Inside the Mind of the Republican Party

The rest of the world is looking at the United States and wondering, with good reason, why we have gone crazy. Not the entire country has gone crazy, of course. But we have a system of government in which a medium-sized minority can bring things crashing down if they so choose, and exactly such a group is rending one of the major parties apart. The minority group is roughly “the Republican base,” an uneasy alliance of Evangelical Christians and the Tea Party.

So it’s interesting and important to understand what these folks really think — something the media, with its valorization of drama, isn’t very good at conveying. The polling organization run by James Carville and Stanley Greenberg has recently tackled the issue, and presents a fascinating summary of what the concerns of the Republican base really are. (Carville and Greenberg are committed Democrats, of course, but I got the link from The American Conservative, where Ron Dreher completely agrees and expresses his horror and dismay.)

Here are the ideas floating in the mind of an average member of the Republican base, expressed in convenient word-cloud form:

tea party word cloud

For slightly more detail, here are the bullet-pointed main findings:


Most of the Republican base are not fat-cat plutocrats — there aren’t enough of those people to make up a sufficiently substantial voting bloc. A lot of the people described here are poor or at best middle-class, but their cultural identity and self-image is derived in large part from race/nation/religion/lifestyle categories that they see as under attack. The dominant emotions here are fearful ones. (I don’t mean to be condescending by talking about “these people”; this is the environment that I grew up in myself.)

This kind of analysis helps understand why Obamacare — which, for all its faults, is primarily aimed at providing health insurance to more people, many of whom are squarely in the Republican base — is such a hot-button issue. It’s not that they don’t want health insurance; it’s not even that they don’t want the government involved (since they love Medicare and Social Security). It’s that they see Obamacare as a craven ploy to get more people (people not like them) dependent on the government, establishing a permanent Democratic majority, and therefore easing the way for more power going to immigrants, gays, and so on.

Some of their analysis is actually correct! The demographics are tending strongly against what we now think of as the Republican base. The world is changing, and they don’t like it.

The scariest part of the report is that last bullet point, that “climate is next.” The Republican civil war is already bringing the US to the brink of financial disaster. It could end up causing the entire planet immeasurable harm. Scientists need to realize that the climate change debate, like the creationism-in-schools debate from a while a back, is actually not about scientific facts. It’s about culture, and that’s a much more difficult problem to address.

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67 Responses to Inside the Mind of the Republican Party

  1. zoidberg says:

    It’s going to take people running on a coherent platform of positive governance to actually defeat these goons in places where we can actually treat and cure fear of change and socioeconomic inequalities.

    If someone is reading this blog, they understand more about “how things work” than the average Republican member of Congress, and if they are currently represented by one of these anti-government fanatics, they should think seriously about how easy it is to start a campaign and run against one of these monsters.

  2. Bob Zannelli says:

    The GOP problem is how can they raise the Debt Limit without shattering the republican party. The Tea Party wants to prevent any increase of the Debt Ceiling, they are oblivious or simply don’t care about the consequences. But what’s left of the Republican party that isn’t this extreme and understands what not raising the debt ceiling will do are trying to find some way to avoid a split in the GOP and still raise the debt ceiling.

    The problem is Gerrymandering , the extremist Tea Party congresspersons are in highly contrived districts that lack swing voters, removing any need or even the ability to compromise on anything. The slightest compromise is seen as a betrayal subjecting the compromiser to a well funded challenge from the right.

    The GOP has been courting the crazies for a long time , desperately holding on to power with a changing demographic that spells doom for this mostly white men’s party. Now the Tea Party is making governing the country impossible. The Tea Party crazies came to Washington to destroy, not govern. The very idea of compromise , not only with the democrats but with moderate republicans in their own party is simply not on the table for the Tea Party.

  3. Shecky R says:

    The Republican powers-that-be think that their ticket back to the White House is to throw the country into crisis (financial or otherwise), and be swept back in by discontented voters.
    I don’t know which is scarier… Republican leaders who think/act this way, or the possible plurality of the electorate that is dumb enough to fall for it.

  4. transcendentape says:

    I fully agree. However, as a citizen of the US that happens to have been born in Texas, I’d invite you to re-examine your first paragraph. As it appears to me, “these goons” are in electoral districts that are not likely to elect a radically different representative then they currently have. While I CERTAINLY do not endorse any recent action taken by the Republican establishment, the idea that a fresh election will change the situation we currently find ourselves in is easily shown to be ludicrous.

