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. Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong says:

    Indeed, “worried,” “discouraged,” and “scared” (the WDS) can make a group people going berserk, and this small group can then make the entire country going craze — “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.”

    But, I have a similar question. Can this WDS infiltrate science, such as physics? That is, is a verified scientific fact (or easily verifiable fact) still not a truth until it is *ordained* by the current paradigm (because of this WDS)? I am not asking this question with tongue in cheeks and will show a simple example.

    In Wikipedia today (October 15, 2013), it makes two points about the Alpha [α (electron fine structure constant), ].

    a. It was called the greatest damn mysteries of physics by Richard Feynman, and it still is as it cannot be derived by any physics theory or equations.
    b. It showed a numerological formula for it.

    Now, how about the following equation?

    Beta = 1/alpha = 64 ( 1 + first order mixing + sum of the higher order mixing)
    = 64 (1 + 1/Cos A(2) + .00065737 + …)
    = 137.0359 …

    A(2) is the Weinberg angle, A(2) = 28.743 degrees

    The sum of the higher order mixing = 2(1/48)[(1/64) + (1/2)(1/64)^2 + …+(1/n)(1/64)^n +…]
    = .00065737 + …

    The above equation can be checked by any 8th grader who knows no physics at all. That is, at the worst, the Wikipedia should include it as a numerological formula, but it does not. Perhaps, it is unknown to anyone. But, it was published at Professor Matt Strassler’s blog ( ), a very popular physics discussion site, and at , another very popular physics blog.

    Is physics immune from this WDS (“worried,” “discouraged,” and “scared”)?

  2. Joel Rice says:

    I see somebody has been believing Chris Hayes that there is some ‘fatal flaw’ in the Constitution – namely that it is not a parliamentary system. Oh my. How Dreadful.

  3. Rationalist says:

    “Some of their analysis is actually correct!”

    – So basically, the enemies of the US republican base have found a way of permanently crippling them, and everyone acts surprised when they fight desperately to stop it. Hmm.

  4. FrankL says:

    Ok, with regard to tea party racism – simple question – what is the evidence? What in their stated goals and general behavior indicates a generally racist intent?
    With regard to a free market in health care, Meh says there are limits to supply and demand, and in the case of health care those limits are met. Can you give a short explanation of how that is the case?

  5. Matthew says:

    There are actually several limits to supply and demand on the medical side. For a couple examples:
    On the supply side, the number of doctors in practice is strictly controlled by the AMA.
    On the demand side, the problem is that the demand is inelastic. If you’re told “you’re going to die unless you come up with $200,000” then you’re going to do everything possible to come up with $200,000 no matter what. This means that medical costs can keep climbing with little to no effect on the demand.
    Putting these together leads to a very poor environment for a free market system to flourish.

  6. FrankL says:

    @Matthew – control of the number of doctors is a violation of the free market, not a failure. Returning to the grocery analogy, if you are starving and told you will die of hunger if you don’t come up with $50 for a bag of chips, you will do everything possible to come up with the $50, no matter what. I understand that the analogy is not perfect, older people don’t require 50 times the amount of food that a young person needs. But restricting the amount of farmers in the nation (equivalent to to AMA restrictions) is something to be questioned – it jacks up food prices by restricting supply via non-market mechanisms. Also, an inelastic demand curve only means that prices will fluctuate more widely for a given fluctuation in supply, not that prices will inexorably rise. There has to be another reason for that. The inclusion of “health stamps” (analogous to food stamps) would assure that everyone received a reasonable amount of health care.
    The main product of a free market is a price schedule, quantifying the relative economic value of every economic good, along with the ability to quickly adjust to changing conditions. This price schedule is a complex emergent entity, it emerges from the interactions of many pairs of buyers and sellers, whose behavior is much less complex than the emergent price structure itself. It tends to reduce the price of an economic good to that level where the provider can make a decent living, unless the provider has some special talent that is in short supply. The ability to calculate insurance rate schedules is not in that category. If the provider makes more than a decent living, more people are attracted to the business, supply goes up, income goes down. If they make less, people find other lines of work, supply goes down, income goes up. Not only is the system complex, it is adaptive. Also, there is market “friction” which makes it less of a well-oiled machine than the picture painted above.
    Allowing insurance companies, in open competition, to set whatever price they want on their services, varying from individual to individual, and most importantly, clearly transmitting and living up to their contract, would ideally set the price of insurance to its intrinsic value plus a decent living for the providers. Old people, people with pre-existing conditions will be confronted with very large premiums, poor people will be priced out of any reasonable amount of health care. Society says this is unacceptable, but I think that, rather than destroying the very mechanism that reduces and quantifies the economic value of these goods and services, society should strive to create a free a market as possible, and then accept the free market price as valid and reasonable, and then foot the bill to help those in need. The price schedule pre-affordable-care-act was most definitely not the result of a free market and I do not defend it at all.

