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As goes Chuck, so goes the country?

  • Published at 10:33 am November 23rd, 2018
Democrats took the House, but the bigger picture is much more complex
Democrats took the House, but the bigger picture is much more complex / REUTERS

It isn’t your grandfather’s Republican Party anymore

Though the top line of the 2018 mid-term elections in the US is that the Democrats won the House and Republicans kept the Senate, the underlying data has a wealth of indicative information that will be studied by political scientists, campaign analysts, and pollsters for years to come. 

One of those underlying gems of information was this: In the state of Kansas -- one of the most Republican states in the country that no Democrat has won in a presidential election since the 1964, and where the state legislature is 2/3rd Republican -- a Democrat won the governorship. 

And that Democrat, Laura Kelly, beat Dr Kris Kobach, the iconic national symbol of the last 10 years of anti-immigrant activism and President Donald Trump’s close ally. Similar stories are emerging out of other bastions of erstwhile Republican dominance like California’s Orange County (home of Reagan and Nixon) and the coast of South Carolina.

When future scholars wonder why such a bizarre change happened in 2018, they may zero in on my friend Chuck, who perhaps epitomizes those 6% of previously solid Republican voters who, according to CNN, supported Democrats in 2018, eclipsing the 4% of similarly situated Democratic voters who supported Republican candidates. That is a relative difference of a whopping 33% in favour of Democrats when it comes to crossover support.

Chuck’s great-grandparents moved to Kansas in its earlier days as a state, and to the best of my knowledge, neither they nor their progeny were anything but Republicans through and through in a state which was literally created by the Republican Party during the Civil War. Until this generation, that is … and that too with reluctance.

During his college and graduate school years, and afterwards as time permitted, you could see Chuck in the thick of one Republican campaign or another almost every cycle; he and I had the privilege of working for George W Bush’s 2000 campaign together, and more than a dozen other ones at every level of politics. 

His conservative political philosophy has evolved, but not particularly changed, from those days: He remains a believer in the free market (albeit within certain limits to protect the consumer and the vulnerable), a strong national defense with American leadership in the world, and leaders who model personal rectitude in their lives.

As luck would have it for the Democrats this year, since the 2016 election cycle, the Republican Party has positioned itself against free trade, for the regulation of technology companies that criticize the party, in ambivalence towards NATO while praising Russian and North Korean dictators, and under a man whose personal morality makes salacious tabloid covers appear positively respectable.

But it is more than policy and principle. People like Chuck, the very epitome of middle American reticence and thoughtfulness, may have found the Trump-oriented Republican Party’s thinking process and rhetoric to be alien. 

Tweets have replaced scientific analysis, shrill appeals to ethno-nationalism taken the place of staid, business-like compromise, and nouveau-riche flamboyance substituted itself for mature leadership. No wonder it is a Republican Party that so many cradle Republicans in the suburbs of middle America are scratching their heads to decipher. 

As the saying goes, “it isn’t your grandfather’s Republican Party anymore.” Conversely, such a volte-face on policy and style has brought in certain ethno-revanchist elements into the Republican Party, elements who were not always actively pursued by either party in the last few decades.

One of the key the questions for the 2020 general election in America, especially in the competitive states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin,  Michigan, North Carolina, and Arizona, becomes this: Are there enough erstwhile Republicans like Chuck moving towards the Democrats to balance out the revanchists who have moved towards  Donald Trump? 

In a nutshell, this is the “suburban conundrum” for the two parties. As more and more rural and white voters with less formal education or training move into the Republican column, often wanting to be “protected” from influences of interaction with others, the more educated, successful, connected folks in suburbs and midsize towns move away from it. 

Whether this is a permanent phenomenon or just a reaction to the Trumpization of the Republican Party, I do not know yet. I mean, if in 2024 there is a regular, traditional conservative of the Bush or McCain type who is nominated by the Republicans, will people like Chuck come back to their ancestral party?

Call me after the 2024 elections and I will tell you after checking with my friend. 

Esam Sohail is a college administrator and lecturer of social sciences. He writes from Kansas, USA. He can be reached at [email protected]

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