For a sizable minority of Americans, the biggest political story at the moment is not who won this week’s runoff in Georgia. It’s the supposed plot to suppress the truth about President Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s corrupt business dealings.
The crusade against young Biden is easy to dismiss as another made-up narrative designed to keep Fox News viewers engaged. But the continued obsession with fringe theories and paranoid assertions helps explain why Republicans have ended up with so many embarrassing and unsuccessful candidates, culminating in Tuesday’s defeat of Senate hopeful Herschel Walker in his bid to unseat Democrat Raphael. Warnock.
While former President Donald Trump has compounded the problem of bad candidates — he, after all, personally recruited Walker, and he frequently tried to boost the chances of nominations for candidates who ran poorly in November — the The underlying supply and demand issues existed before Trump, and they aren’t going away even if the former president eventually does. And the predicament makes it harder for Republicans to govern effectively when they win.
Let’s start with the offer of candidates. Want to run for office as a Republican? You won’t need to know much about public policy. You will, however, have to follow an incredibly complex and convoluted series of bogus scandals and events that dominate popular media with Republican voters, from voter fraud (non-existent) to the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, which Republicans in the House promise. be the centerpiece of the next Congress.
You wouldn’t have to believe this garbage. But you need to be pretty knowledgeable in a range of wacky narratives if you’re going to woo Republican donors, activists, and even government professionals.
If, on the other hand, you’re interested in doing conservative public policy, you’re pretty much out of luck in elected office, especially at the national level. You’d be better off seeking a key position in the executive branch under a Republican president — or, better yet, positioning yourself for a career on the federal bench, where Republican justices have had enormous influence over politics, from immigration to health care to gun policy.
Given this state of affairs, it’s no surprise that Republicans face a shortage of quality candidates. The current dynamic is attracting fewer people interested in politics and more hoping to be reserved on Fox News or one of its even less reputable alternatives. Not all policy experts are good candidates, but few conspiracy theorists have much appeal beyond the most loyal Republican voters.
And then there is the demand side. Very simply: the most loyal Republican voters are very fond of the weaker candidates in the general election.
In doing so, they are echoing what several generations of GOP leaders have taught their grassroots voters: that conservatives are constantly betrayed by a liberal establishment of the Republican Party. (1)
There was a time in the 1950s when both political parties had liberal and conservative wings. But liberal Republicans haven’t had much influence in the party for about 50 years, and virtually all Republican politicians today hold a fairly narrow range of conservative political positions.
Nevertheless, the constant repetition of this notion of betrayal has convinced many Republican voters to support candidates who are committed to confronting the ostensibly liberal Republican establishment, to the point that they regard the nomination of terrible candidates as a virtue.
All supporters tend to be skeptical of negative reports about their party’s candidates — but Republican voters deep in the party’s information bubble seem to have come to regard media reports revealing incompetence or misconduct by a candidate as evidence that the candidate must be doing something right. Otherwise, why would the media attack them?
This way of thinking helped Donald Trump snatch the presidential nomination in 2016, and it brought nominations this year to Walker and several other candidates with troubling resumes and minimal qualifications.
Of course, problematic candidates are sometimes elected. And some of them end up becoming pragmatic and effective legislators. But more often than not, they just repeat the tropes that named them. They focus on what works well in the Republican media and rail against anything they can portray as the “establishment” supposed to sell out the party and conservatives.
It makes it harder for Republicans to do much when they win. This is why, for example, Republicans never offered a conservative alternative to the Affordable Care Act and eventually gave up trying. And failure to achieve major political gains makes it even less likely that competent lawmakers will show up next time around.
None of this has developed overnight, and even if the GOP collectively chooses to tackle it, it will take a long time to fix. But these trends are costing Republicans dearly at the polls. And when they win, they are less and less equipped to really govern.
(1) It’s unclear whether Republican leaders decades ago were responding to voter demands for pure conservative candidates or whether that demand was originally created by Republican leaders trying to win intraparty fights. In recent years, however, it’s been a spiral: the most loyal Republicans want more RINO-bashing, which Republican media and other leaders are happy to do, making the public even more likely to respond to attacks on the “establishment”. it’s worth it, I don’t see anything in traditional conservative philosophy that would inspire its adherents to oppose pragmatism.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and politics. A former political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University, he wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.