  7. JimV says:

    To review the bidding, Obama inherited two unfunded wars, Medicare Part D, TARP, and a huge recession. Currently the CBO projects the deficit to be constant relative to GDP, rather than increasing as it did under Reagan and Bush II (and did not under Carter, Bush I, and Clinton). If medical costs were reduced to what they are in Canada, the projections would be of surpluses.

    It appears to me that Republican leadership does not care about the deficit, but only about cutting taxes on the wealthy.

    I get my data from economists such as Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, Mark Thoma, Dean Baker, and others. Where are you deficit hawks getting your data from?

  8. Heliodorus says:


    While I did watch Chris when he had his Saturday/Sunday show, I was not aware that he was/is advocating that there is a “fatal flaw” in our Constitution. (Couldn’t agree more, by the way.) Actually, I have/had a WordPress blog that I started two years ago which was shut down after 50 posts and almost a hundred thousand words – well before Hayes. Why? Because I eventually realized that trying to offer a constructive solution for some of our political problems is pointless – how “dreadful” and how stupid of me. What was I thinking? Even mentioning that my effort was pointless is pointless.

    So let me offer an apology for once more (although briefly this time) actually “giving a damn.” My bad! It was a weak moment ushered in by Carroll’s recent post. I much prefer quantum mechanics and have a website dealing with the subject. My blog, by the way, was but I shut it down – too much spam, mostly in Arabic no less – clearly CIA baiting, and too few followers.

    Since I actually read the Constitution and analyzed it in considerable detail in my blog, forgive me if I offer a few comments:

    1.) We do not have a “parliamentary system.” In fact, our system of government isn’t even a democracy. It is a Republic or “representative democracy.” In our system of government, the executive branch derives its legitimacy directly from the Constitution and exists separately from the legislature. Germany, for example, is a parliamentary system that is also a republic.

    2.) The Constitution that Republicans hold in such reverence isn’t the document that is housed in the National Archives. Two hundred years of legislation and Supreme Court decisions, all written into law, essentially resulted in an “invisible constitution.” How so? Well, to be honest, the visible document is rather terse and therefore subject to interpretation. In short, there is an unseen Constitution that accompanies the version to which most of us refer. The U.S. Constitution, written in 1775, for example, makes no mention of political parties. The parchment version is also silent on many of the questions of constitutional law. For instance, just what did our Founders mean by “speech” or “the press?” Even the Fourteenth Amendment, currently being discussed in the news, is open to interpretation. “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… shall not be questioned.” So what does that really mean? The POTUS doesn’t want to invoke this Amendment simply because he is well aware of the constitutional challenges that will be levied while the entire world economy is tanking.

    May I humbly suggest:

    “Who Killed the Constitution?” by Thomas E. Woods and Kevin R. C. Gutzman
    “The Rights of the People” by David K. Shipler
    “Censorship in America” written by Mary E. Hull, a reference handbook
    “The Invisible Constitution” by Laurence H. Tribe
    “Promises Betrayed, Waking Up from the American Dream”, by Bob Herbert
    “Patriots Act, Voices of Dissent and the Risk of Speaking Out” by Bill Katovsky
    “Privacy Lost” by David H. Holtzman
    “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the U.S. Constitution” by Timothy Harper

    Lastly, it’s all just a question of mind over matter. They don’t mind and you simply don’t matter. The power brokers know you (the collective “you”) won’t stand up against them (think about how quickly big city mayors brought out riot police and crushed “Occupy Wall Street” in the name of “public safety”) so they really don’t mind suppressing or lobbying away your freedoms using undisclosed campaign contributions. You, my friend, don’t really matter in their grand plan – other than acting as their servants providing goods and services for menial wages. “They” (the 10 percent of the richest people at the top) have 86 percent of the total wealth on this planet and you (the other 90 percent – the hoi polloi) get to fight over the remaining 14 percent. (See, Uneven Development, Part 1) They are the Morlocks and you are the Eloi. Hmmm, tasty! Big Brother is data mining in a BIG WAY (including these comments) and OUR UNCLE ACTUALLY LIKES IT. WE’RE HISTORY, ALL OF US. GET USED TO IT!