    We must stop the rhetoric. The far right have legitimate fiscal concerns. (“Obamacare” in and of itself isn’t one of them, though it is a convenient rallying cry) We are not on a fiscally sustainable course. There is room for debate, and there needs to be resolution, but the rhetoric from both sides seems to me to accomplish nothing but entrench the partisans and make a resolution that much more difficult.

  5. Tad says:

    Reading a ton of government articles these last few weeks and I have come to the conclusion that we have two really stupid voting blocks fighting against each other and any semi-intelligent person is stuck in the middle to smart to care. We have the scared republicans and the get real democrats. You did a great job summarizing the repubs, but the democrats need a brain check as well. Democrats are living in a fantasy world where the levels of spending are not that big of a deal and taking care of more people is a higher priority over the people they have promised too help. My distaste for anyone swinging a bible around as the ultimate moral compass has me running away from republicans, but democrats need to look at government spending with a little more disgust and less pride.

  6. Pingback: Inside the Mind of the Tea Party/evangelical block. | Gordon's shares

  7. Bob Zannelli says:

    Dr Carroll’s analysis is correct but he doesn’t mention one salient fact. This collection of racists and religious extremists have been actively courted by a cynical group of elites who have funded primary challenges in highly gerrymandered districts to force the Republican party to be become ever more extreme. Nothing happens in American politics without the influx of lots of money. While the people Carroll talks about may love social security and medicare, the elites who have empowered this extreme politics don’t. The end game is the elimination of any government safety net and any government program that doesn’t directly benefit this elite. The desired Utopia of this elite can be found in the writings of Ayn Rand, a philosophy that enshrines selflessness and indifference to the suffering of others. They are using racial and religious differences to achieve their goals.

  8. FrankL says:

    LOL – “a medium-size minority can bring things crashing down”. Be careful what you wish for. Suppose the republican party has majorities in the house and senate, and there is a republican president. The republicans decide on a vast increase in federal spending to establish the ministry of racial and sexual correctness, which will peer into the lives of every person in order to assure that homosexuality and interracial relations are suppressed. Would you be a member of a “medium size minority” dedicated to bringing that thing crashing down? How would you feel about being labelled “obstuctionist” for your efforts?

    My point is that in a democratically elected government, the power that one party manages to acquire, will also be automatically acquired when (not if) the other party comes into power. If you remove the ability of a minority to disrupt the process, then you remove your own ability to disrupt the process when you are in the minority.

    Re the tea party – Many of the objections to the affordable care act are well founded. It is insane to think that any government agency can even come close to outperforming the free market in terms of determining the relative economic values of the gazillion health care products and services, or that the determinations of such a government agency would be free of the urge to adjust things for the political benefit of the party that supports it. If that game is ok for one side when it is in power, then it’s ok for the other side when it is in power. Is that the kind of game we want?

    What is the argument against letting a free market determine the value of healthcare and then giving taxpayer aid to those who need help? We don’t tell the grocery stores what their prices must be, or that each person’s purchase must cost the same, no matter how large their family is, and then penalize single people living alone who decide to start a vegetable garden to avoid paying the overpayment that they must make, while heads of a family with 10 kids start lining up around the block for what is to them, underpriced groceries. We issue food stamps and let the free market in groceries determine the price.

  9. Shecky R says:

    FrankL: You believe it “insane” to let a governmental agency run healthcare (so you oppose Medicare then?), yet that’s how almost every major civilized democratic country does it (and with lower medical costs than we have)… only America lives with an antiquated, inefficient employer-provided private health insurance system.
    In my own instance I don’t even have a “free-market” to choose from — practically-speaking, I have but ONE insurance co. available to me (both previously, and now under ObamaCare) — true “free market” is non-existent in many parts of the nation).

  10. Ben Norris says:

    What you’re probably going to get is a large minority who operate much like a white version of “angry black men”: hostile, alienated people who feel shut out of power, constantly on the lookout for racial offenses, injustices and enemies to attack. Telling an entire demographic that they have only a future of decline and disempowerment to look forward to isn’t a great way to ensure their cooperation in your enterprise — indeed, it smacks of cultural imperialism and is the kind of thing that can lead to civil war. So I’m afraid America is going to be an unpleasant place for the foreseeable future (assuming you don’t enjoy this sort of thing). Welcome to the new dark age.

