The GOP Needs a Better Base

Do y’all remember William Bennett, the guy who made a good living as a public morality scold until it was discovered he had millions of dollars in gambling debts? He hasn’t entirely gone away, but he gets less attention than he used to.

You might remember that Bennett was so disappointed that the American people weren’t more outraged by the Clinton-Lewinsky that he wrote a whole book about it, The Death of Outrage. He saw President Clinton’s popularity as a sign that the American public was morally depraved. (Big Bill averaged a 61 percent approval in his second term, and his high point in December 1998 was 73 percent, according to Gallop.)

I thought of Bennett this morning when I saw this piece at National Review, whining about the Republican base. Kevin Williamson calls that part of the base that is putting Donald Trump at the top of the GOP polls the WHINOS, because they whine about the Republican establishment.

What’s generally misunderstood on the left is that the tea-party movement did not arise as an alternative to the Obama-Reid-Pelosi Democrats but as an alternative to the Bush-McConnell-Hastert Republicans, who were judged to have spent too much, warred too recklessly, and — most significant — to have been too ready to make themselves complicit in the bailouts. …

…You know the RINO — Republican In Name Only — but you may be less familiar with the WHINO. The WHINO is a captive of the populist Right’s master narrative, which is the tragic tale of the holy, holy base, the victory of which would be entirely assured if not for the machinations of the perfidious Establishment. Never mind the Democrats, economic realities, Putin, ISIS, the geographical facts of the U.S.-Mexico border — all would be well and all manner of things would be well if not for the behind-the-scenes plotting of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and their enablers, who apparently can be bribed with small numbers of cocktail weenies. The WHINO is a Republican conspiracy theorist, in whose fervid imaginings all the players — victims, villains — are Republicans. Barack Obama? Pshaw. The real enemy is Jeb Bush….

…Which is to say, the WHINO loves Trump not because Trump confounds the Democrats or because he constitutes a serious threat to a Democratic victory in 2016, but because he confounds the Republicans and constitutes a serious threat to a Republican victory in 2016.

Williamson manages to write this whole column without dealing honestly with the one issue that is earning Trump so much WHINO love, which is immigration. I well remember even during Dubya’s first term, when he was still coasting on the false impression that he actually knew what he was doing about terrorism, there was grumbling on rightie blogs that he was soft on immigration. The fact is, the Republican base is cemented together with a whole lot of nativism, along with racism and resentment of anyone comfortable with diversity. It was the Right, not liberals, who lashed out and killed Dubya’s immigration reform efforts.

The GOP establishment thought the baggers were grand when they could be mobilized to shut down town hall meetings about Obamacare. Then they ran Jeb up the flagpole, and the baggers failed to salute. Instead, they are flocking to Trump, who is speaking their language and throwing them red meat in quantity. Because, ultimately, that’s all baggers want. They aren’t interested in actual government policy. They want leaders and spokespeople who will validate their bigotries and give voice to the howling, ugly hate and demented envy that gnaws at their souls.

And now, having chased anyone who actually cared about governing, or even America, out of the party, the GOP is faced with a base that no longer understands, or cares, how the game is played. And the GOP establishment is beginning to realize they no longer control the Frankenstein’s monster they cultivated all these years.