    This is my last comment on this subject because, as I said, it’s pointless. Besides, I want to talk about quantum physics. It’s the only thing that gives me any hope that there’s more, much more, than meets the eye in this universe. And I truly regret that our scientists have to grovel before politicians (mostly lawyers) who simply do not understand that they (the scientists) are the real drivers of this economy.

  9. Meh says:


    You bring up another point:

    The way that you intentionally skew someone’s words into a half-truth is worse than a flat out lie. I specifically said that the average person doesn’t need to know calculus, but elected officials should at least know this basic math. Yet again, this is exactly why people don’t trust the Tea Party and see them as unstable individuals; they live in an alternate reality despite the facts being clearly in front of them. They fabricate alternate realities and either think that they are playing a smart game or worse, are just complete morons who can’t follow a paragraph from beginning to end. We like to give them credit by thinking that they are just dishonest or can’t communicate without creating a lie in an attempt to discredit those who don’t believe what they believe; but it’s really 50/50. What moron can’t see straight through that?…which is why the Tea Party is unpopular and is composed of a very small minority. It’s not that America is stupid, like many who deal with these social issues claim. It’s that a very small minority of Americans are so incredibly stupid and immature that it amazes the rest of the country & world. It’s like a cocktail party in which you choose to not invite 1 particular group of friends: there’s only 1 person in that group that everyone can’t deal with, but that one person runs such a severe risk of ruining the party that you’ve decided to ban the whole group in case they bring him/her. America is that group. The Tea Party is that person.

    You clearly identify yourself as a member of the Tea Party, and that works perfectly to prove my point, because you are a grade A bullshitter. How can anything get done with someone who can’t have straight conversation and must rely on the tactics of a 12 year old while claiming to be serious?

  10. FrankL says:

    @JimV – The president submits a budget, but the final budget is determined by the house and senate, and the president cannot veto it, only its implementation. Blaming the president is a wrong oversimplification, blaming the congress, particularly a partisan congress in which both houses are controlled by the same party is a better oversimplification.
    If we do that, then the Carter era democrat congress reduced the D/G (deficit/GDP ratio). Good for them. No kudos to the bipartisan Reagan-era congress for increasing D/G, nor to the democrat congress of the Bush-I era for letting it rise. Kudos to the early Clinton era democrat congress for dropping it and to the later Clinton era republican congress for continuing it. No kudos to the republican and bipartisan congress of the early Bush-I era for letting it rise and none for the late Bush-I and early Obama era democrat congress for letting it explode.
    It seems to me that a good-guy/bad-guy scenario by either side is hard to support. Cheerleaders on both sides will of course be disappointed, but too bad.

  11. FrankL says:

    Sorry, those last two Bush era were Bush-II, not Bush-I

  12. Howard Hunter says:

    Meh: Aside from a slight jab at academics in my first post (certainly not directed at anyone in particular). I have submitted very little in the way of “attacking language” or stereotyping. I even regret that part of my post because I obviously respect academics a great deal since I frequent this site and get a ton of personal enjoyment from the majority of the posts here.

    So far you have accused me: of having a complete lack of logic, shallow thoughts, ignorant, worse than a liar, unstable, living in an alternate reality, racist, moron x2, dishonest, stupid, incredibly stupid, immature, a bullshitter, and a 12 year old.

    I’d be willing to bet that if you picked 10 people at random who associated themselves with Tea Party ideas and compared their communicative discourse with your own, I am not confident that an objective 3rd party would assign the term “unstable” to the former. The simple argument that taxation is a form of control which has the potential to be abused is hardly an “incredibly stupid” concept.

    I think the 3rd point in Sean’s list paraphrased as “using government to build dependency” is the cornerstone of concern for people like me. It has nothing, by the way, to do with “minorities”. For all intents and purposes, I am the minority. Your stereotyping, extreme language, and personal attacks are not a far cry from a bigoted view point. In fact one of my greatest fears is that most of the really smart academics, scientists and researchers have come to a point where they dismiss outright any conservative thought. A big part of my desire to post here is to try and counter the stereotype. The hyperbole of a 5000 year old earth and global warming disagreements are simply not the reality with the folks I know.

