Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Outbidding Has Begun

 This week, I tweeted about how the upcoming primary races in the GOP will be outbidding contests.  I want to explain what I meant and suggest that it is already a thing.  The reason why this is important is that ethnic outbidding fosters violence, whether the outbidders win or lose.  

For me, it goes back to Donald Horowitz's Ethnic Groups in Conflict.  But others observed the basic dynamics as well.  When you have a homogeneous party compete with a heterogeneous one, the competition with the homogeneous party will push the candidates to make more and more extreme claims to be the best defender of that group.  I always referred to Sri Lanka, as it was seen as a likely case for democracy and such after the British left.  But over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, the Sinhalese politicians who competed for 90% (more or less) of the vote learned to appeal to the Sinhalese population of Sri Lanka by targeting policies against the Tamil minority.  Each election became, in essence, an auction for the parties to make the highest bid--how best to oppress the minority.  In such auctions, moderation tends to get punished by voters.  

The Republican Party, since the realignment of the 1960s in response to resentment towards the civil rights movement, has become increasingly homogeneous -- the party of white Christians.  The Democrats are the heterogeneous party, with many ethnic, religious, and racial groups supporting it.  Sure, you get various individuals from minority groups voting GOP, but the vast majority are white.  And, of course, the big question is: who shows up in primaries?  The development of safe seats due to gerrymandering and sorting (people moving to where they feel comfy) has meant that the dynamic of politicians moving to the center during the general election is no longer so relevant or so strong.  Instead, candidates and incumbents worry about who is on their flanks during the primaries.  Why?  Because the most enthusiastic folks tend to show up in primaries and they happen to be right wing folks for the GOP and left wing folks for the Dems. We saw the GOP move further to the right in the 1990s as Gingrich and others focused on eliminating RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) and punishing folks who reached across the aisle.  

Fast forward to 2016: about 20 candidates are running for President, and one of them is making the bluntest, most naked appeals to white supremacy--Trump--and the rest are too scared of alienating that part of the Republican base to confront Trump.  They hoped he would self-destruct (and he tried mightily), with the last survivor picking up that part of the base.  That was definitely Ted Cruz's strategy.  And, yes, that Ted Cruz was the second strongest candidate in 2016 says much about the contemporary Republican party.

With a nakedly white supremacist Republican administration, opposition within the party mostly died.  Instead, Republicans feared that Trump would punish any opposition, any effort to compromise or moderate, by supporting candidates to primary incumbents.  So, in 2020, we got QAnon types running, pushing the Republican incumbents to either support the furthest right-wing stances or stay silent.  Those incumbents who recognized Biden's election early faced not just the likelihood of being primaried but also threats directed against them and their families.

Now, you have many Republicans who will say that Biden is the President but not say that he won the election fairly.  This is all about anticipating the next set of primaries.  The only people in the GOP now that do not fear being outflanked on the right in the next primaries are those who are retiring or those who are already very far out there (Romney is a semi-exception).  So, the outbidding has already begun--we already have politicians fearing being outflanked, so they are taking extreme stances, which undermine US democracy and incite violence.

Of course, there is another actor in all of this: Fox.  Fox has become more and more consistent in voicing the far right.  Tucker Carlson now sets the agenda for the entire network, as the latest episode of the Press Box podcast makes clear.  The question these days is which pieces that appear on the network aren't white supremacist and far right.  And yet Fox faces outbidding pressures as well.  They worry about losing market share to Newsmax and OANN, which are yet further to the right.

As a contrast, the Dems are very much a heterogeneous party, which can drive people crazy as it is never doing what all members of the party wants.  But note that their primary in 2020 was not about who belongs in the party, not really, but about, dare I say it, electability and policy issues.  A white supremacist stance would have alienated key voters.  There was not even a Clinton-esque Sista Souljah moment to prove that a candidate was sufficiently friendly to white folks.  Instead, ironically, the Black women of South Carolina looked around and realized that it was better to have a bland white dude run and win than a Black candidate (Harris or Booker) or a woman (Harris or Warren or Klobuchar or etc.).  

The GOP's ethnic outbidding has hurt the Dems by peeling off white voters.  But as the country gets increasingly diverse, the GOP electorate gets relatively smaller, which means that the Republicans face a difficult choice: become less white supremacist and reach out to other ethnic groups OR double down by stopping immigration and suppressing the votes of non-whites.  And, yes, they have chosen the latter even though GOP performance among Latinos suggests another way to go.  But who is going to show up in primaries: these conservative Latinos or the white supremacists?

The only choice is to game the system, and that is what they are doing now.  Which means that the Dems must do everything they can to prevent that from happening including killing the filibuster at least on voting rights issues, if not everything else.  

And, yes, the GOP and Fox will continue to incite violence and then blame mental health (despite not pushing for funding for mental health efforts) when white dudes kill women, non-white people, and non-Christians.  Alas, we are in for more violence, not less. 

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