The Power Of Fear
What if the GOP doesn’t need to revitalize its base to win? What if it doesn’t need to appeal to the fat middle of the electorate? To the contrary, the Republicans may not need to broaden their appeal, not in the short term, because they are masters of the politics of fear.
Before I go on, consider the proper context.
Presidential elections are won and lost in swing states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. The popular vote is important in terms of mandates, but in terms of winning, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the Electoral College, and that means winning individual states.
Within that context, the GOP-controlled legislatures of 17 states, including Virginia and Florida, have enacted strict voter-identification laws that will disproportionately affect the young, the poor, and the non-white. They will suppress the Democratic vote.
Consider, too, the “drill-down strategy,” as it were. A conservative like Ted Cruz has limited mass appeal but that’s moot if he can flush out what he estimates to be as many as 9 million evangelical Christians who did not show up for John McCain and Mitt Romney.
A combination of suppressing the Democratic vote and getting out the evangelical Christian vote in swing states may be enough to win.
Indeed, the whole idea of a Republican Party in such disarray that it’s incapable of winning the presidency may just be the result of wishful thinking on the part of Democratic Party operatives and liberal intellectuals. If you take into account the GOP’s hold on state legislatures, many with super-majorities, as well as the success of the last two midterm elections, it would appear that the Republican Party hasn’t been this strong since the Hoover administration, according to analysts Sean Trende and David Byler of RealClearPolitics
“This interpretation is at odds with the prevailing theme of a Republican Party with serious demographic problems,” they write. “One can argue that these problems make it difficult for the GOP to win the presidency. But those same shifts have strengthened it in the states, which is where most lawmaking takes place.”
Which brings me back to fear.
First, don’t underestimate its power. It will give incentive to people who have no other incentive to vote, especially when they are being told that voting is the only way to preserve their freedom to worship.
Second, there is no downside to fear. Since Barack Obama took office more than six years ago, the GOP has exploited fear of a black president with no dire consequences. Each midterm election has rewarded the Republicans for their extremism.
As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson write in The American Prospect: “Contrary to expectations that swing voters will punish them for their extremism at the polls, they just keep on going. … Republicans have learned how to have their extremist cake and eat it too.”
Americans are becoming more liberal when it comes to marriage equality. That’s the good news. The bad news is that tolerance is no guarantee of Democratic success. And the reason is plain to see: in the matchup between acceptance and fear of same-sex marriage, fear usually wins.
Photo: Patrick Feller via Flickr