    A previous post spoke on the inelasticity of healthcare and I do agree. Elasticity does not change when the government is in charge. Government will literally control my life and if the people who run government are like you Meh, my guess is you wouldn’t think twice about what to do with me. At least if a doctor wants to try and charge me $200,000.00 to save my life and I cannot afford that I can try to find another doctor willing to do it for less. Once single payer is here, which I think is now openly admitted as the goal, there won’t be another place to look. Then it’s “do as we say or die.” Sure that is an extreme which we may not come to, at least for a while, but that scenario exists on the road we are currently traveling in the same vein of polar ice caps that have melted along with Himalayan glaciers and mega-hurricanes etc. It hasn’t happened yet, but it is on that road perhaps.

    Do I want the polar ice caps to melt and marine life to die? I am willing to sacrifice so that does not happen. Do I think when billions of research dollars are at steak there will be natural bias towards promoting the need for more research no matter what facts are discovered? Money is the opposite of entropy. Where money goes … so goes organization and so goes the need for more money.

    I fear that if we get to a place where the majority of all people are dependent on the government and we don’t like what we find there. It will be impossible to unwind. Like asking Al Gore how we turn back time once the permafrost thaws and the carbon really starts to flow.

  13. John B. says:

    Howard, the government is us, all of us, at least in theory. It has always been ours and it is a product of us. I see no problems with “being dependent on government” as you say, because at its heart it is still we the people and it is our government. Your view point is based on the reagan era assertion that government is the problem and we should be in fear of our own government, which is again, us. What we are seeing today with the selfish tea party end game of shutting down the government is the result of 30+ years of bullshit republican assertions that government is to be feared and is the root of our problems. So growup and take rspeonsibility and own this.

  14. FrankL says:

    @JohnB – The government is not all of us, its half of us plus a few percent, plus strong protections for the remaining minority. We live in a constitutional republic, not a pure democracy, and there is a reason for this – protection of minorities from the majority. There is nothing wrong with all of us being dependent to some extent on each other, but the more you channel this dependence through the federal government, elected by half and opposed by half, the more you must be on guard against abuse.

  15. FrankL says:

    @Meh – As a result of your comments to me, I have agreed not to use exaggerated or inflammatory language, no ad hominems (that’s easy for me), and stick to rational argument. I have read Howard Hunter’s hidden comments, and your responses, and if you count up the ad hominems, you win by a landslide. Can you please agree to the same standards that you are holding me to?

  16. After the mid-term elections it is time for Obamaturtion to fight backwardness.

  17. Meh says:


    Since you proclaimed that you would change your approach during one of your pity parties and I never asked you to do that; no.

    Keeping it real sometimes requires people to be blunt. If someone is being amazingly ridiculous, then the words required to describe that level of lunacy are usually required to be equally extreme. In other words, don’t act like a fool and people won’t talk to you or treat you like a fool. You can replace the word fool with child, liar, asshole, jerk, troll, argument addict; the list goes on.

    A majority of the country agrees with my opinion (including republicans). Have you ever seen a member of the tea party on tv? They can’t describe any details of what they want. All they can do is stick to this “Brawndo’s got what plants crave” format and claim “we want less government….and that means getting rid of Obama(?what?)…less government”. They are stupid, but we give them credit by considering the possibility that they may just be liars. They are actually stupid to begin with, but then go on a tirade of hate filled lies when anyone pokes a hole in their extremely thin statements. Calling them stupid isn’t an attack, it’s a description of their state of being along with: Albert Einstein was brilliant, Andy Warhol was high, etc. The initial idea of the Tea Party was great, but without any firm direction, it turned into a mash-up of catch phrases and paranoia with no real ideology or guidance.

    And here we have Howard who doesn’t seem to realize that the conversation is actually written here for anyone to review; a perfect sample of the Tea Party. Howard, I’d be upset if someone called me out on my bullshit too. That’s why I try not to bullshit people.

