John Derbyshire On The Wonks’ War Against Sailer Strategy
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Barack Obama’s victory in the 2012 presidential election precipitated a running series of exchanges among election analysts centered on the topic: Can the Republican Party remain nationally competitive without making itself more appealing to minority voters?

Note that the differences of opinion—the interesting ones, at any rate—are coldly arithmetical, without moral content. It is possible to believe that Republicans ought to try harder to appeal to minorities, while yet believing that they can achieve electoral success without doing so.

That seems in fact to be the position of Sean Trende, a key participant in this War of the Wonks. On immigration reform, for example, Trende wrote this:

From a “pure policy” standpoint, I find quite a bit to like in the basic “Gang of Eight” framework. But regardless of whether Republicans could or should back the bill, it simply isn’t necessary for them to do so and remain a viable political force.

[The Case of the Missing White Voters, Revisited, Real Clear Politics, June 21, 2013.]

That is taken from the first essay in a four-part series Trende published in June-July this year. (Parts two, three, and four are titled, respectively, “Does GOP Have to Pass Immigration Reform?,” “The GOP and Hispanics: What the Future Holds,” and “Demographics and the GOP, Part IV.”) That series in turn enlarges on a book Trende published earlier this year, The Lost Majority.

Trende argued, with numbers to back up the argument, that the biggest part of Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss was due to “missing whites”—blue-collar northern and Midwestern whites who didn’t show up at the polls in November.

(Note that “white,” here and in what follows, refers to non-Hispanic whites.)

The GOP, said Trende, could build a fairly strong coalition by going after these downscale whites:

It means abandoning some of its more pro-corporate stances. This GOP would have to be more “America first” on trade, immigration and foreign policy; less pro-Wall Street and big business in its rhetoric; more Main Street/populist on economics.

Various elements of the wonkerati rode into battle against Trende, brandishing their slide rules. Karl Rove, for example:

To have prevailed over Mr. Obama in the electoral count, Mr. Romney would have had to carry 62.54% of white voters. That's a tall order, given that Ronald Reagan received 63% of the white vote in his 1984 victory.

[More White Votes Alone Won't Save the GOP, Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2013]

(The slide rules there are purely symbolic. I may in fact be the last person in the Western world that knows how to use a slide rule. I actually have one here on my desk, a plastic model from ThinkGeek—handy enough, but not to be compared in gravitas with the fine old enameled wooden ones that used to be marketed to British schoolboys by a firm in Ulm, Germany—Albert Einstein’s home town, we whispered to each other in awe.)

And then there was this from Alex Roarty at National Journal, a Washington, DC magazine for political professionals:

If the GOP determines that its future lies with an all-out pursuit of whites, it might find an unwanted surprise. Some white voters, particularly young ones, won’t align themselves with a party that can’t attract support from Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians. To attract more white voters, the GOP, ironically, might first need to attract more minorities.

[Why White Voters Will Flee a White-Only Party, August 1, 2013]

Last week, National Journal published a longer, more detailed article along the same lines, but by a different analyst, Ronald Brownstein:

Can Republicans bet their future primarily on the notion that the party can amass even bigger advantages with whites? The answer depends on two distinct factors: turnout and vote-share...On both [these] fronts, a whites-first strategy would face entrenched, structural challenges. For Republicans to increase the white share of the electorate in 2016 or beyond would require them to reverse the virtually uninterrupted trajectory of the past three decades.

[Bad Bet: Why Republicans Can’t Win With Whites Alone, National Journal, September 5, 2013]

That trajectory includes monotone trends in marriage, religion, and education levels that are all (Brownstein argues) steadily eroding the GOP base among whites. As white Americans become less married, less religious, and more educated—trends that show no signs of reversing—the GOP is less appealing to them.

Brownstein makes a further point not much emphasized in prior skirmishes: Barack Obama is unattractive to a lot of white voters, for his past radicalism, and, yes, his color. A 2016 Democratic candidate without that handicap might do better among whites—especially among white women, if it was a woman. The bar for the GOP would then be higher than in 2008 and 2012. In wonk-speak, Obama’s share of the white vote in 2012 (39 percent) may have been a floor for Democrats.

The wonkery here is, as you can see, very deep. For readers it is also deeply frustrating.

The central point of discussion here, the desirability of the GOP increasing its appeal to white voters, is the Sailer Strategy, which we have been airing, with full supporting numerical analyses, since the 2000 election.

We know that a prophet is without honor in his own country. But surely an occasional linked reference wouldn’t hurt?

Note that, contra Ronald Brownstein’s title, there are some conceivable circumstances in which Republicans could win with whites alone.

Whites were 72 percent of the electorate in 2012. On current demographic trends, that number will decline at roughly two percent per 4-year cycle. That gives us ten or a dozen cycles in which whites are a majority of the electorate—well past mid-century.

If whites were to vote for white GOP presidential candidates as tribally as blacks vote for a black Democrat, with no additional votes from minorities at all, the presidency would be decided by the white vote alone in all but the last of those cycles.

Even if whites nationwide just voted as tribally as white Mississippians did last November (89 percent for Romney), all but the last three of those cycles would be a lock.

Well, conceivable, perhaps, but neither thing will happen. Whites are too intensely engaged in their Cold Civil War—too much wrapped up in the pleasures of hating other whites—to unite as a tribe.

