienated everybody except its hardcore base — a drop that, in a stubbornly polarized electorate, is as large as it can get.
Crook acknowledges the GOP hurt itself just a smidge, but “not nearly as badly as you might have guessed.” Apparently Crook’s readers would have guessed that the GOP would do considerably worse than fall to its lowest level in the recorded history of American public opinion.
This utterly false belief is not a minor detail: It is the premise supporting the entire column. Crook sets off to explain why Republicans have suffered just a wee nick in their public support. He offers a series of explanations for this imagined reality, all of which turned out to be imagined themselves. Mainly the imagined premise is a launching point for a series of "things about Democrats that bother Clive Crook" digressions. Explanation one: President Obama has failed to detail a fiscal plan:
What has Obama done to advance the discussion that the country still needs on tax and entitlement reform? He appointed a presidential commission to advise on the issues and then, in effect, disowned it. All one can really say about the president’s fiscal preferences is that he thinks higher taxes on the rich and higher public spending are, other things equal, good ideas. Obama doesn’t stand for fiscal discipline; he has fiscal discipline thrust upon him.
Really? “All one can say” about Obama’s fiscal preferences is that he likes taxes and spending? He did release a budget. One could read it and say all kinds of things about his fiscal preferences. If Crook did read it, he would see that it, in fact, contains all the elements he claims to wish Obama would propose: revenue-generating tax reform, cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs.
Crook quickly moves on — my excerpt above omits nothing from his discussion of Obama’s fiscal policy — to explanation No. 2: Obama hates states:
This is a politically divided country, with big divisions running along geographical lines. An arrangement that circumscribes the federal government’s role, leaving as much as feasible to be decided by states -- an arrangement like the one envisaged in the Constitution -- has much to be said for it. Obama could speak up for that idea, but doesn’t.
It is true that Obama lacks the philosophical commitment of a vintage Newt Gingrich, let alone a vintage Strom Thurmond, to the principle of states’ rights. At the same time, he has hardly shown any special opposition, either. His policies on such issues as education reform, marijuana, gay marriage, and others all left important decisions to states. The current hot policy dispute revolves around states' rights in the opposite of the way Crook implies. Obamacare envisioned allowing each state to design and run its own health-care exchange (rather than using the national exchange many Democrats preferred), though Republicans instead chose to place most states in the Washington-run exchange.
What other policies does Crook think Obama ought to shift to the states? He does not name a single one. Nor does he produces evidence of any kind that Obama’s failure to find additional, unnamed states’ rights policies would make Americans hate the GOP more than they currently do (which, again, is quite a lot.)
Crook offers a final reason for the imaginary lack of a backlash to the GOP. Democrats are snobs:
It’s the idea that voters are just so stupid. One of the things that strikes me as a foreigner living in the U.S. is that American metropolitan liberals despise every kind of bigotry, except the kind directed at the dumb hicks who inhabit the middle of the country. I mean, those people vote Republican!
It is true that some liberals show disdain for some parts of America. It’s also true that some conservatives show disdain for other parts of America. Is it possible that the two parties’ geographic biases net out in some way that benefits the GOP? I can’t disprove that notion, though Crook, once again, offers zero evidence to support it. I do note that there is a certain circularity to his analysis here. “I mean, those people vote Republican!” — so, Crook believes certain parts of the country vote Republican because liberals hate them for voting Republican.
All these points feed into Crook’s conclusion:
Who’s stupid? The electorate for thinking it needs reckless irresponsible Republicans to keep Obama and the Democrats in check? Or Democrats, for proving at every opportunity that that view is correct?
Is there a third option?