  18. FrankL says:

    @Meh – your words were ” I’ll hold you to that”. My point is that “child, liar, asshole, jerk, troll” are not arguments. Albert Einstein’s theories were met with huge resistance by the scientific establishment. It conflicted with their intuition. They did not respond with “child, liar…” etc, they offered counter arguments, experiments, etc. most of which could not stand. Those which could, Einstein accepted, sometimes grumbling, as in the case of Bohr, sometimes with apology, as in the case of the cosmological constant.
    Ok, Howard does not offer many cogent arguments, but I think I do. His last post was mostly complaining about the ad-hominems and trying to climb out of the pigeon hole he was being stuffed into, for which he was roundly dissed. I feel his pain. I tentatively advocate a free(er) market in healthcare based on my present and hopefully flexible understanding of economics, something which the tea party might agree with, and I am immediately lumped in with a bunch of rigid racist homophobic nitwits and my arguments dismissed. My arguments are serious attempts at rationality (which is not to say they are correct), but I get no reasoned counter argument, only accusations of intellectual rigidity and “thumbs down”. This is not how science works. I was referred to this blog by a friend and I thought “oh, good, a blog about science and politics, started by a particle physicist, a place populated by politically concerned people dedicated in their gut to the scientific method”. But there is little rational discussion here, mostly heat, no light. I might just as well have walked into a meeting of bible-thumping jesus freaks and tried to discuss the scientific basis of evolution. To paraphrase Sean Carroll, this forum seems to be not about how things work. It’s about liberal culture, and that’s a much more difficult problem to address.
    Don’t you ever experience the fear that your psychology, your values, which drive you to a conviction may be clouding your vision of how things work? Don’t you have an urge to transcend your own and everybody else’s simplistic adamant intuitive gut convictions and get at the truth? I have it all the time and I pray I never lose it.

  19. Meh says:

    Frank, the problem here is that you have assumed what my values are (and what the values of all others on this site are) without knowing what they actually are. You, and howard, are doing what so many political halfwits do by playing the victim after someone pokes holes in and points out the childish mechanisms you use in your arguments. That’s not saying that you are actually halfwits, that’s saying that you are certainly making comments that fit that description. If you make a comment that is blatantly irrational or that someone doesn’t agree with, and then someone comes along and points out exactly why your argument makes no sense and fails, that you are a person who will say anything for the purpose of just winning the argument despite the facts, and then you are willing to distort your opponent’s counterarguments while acting like a victim; then THAT is not scientific. The general formula is this: You or Howard make a comment. I point out that your comment makes no sense and then point out the behavior of the Tea Party that I observe and is well documented. You pretend like I said something ridiculous by implying something that was never said via some associative tangent verbiage. I point out that you are using a well known tactic of adolescents and that your pathetic behavior is transparent and sad. You argue that I’m attacking you without a reason to do so.

    My point in all this is that we should not be paying attention to any person(s) deciding to use such idiotic tactics. There can be no civilized argument with someone like that. If we aren’t going to remain fact based, then I’m throwing all the rules out the window. I personally view American politics as a field for coked up, man-children to romp around and play stupid games with each other. That’s not how politics should be. I’ll admit, I have this view because I’m actually a very intelligent person and I’m very good at solving all sorts of problems and getting things done; you wouldn’t believe most of my stories, given the way that I openly speak in these comments. Given that fact, my tolerance for this ridiculous bratty behavior is extremely low. You’ll find this to be the case with most scientists. I think you’ll find that most scientists could give a shit less about the actual political process because the observed flaws drive us insane. What we do care about is when people publicly claim that our well proven scientific foundations are false without any evidence to suggest a counterargument other than “that’s what I believe”.

    This is NOT a blog started for the purpose of discussing politics. This is someone’s personal blog to discuss whatever they wish to discuss. If you go back through all the topics, you’ll see all sorts of random things here and there. It focuses on science because it’s a huge part of his life, obviously. It would appear that your entire perspective is based on unfounded assumptions. That is annoying. Even more annoying is that you are such a horrific case of the pot calling the fine-china black. That’s what I meant when I first started this and apologized to those reading for engaging you. So in one last observation…You like to make conflict happen. You are hooked on stirring up shit with people and picking fights. If that weren’t true, then you would stop coming here given your last comment. So quit bitching. And now, back to the way things were.

  20. FrankL says:

    Ouch. Ok, let’s forget past history and start from ground zero. I assume good faith on your part, you assume good faith on mine. I have offered a proposal for health care, the short simplified version of which is that pricing is based on a free market, and for those who cannot pay for what they truly need, “health stamps” (analogous to food stamps) are available. Do you have a problem with this proposal and if so, why?

  21. Meh says:

    Everyone should eat Freegan.

  22. FrankL says:

    I thought freegan was living off the discards of a capitalist society. If everybody eats freegan, then there is no capitalist society. What am I missing?

  23. Dan says:

    The title of this blog is starting to make a lot more sense.

  24. Michael says:

    Good one, Dan.

  25. Meh says:

    just being a wise ass and messing with you Frank (also unintentionally made a point when you replied).