  11. It takes two to tango. If Obama were not such a weak president, this would not have happened. Can anyone imagine this kind of mayhem under either Bill Clinton, or Ronald Reagan?

    Giving in to unreasonable demands only generates (and did generate) more unreasonable demands. Early next year it will happen again. And again, and again, and again.

    Gerrymandering made the extremists safe, and fear of the tea party primary challenges keeps the moderate republicans in check. Where is Obama’s national address at prime time calling the tea party anarchists (Harry Reid’s words, not mine) anti-democratic and anti-american? Leading from behind is not working.

    And where is that trillion dollar coin idea which can take the wind out of any default threat?

  12. Lewis says:

    I share your distaste at Republicans swinging a bible around; however, I think that it is incorrect to characterize the Democratic party as “big spenders”. Republicans share a LOT of the blame for excessive government spending. In particular, the debt limit was never a news item or issue during the eight years of the Bush(W) administration. Suddenly, during the Obama administration, it is painted as the end of the world. Secondly, the Republicans during Bush(W) took a Clinton-era surplus and turned it into the biggest deficit spending budget in US history.

  13. Heliodorus says:

    1.) Like Aaron Swartz, Thomas Drake, Jesselyn Radack, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, et. al., dare to challenge the status quo of the powerful elite who are running this nation and pay the price. Start an unwarranted, illegal war based upon lies that results in the deaths of over a half million people and sign a seven million dollar book deal. Only in America. It has even been suggested that whistle blower Snowden be placed on a “kill list.” God bless our “open and free democracy” and the ‘rule of law’ that once prevailed. Bless the criminals on Wall Street who were never prosecuted because OUR representatives in Washington (in fear, no doubt, of possibly becoming implicated themselves for wrong doing) placed it “off the table.” And bless the generals and secret military tribunals that prosecuted the privates for Abu Ghraib.

    2.) Democracy? I think not. From Wikipedia: “… any political system eventually evolves into an oligarchy…modern democracies should be considered as oligarchies.” America is ruled by the few (an oligarchy) because the framers had no other choice 200 plus years ago when votes were delivered by covered wagon and counted by candlelight. Had they known about the Internet and modern technology, perhaps Americans would have an effective voice in their government. Instead, we are essentially excluded from the decision making process while our corporate owned media, unregulated too-big-to-fail corporations, bloated bureaucracies, overpriced consultants, think tanks, powerful special interest lobbies and even foreign governments heavily influence and effectively decide policy in 21st century America. We, the American people, have been factored out of the equation, the fox is loose in the hen house basically ignoring or even throwing out parts of the Constitution in many instances, and a winner take all, self-centered policy of greed and personal gain, appears to be the name of the game both in Washington and on Wall Street..

    3.) Forget constitutional amendments! Two-thirds of BOTH Houses and ratification by three-fourths of the States?? Say what? Are you kidding? Our Congressmen can’t even agree on the time of day. We, those of us who still care, a.) have to form our own lobby, America’s lobby, on the Internet – solving, of course, the security problems b.) use our collective power of the vote in a more intelligent manner carefully monitoring how our representatives vote regarding OUR initiatives, fund OUR lobby with crowd sourced, small donations, in massive numbers, and pressure our own representatives, on behalf of the American people, to do what we want for a change. (For example, are you aware of the fact that over 70% of the American people wanted the inspections in Iraq to continue, to no avail? The neocons, the powerful and influential few, simply drove us into a costly war against a sovereign nation that had done us no harm regardless of our wishes and desires.) Once organized, let’s revisit term limits and Congressional perks – public service is, as our Founders intended, a privilege, eliminate gerrymandering in favor of a grid system and, if we can’t entirely do away with the two-party system, at least remove the words ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat’ from ballots so voters in this country stop mindlessly voting for labels. For as George Washington once said, “An uninformed populace is a populace in slavery.”

