In the wake of House Speaker John A. Boehner’s announced resignation from Congress, there’s been a lot of chatter about how the GOP House caucus has changed since the Ohio Republican was first elected. And as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver and The Washington Post’s own Christopher Ingraham demonstrate quite clearly with charts, the data is pretty incontrovertible. As Silver notes, “The most conservative Republicans in the House 25 or 30 years ago would be among the most liberal members now.”
Indeed, the current GOP is the most conservative iteration of the party in the past century.
None of this should be a surprise to regular readers of Spoiler Alerts or The Post. But it’s worth noting that, in many ways, the GOP has moved further to the right at the same time that a lot of other forces are pushing the country and the world in the opposite direction. Which, if you’re a Republican, sounds pretty scary.
A substantial share of the Republican Party is fundamentally uneasy about the ways in which the American population is changing.
To be specific, GOP voters are split when it comes to whether the growing share of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States is a good thing.
And, indeed, Republicans polled are extremely uneasy with rising levels of ethnic diversity in the United States. Ross concludes:
Anxiety about the changing face of America ranks among the most futile political causes of all time. It is a naked manifestation of the biases that have always been part of this country’s politics and its policies. But precisely because the American population and electorate are changing, it is a political organizing tool with a very short lifespan.
In the short term, conservative Republicans can rely on the potent theme of how America is changing in unfamiliar ways. In the long term, Ross is correct: This will work about as well for the national party as then-California Gov. Pete Wilson’s 1994 anti-immigrant platform worked for California Republicans (and I’m not the only one noting this similarity).
But the problem is not just limited to the United States. The GOP looks increasingly out of step compared with other conservative parties in the rest of the world. As Jonathan Chait noted recently, on issues such as climate change, the Republican party does not resemble other conservative parties:
Of all the major conservative parties in the democratic world, the Republican Party stands alone in its denial of the legitimacy of climate science. Indeed, the Republican Party stands alone in its conviction that no national or international response to climate change is needed. To the extent that the party is divided on the issue, the gap separates candidates who openly dismiss climate science as a hoax, and those who, shying away from the political risks of blatant ignorance, instead couch their stance in the alleged impossibility of international action.
A new paper by Sondre Båtstrand studies the climate-change positions of electoral manifestos for the conservative parties in nine democracies, and finds the GOP truly stands apart. Opposition to any mitigation of greenhouse-gas emissions, he finds, “is only the case with the U.S. Republican Party, and hence not representative of conservative parties as a party family.”
This consensus around climate change has led to some off GOP political contortions, as I noted earlier this month:
Republicans are now trying to tell other countries that the United States won’t really honor any commitments that the Obama administration makes on greenhouse gas emissions. McConnell is doing this in the hope that it will undercut foreign willingness to make kindred pledges. Which is strange, because a staple of GOP rhetoric on climate change for well over a decade has been that U.S. action is hopeless because the rest of the world won’t act. So it would appear that Republicans are now actively trying to gin up the global resistance that they’ve long said was insuperable. That’s kinda weird.
So to sum up: Republicans have shifted way to the nativist right at the same time that much of the country — and much of the conservative world — has gone in the opposite direction.
Will this change anything in American politics in the short run? No. The GOP will continue to control the House and Senate, and the GOP’s 2016 nominee will have a decent chance of being elected president 14 months from now. And globally, it should be noted that other nativist conservative parties are also on the rise.
Still, trendlines like the ones listed above have to give GOP political operatives the heebie-jeebies. Indeed, they should be freaking out as much as GOP stalwarts. And I think, in some ways, this anxiety is part of the story explaining both the Republicans’ presidential nomination race and the turmoil in the House GOP caucus. As I said this summer: “there’s a strident minority that doesn’t like being a strident minority.” And that’s the real anxiety that GOP party leaders are going to be facing for the rest of this decade.