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It doesn’t make sense that GOP is outpacing Democrats: Paul A. Heise

By Paul A. Heise
Posted 4/12/17

Over the past eight years, the Obama presidency, the Democratic Party has gone into a descendancy. In just eight years, the Democrats lost the House, the Senate, the presidency and now almost …

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It doesn’t make sense that GOP is outpacing Democrats: Paul A. Heise

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Over the past eight years, the Obama presidency, the Democratic Party has gone into a descendancy. In just eight years, the Democrats lost the House, the Senate, the presidency and now almost certainly the Supreme Court. They began the period owning all those assets.

This political catastrophe needs explaining.

First off, the Republican Party should be the party that is in trouble. The Republicans are faction-ridden, unable to build a coalition, and their traditional constituency of rich whites is diminishing. The Democratic Party, in contrast, commands the political spectrum from center-right to hard left. It has locked up the growing constituencies of voters of color and immigrants. It should be dominant. Facts point to something else going on. It isn’t politics as usual, and it is more than President Donald Trump.

In the simplest narrative, the Republican party looked at its dismal long-term prospects and did something about it. The political story is not that simple, of course. Nor was the story always as clear as it is in hindsight.

The facts are now fairly well known to the Washington professional elite. The Republicans built a secret organizational structure financed by the very wealthy. The Koch brothers, for instance, set up or took over a chain of foundations, think tanks and university departments to push the very conservative Koch philosophy. They were explicit about not exposing the source of finance.

The Cato Institute is the clearest example of what happens when the Kochs take over. Cato is “dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, and free markets.” The mission of the Brookings Institution, in contrast, is to “conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems.” That’s different.

The conservative program was intended to and did shift the American political scene sharply to the right. Under the guise of supposed neutrality, the conservatives demanded and got a place at the academic table. The purpose of the university is to search for truth. The purpose of right-wing think tanks is to advocate free-market principles. There are liberal think tanks but all should expose their biases.

The membership was wider than academia. The Republicans welcomed Christian evangelicals and seized the moral high ground. The tea party took its brand of Christianity and its devotion to free markets into the partisan street. The result is Citizens United and a financialized politics. It was clever and effective even if it did not enhance American democracy. Politics was expanded to include education and religion and nothing was excluded.

The institutional structure was one thing, what the Republicans did with it was another. REDMAP was the Republican plan that injected $30 million into key 2010 state legislative elections, enough to gain control and gerrymander. It was astoundingly successful.

In 2009, Republicans held control of 14 state houses of representatives, the Democrats 27. Today, Republicans control 32, the Democrats 7. Across the board, numbers are the same in regard to state senators, governors and federal offices. Pennsylvania is “arguably the most distorted map in the country.” Gerrymandering has apparently wiped out any possibility that the Democrats can regain control, barring a cataclysm of some sort.

Gerrymandering is an ancient and dishonorable practice. Patrick Henry tried, unsuccessfully, to gerrymander James Madison out of his seat in the first Congress. The Republican State Leadership Committee has tried to implement voter suppression making ID cards required to vote. Republicans have also broadcast unfounded accusations of voter fraud. Outside money can and does swamp local races.

We might look at REDMAP and the Republican State Leadership Committee and conclude they are just very good politicians. (It depends on how you define “good.“) And maybe they are bad politicians. Most of this is not illegal, however undemocratic it may be. But the people doing it are part of the swamp Trump says he wants to drain.

This is the direction we don’t want our country to go in. Maybe this is part of being a politician, but I don’t think so. To say that Republicans are just better politicians is no compliment, although it might reflect some envy.

Paul A. Heise , of Mount Gretna, is a professor emeritus of economics at Lebanon Valley College, Annville, and a former economist for the federal government.

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