    4.) ALL POWER stems from the people and is therefore reserved to and for the people. Governments (state, federal, or otherwise), as far as I am concerned, are abstractions of the human mind. In the final analysis – at least here in America, THE PEOPLE are conferring and/or deferring major portions of their power in the form of a PUBLIC TRUST to a handful of people who may or may not deserve that trust. And because these powers tend to be substantial as well as subject to human failings such as envy and greed, this is typically where things fall apart. In short, it’s the “TRUST” part that is abused because humans acting alone or in relatively few numbers behind close doors and without transparency are often susceptible to corruption. The FEW ARE DETERMINING THE FATE OF THE MANY – often without any scrutiny and often without our best interest at heart. But even if your elected officials are well intentioned – as most are, their hands are frequently tied because they are unable to generate needed support from the public. In short, we get the government we deserve not because we are apathetic but because we are essentially disenfranchised as a result of the fact that the Framers did not know about, nor could they possibly have ever conceived of, computers, the Internet, jet travel, television, and communication satellites in space. Consequently, our current system of governance is an anachronism that is being exploited by the wealthy and powerful few for personal gain. You, however, actually still matter, even in your own country, if you’ll only step up and be counted. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not interested in your well being and most likely among the one percent currently engaged in the downsizing, outsourcing, and selling off of America for the almighty buck. Hey, chin up, this is still the greatest nation on Earth and we got through a Civil War, two world wars, robber barons, Tammany Hall and even the Great Depression and we can surely solve this current crisis as well. All it takes is YOU!

  14. Hook says:

    I personally think this is the golden age of the politics.
    The debates going over the government shutdown has almost nothing to do with the actual problem, the debt and government overspending.

    As Churchill said:
    “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives”

  15. FrankL says:

    Ok, this really suprises me. I gave what I thought was a reasonable alternative to the affordable care act on a forum that I expect holds rational discourse in high regard. But the only counterargument is “boooo”. I mean, maybe I am totally blinded by my prejudices, missing the obvious, but it was a sincere argument, not meant to provoke simply for the fun of it. I have for a long time been trying to come up with a rational understanding of different political viewpoints, trying to transcend the good-guy, bad guy cheerleader mentality. Help a poor blind man out and give me a quick clue where the argument is so blatantly wrong. I won’t even respond unless invited, I’ll just say thanks, and keep quiet.

  16. Dollars feom nothing, particles from nothing. Can you believe that?

  17. John says:

    I find it hilarious that they tried to bring the debt ceiling and financial crisis into this. Insurance companies are scam artist. They are among the fastest growing industries out there. Think about it, when you buy car insurance, you pay about the same you would on your car your insuring. Then your car goes down in value to about 500$. Then you get in a wreck and they pay you 250$ to fix it. Then it just so happens that your last insurance payment was 300$. If the government made money off of insurance, then by dumb luck alone, Obama would have fixed the financial crisis! Then again, I feel as though legally forcing people to pay insurance should be unconstitutional. It forces a demand that is not actually there. I would much rather be able to pay for a back up vehicle that I could just leave parked in the garage rather than pay car insurance!

  18. Meh says:

    I’m sorry, but I have to respond to Frank. I know. I know. I hate myself.

    If you don’t see the problems with our current healthcare system, then there is nothing that anyone can tell you that will open your eyes. You are being willfully ignorant. I could go off on a long rant about how supply and demand has limits and anyone with even a little common sense would recognize that those limits are met when you are in desperate need of medical attention…but what would be the point, Frank?

    Grocery stores don’t mark up their products by 8600%. A new hip replacement costs $350 to make, the hospital pays $7600 for it, but you pay $30,000 for it (before surgery costs). After surgery, your bill is close to $100,000. There are thousands of examples like that and that is exactly why the government needs to step in.

    The problem people have with the oversimplified and shallow view of America that the Tea Party insists on is that ‘Murica isn’t just about freedom, it’s about being a better place that solves problems. This is a problem and they don’t want to solve it…aside from the fact that they are clearly low information, hate mongering, racists.

  19. FrankL says:

    @Meh – Ok, thanks. I see that I have totally failed to make myself clear by neglecting to state in the strongest possible terms that the pre-obamacare situation was nowhere near a free market and in deep trouble. When I argue with my friends, (conservative, liberal, libertarian, and loonybin) we take a provocative stance, avoid ad hominems, and concentrate on the logical argument. That style does not seem to work here, provocative is misinterpreted as impolite and intellectually rigid, the opposite of what I value, and I will avoid it in the future.

