Mitt Romney is a rich guy, and he made a bunch of money in a manner that shuttered American factories, forced many out of work and turned a pretty penny for his investors. There’s nothing illegal about that—unfortunately—but it is only Americans like Romney who see such behavior in a positive light. It is pretty clear that attacks on Romney’s history at Bain Capital are pure poison for the Republican Party’s electoral chances this year, so the GOP is scrambling to change the subject to pretty much anything else: preferably, “jobs and the economy.”
It’s hard to talk about jobs and the economy, however, without admitting room for discussing your candidate’s history of job destruction and predatory enterprise killing, so Republican proxies are wearing the taps off their shoes trying to find a message that doesn’t come back to bite them, and the only strategy they’ve found thus far is simply to change the subject and lie, fabricating such whoppers as that the Affordable Care Act is “the largest tax hike in history.”
And it isn’t working. In states where Obama ads have been hammering Romney with Bain, Romney’s favorables are in a tailspin despite the fact that he and his allied SuperPACS are spending far more money.
Attacks on Bain-style capitalism are more than just exploitation of one particular candidate’s Achilles’ heel. The threat they present to the Republican Party is deep and long term: these critiques are an indictment of the primary raison d’etre of the Party itself. They are turning the purpose of the Republican Party into a negative.
Since the 1960s, the Republican Party has been driven by two core constituencies. I call them the “Plutocrats” and the “Theocrats”. The Plutocrats are large business entities and the affluent wealthy—the Masters of the Universe. They are a tiny minority of exceedingly rich and powerful Americans and the enterprises they control, and they comprise the deep pocket donor base of the GOP. Sophisticated as they may seem in their expensive suits, Plutocrats are simple in motivation: however much they have, they want MORE, and they don’t want any pesky impediments to their capacity to go and get it.
Theocrats are social conservatives, primarily evangelical Christians, who have been the foot soldiers for Republicans. They are numerous, and collectively able to contribute significant funding as well. Theocrats are motivated by their insistence that the United States reflect in its laws and society their idea of proper morality.
While in order to reach national electoral majorities, Republicans have had also to draw in other voters—lower-education working class and rural voters, mostly—that is not who has called the shots in their party. Their policy agenda has consistently been crafted to benefit the Plutocrats, while promising the Theocrats victory in their crusades against moral evil.
It was in the 1980 Presidential campaign that the coalition of these two blocs first really flexed its power. Reagan aggressively wooed Christian conservatives, dumping his former pro-choice position on abortion and framing his campaign as not about policies, but about the moral character of the nation.
Ever since, Republicans have made an art form out of coordinating these two quite disparate blocs into a juggernaut. By 2000, they had so completely succeeded in dominating national politics that Karl Rove’s campaign strategy completely ignored moderates and independents, choosing instead to pump up the base with hard-right conservative policies, and focusing on getting it to the polls.
However, there is trouble in GOP Paradise. Because in actual outcomes, one of these blocs has won, while the other has decidedly lost.
Reagan and both Bushes checked the proper boxes for social conservatives on issues like abortion, but their administrations focused their energies on cutting taxes for the wealthy and weakening or eliminating regulations which curtailed corporate behavior. Their gestures to the social conservative base on issues like abortion and gay rights may have been awful from a liberal standpoint, but here it is more than 30 years after the Reagan Revolution, and abortion is still legal, gay rights have advanced tremendously, and mandatory prayer remains illegal in public schools.
Plutocrats couldn’t care less about the Theocrats’ social agenda, any more than Theocrats care about Plutocrats making more money. When polled on weakening environmental regulations, for example, evangelical Christians are generally opposed. But so long as the Theocrats were getting red meat rhetoric on abortion, school prayer and (later) LGBT rights, they worked their tails off to elect candidates whose economic policies primarily benefited the Plutocrats.
If not for the vote-splitting of Ross Perot, Rogue Plutocrat, it is entirely possible that Republicans could have held the White House for 28 continuous years. Voters have had a long time to watch how the Republicans behave when they win, and as it turns out, their policy priorities have really only benefited the wealthy.
Hard as Theocrats have tried to nibble at the edges of these issues, the Constitution has mostly prevented their vision of America from becoming reality. Instead, the culture has grown steadily more vulgar, secular and sexually accepting…while the Plutocrats have succeeded beyond the wildest expectations Reaganites may have held in 1980. Triumphs of the wealthy class have undermined the economic prospects and security of most of the Theocrats every bit as much as the rest of us who aren’t in the top 2%…and many Theocrats have begun to question whether linking arms with Plutocrats was such a great idea.
They’re starting to figure out that they’re being used. Their numbers are falling. And a growing chorus within their ranks is wondering how shoveling silver at the moneychangers squares with the philosophy of Jesus Christ.
So here comes Mitt Romney, who is the distilled essence of Plutocracy: no faux regurgitation of evangelical talking points, no pretending to be a folksy cowboy. Romney is a Plutocrat with the mask off…the first we’ve seen as a Republican Presidential nominee since the last Depression.
And of all the temerities, Democrats have dared to call him out for what is supposed to be the very heart of Murkin Freedum: making a pile by any means necessary.
And it’s working.
The implications of this are obvious. If attacks on Bain-style vulture capitalism continue to be effective in moving undecided voters, Plutocrats may very well be in danger of losing the moralizing little people they have been using as window dressing. If that happens, they cannot win a national election.
Hard-core Theocrats will hold their noses and vote for Romney in November. It’s what they’ve been told to do, and they are accustomed to doing as they are told. But they will not have the enthusiasm they had for Reagan, or for GW Bush. They will not go the extra mile.
Given the state of the economy, many former Christian bloc voters have grown more practical, moving away from abstract morality as the top criterion for their vote. They see what the untrammeled greed of the very wealthy has done to their families, to their children’s futures. They understand that the Plutocrats have gotten out of control, and the rest of us are paying the price.
If—as seems to be happening—being a successful, wealthy capitalist is coming to be understood by swing voters as a badge of shame, today’s Republican Party is in big, big trouble.
At publication, the Dragon was AFFABLE