What could happen, what we should wish to happen, is a turn on the part of the GOP to economic populism, as recommended by Sean Trende, and more recently by my colleague James Kirkpatrick in his article on Colorado:

Rather than serving as corporate lobbyists for the ultra-rich, the GOP should wage war on big money in politics and embrace a populist strategy against bankers, cheap labor, and offshoring.

A well-pitched populist appeal from an attractive candidate could reach parts that the current corporatist, big-donor-whipped GOP is not reaching. The fundamental issues are not hard to get across.

Those “Millennial” voters, for example, 76 percent of whom, National Journal’s Alex Roarty tells us, “say immigrants make the country a stronger place,” must include many seeking work in fields loaded up with H-1B immigrants.

How difficult would it be to explain to them that the H-1B worker is indentured labor, tied to a particular job with a particular employer? Why would a Millennial job-seeker not be indignant about that—indignant not at the immigrant, but at the employer who prefers indentured labor to free labor, at the immigration attorneys who game the system, and at the pols who enable it all?

We must hope for that turn on the GOP’s part—and for that candidate.

It’s worth noting, at a tangent from all the above, that even failing a populist turn, the GOP is by no means on the ropes. Republicans hold 30 of the 50 state governorships: 24 of them have a GOP-controlled state legislature to work with.

Certainly you should forget the apocalyptic remarks in some of that wonkery about the death of the Republican Party. Anglosphere political parties very rarely die: only under extraordinary historical circumstances, and never without some replacement party of similar orientation for voters to turn to.

The American Whig Party was chewed up by the slavery issue: Henry Clay Whigs became Abe Lincoln Republicans, at any rate in the North. The British Liberal Party succumbed to the post-WW1 radicalization of the working classes: Lloyd George Liberals (my grandfather) became Ramsay MacDonald Labour voters (my father).

For all the rancors of our public life, there are no such epochal issues dividing us at present. We shall be Democrats and Republicans for some time yet.

Sure, it’s pleasant to dream of the present-day Republican Party, with its lickspittles, time-servers, and lunatics, being smashed to pieces. I see no prospect of this being done, though. The GOP will still be with us for many more presidential-election cycles. Conservatives can only hope to influence the party back towards a proper concern with the interests of ordinary citizens, away from the interests of foreigners and billionaire donors.

Only a tick above the probability of total Republican demise is that of a prolonged Democratic supremacy at the federal level. I have ruminated on this elsewhere:

Such things happen. The most notable spell of party domination in a modern democracy was the so-called "Whig Supremacy" of 1714-1770 in Britain. (This time period actually encompassed one Tory Prime Minister, the Earl of Bute, 1762-3; but Bute was a brief aberration, the result of George the Third's first unsuccessful foray into parliamentary politics.) For 56 years—an entire adult lifetime!—the Whigs ran Britain and its overseas possessions, presenting themselves, very plausibly, as the party of peace, progress, prosperity and stability.

I wrote that in September 2000, though, in the context of predicting a Democratic victory in that year’s presidential election. Oops. I have never since worried much about a one-party supremacy.

The Whig Supremacy of eighteenth-century Britain, a nation with a very limited electorate and deep dynastic and religious divisions, just does not map into modern mass politics. The U.S. presidency has even less to offer as examples of one-party supremacy, the Jeffersonians’ 24-year run never equaled since, not even by post-Civil War Republicans or FDR Democrats.

A further tick above the probability of one-party supremacy is Noah Millman’s “one-and-a-half-party state” at the federal level: long-term one-party supremacy in the legislature moderated by an opposition-party executive. This arrangement has been field-tested in Massachusetts, California, and New York City. But I can’t see it “taking” at the federal level. The U.S. is too big and various.

The normal expectation for mass electoral politics is, as Sean Trende points out in his book, homeostasis. That is to say, as broad currents of mass opinion shift, party ideologies shift with them to maintain a rough 50-50 split for the major parties.

Absent historical cataclysms, parties do not die, or lie dormant for decades: they change shape in response to deeper cultural currents. The task for political activists and strong leaders is to influence the shape-changing.

I have not yet had a chance to read Alwyn Turner’s latest book, A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s, but I note this from the unsigned review in last week’s Economist:

The victory of Thatcherism had established a consensus for economic liberalism; social liberalism followed…The changes in attitude of the 1990s had little to do with Britain’s bewildered rulers.

What they did have to do with was the propagation, through the schools and the media, of 1960s radical egalitarianism in its mature form—what around here we call Cultural Marxism—with an assist from the final discrediting collapse of unsightly state Marxism.

We did not actually get the society without class of Turner’s title; nor did we get a society without race, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, or religion.

What we got was widespread conversion to the belief that what Confucius called the Superior Man, the moral exemplar, should strive not to notice these things, not to use them in processing social information.

That is the cultural environment we have to work within.

It shouldn’t be impossible. Moral convictions, even ones that defy reality—there is no such thing as class, race, sex!—should not leave their holders insensible to self-interest.

For example, even the most moral i.e. moralistic Millennial would be startled to learn that big firms are lobbying for more immigrants while laying off workers? [Companies lay off thousands, then demand immigration reform for new labor By Byron York, Washington Examiner,  September 11, 2013]

Would be, that is, if anyone in the GOP dared to point it out to them.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at

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