  20. Doug says:

    Oh, well I’m not sure you’ll find too many folks who are really happy to defend ACA as it is exists. It was the least shitty overhaul that could get through congress, is the nicest thing I can say about it. But such an overhaul was desperately needed.

  21. Howard Hunter says:

    It’s sad that the academic community has become so one sided. However it is not surprising since most academics are already dependent on welfare of the state so of course they advocate for more redistribution. Forgive all student loans. Increase taxes, government grants, and teacher salaries so that the Elizabeth Warren’s of the world can make $200,000.00+ a year.

    Some corrections please. 99.99% folks who identify themselves with the tea party are not racists. Certainly the majority of those who show up on TV tend to be Caucasian, but the majority of the United States is still Caucasian. It would be like calling Physicists racists because there not as many non-Caucasians physicists as Caucasians? It’s ridiculous. I identify with the tea party. I own my own business. I have both Caucasian and non-Caucasian employees and friends. I have friends who are gay and straight. I don’t thump my bible at people, in fact I am not a religious person at all and find dogmatic religious zealots as frustrating as most atheists would. It’s about freedom. It’s about not being told what to do. Taxation and government are controls on people’s lives. The more governments gets involved with things like healthcare the more they will be telling you and me what to do.

    My taxes are now paying for your healthcare. Am I going to be happy about you eating too much pizza? It costs me more when you eat pizza. I will vote to keep you from eating pizza. Can’t you see where this goes? For the love of pizza my friends!

  22. Meh says:

    Thank you. I’ll hold you to that. It’s just the way the internet works.

    you are the perfect example of what I’m talking about. A complete lack of logic and thoughts that are so shallow that I have to wonder if you’re really serious and are actually that ignorant of how your country works. Your taxes are already paying for the healthcare of those who can’t afford it and they are being wasted in the ways described. “Academics” are also not reliant on welfare. My state’s technical university makes $1 Billion a year from simple supply and demand; students want to go there, so they pay the tuition to do so. They are ranked between #25-35 in annual university rankings. The government tries to cut corners (and costs) by partnering up with universities that have the same research goals with very promising students. PPPL is an example; like carpooling or mass transit.

    You’re also intentionally warping a legitimate problem with the Tea Party (racism) into a ridiculous fallacy by implying that Caucasians are inherently racist. I’m going to do what every politician should be doing and say: you just said some dumb shit that you should feel embarrassed about.

    The Tea Party acts solely out of insecurity and fear rooted in fantasy and delusion. That’s true stupidity.

    fully agree.

  23. Meh says:

    You know what I would do if I were in a political debate? I would write a simple, high school level calculus or linear algebra problem on a screen for the audience to see and ask my opponent to solve the problem. If they couldn’t do it, I would say something along the lines of:
    “this person can’t perform the math that your kids are doing, the math that economists use to predict what will happen to our economy; yet he wants to run for congress. Do you wonder why we are in the situation that we are in? Citizens are not required to know this, but the person you hire to balance the budget and solve your economic problems should be. You aren’t required to know how to refill your windshield wiper fluid, but you should expect that your mechanic would be…SEAN CARROLL 2016!!!”

  24. Squawker says:

    Ahem. Revenues to the Treasury are at an all-time high. If we simply scaled back spending to levels during W we’d be running a surplus. Instead we’re spending almost a trillion more per year than we take in. When O leaves office we’ll have a $20 trillion national debt. Please tell me why that is a good thing.

  25. Howard Hunter says:

    Meh: I agree that my tax dollars are already paying for healthcare. I am arguing that they should not be.

    My issue is with government being in control of me. I am sure you are a very smart person, much smarter than I am even, but I would prefer to make my own decisions even if they are not one’s you would make for me.

    “‘Murica isn’t just about freedom, it’s about being a better place that solves problems”

    If you are saying it’s Murica’s job to solve problems (by the way, is that Murica’s job? I don’t remember reading about that), I guess you mean some very smart guy like you should be determining “what those problems are and how to solve them for me”. Better yet, since I can’t solve calculus equations I should have no place in the debate whatsoever. Do you have any idea how that sounds?