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The Ezra Klein Show

The Republican Party’s Decay Began Long Before Trump

Tue Jun 04 2024
Donald TrumpRepublican PartyAmerican politicsNomination processParty dynamics

Description

This episode explores the rise of Donald Trump within the Republican Party, the evolution of the party's ideology, internal conflicts, and the impact of nomination procedures on American democracy. It also delves into the challenges faced by both the Republican and Democratic parties in selecting candidates and the historical context of citizenship in America.

Insights

Donald Trump's rise to power

Donald Trump's political career is a product of modern media forms like reality television and Twitter. The weakening of political parties has allowed figures like Trump to rise within them.

Evolution of the Republican Party

The Republican Party has undergone significant changes throughout history, from its role as a protector of the Constitution to its shift towards conflict-driven politics under Trump.

Internal conflicts within the Republican Party

The Republican Party is divided between those seeking compromise and contestation of ideas, and those embracing an apocalyptic style and viewing opposition as existential threats.

Challenges in party decision-making

The lack of strategic decision-making by parties in selecting candidates poses a genuine danger to American democracy. The erosion of trust within parties has weakened their ability to prevent extremism.

Nomination process and Democratic Party

The Democratic Party's nomination process in 2020 lacked coordination and reflected a convergence of party actors rather than a strategic plan. Challenges with Joe Biden's candidacy and Kamala Harris as VP created political issues for the party.

Chapters

  1. The Rise of Donald Trump
  2. Evolution of the Republican Party
  3. From Bush to Trump
  4. Republican Party Under Trump
  5. Internal Conflicts within the Republican Party
  6. Small Donor Donations and Nominating Procedures
  7. Shift towards Direct Primaries
  8. Challenges in Party Decision-Making
  9. Nomination Process and Democratic Party
  10. Citizenship and American History
Summary
Transcript

The Rise of Donald Trump

00:04 - 07:23

  • Donald Trump's political career is a product of modern media forms like reality television and Twitter.
  • Political parties historically served as gatekeepers in nominating presidential candidates, but that changed by the time Trump ran in 2016.
  • The weakening of political parties has allowed figures like Donald Trump to rise to power within them.
  • The Republican Party's support for Trump has given him control over key institutions, making him a significant threat.
  • The Republican Party's failure to replace Trump despite controversies reflects its lack of collective capacity and alignment with his rhetoric.

Evolution of the Republican Party

06:55 - 14:20

  • The Republican Party in 2020 lacked a distinct party platform, instead aligning with Trump's preferences.
  • Historically, political parties have played a crucial role in American politics, dating back to the 1830s.
  • Parties were originally intended to protect the Constitution and prevent strongmen from gaining power.
  • Different party formations throughout history have been influenced by various factors, including ideology, patronage, and coalitional groups.
  • The evolution of the Republican Party towards Trumpism marked a shift from ideological extremism to conflict-driven politics.

From Bush to Trump

13:50 - 21:07

  • The podcast discusses the shift in politics from a moment of electoral efficiency and power under George W. Bush to a more chaotic and less efficient coalition under Trump.
  • George W. Bush's presidency is blamed for failures that led to the emergence of Donald Trump and the discrediting of mainstream Republicans.
  • There is a focus on how the Republican Party's agenda became detached from its voters' priorities, leading to social resentment being channeled into tax cuts.
  • Newt Gingrich's emphasis on building a majority capable of sustaining itself as a key aspect of political leadership is highlighted as an important factor in understanding power dynamics within the Republican Party.

Republican Party Under Trump

20:42 - 28:13

  • The Republican Party's policy structure has become unsettled under Trump, with a stronger focus on conflict and resentment.
  • Media plays a significant role in shaping conservative ideologies, prioritizing 'lib owning' over policy discussions.
  • Historical context shows a shift in the Republican Party's approach towards presidential misconduct, influenced by ideological sorting and party polarization.
  • There is a struggle within the Republican Party between loyalty to Trump and strategic actions that could benefit the party electorally.

Internal Conflicts within the Republican Party

27:45 - 35:00

  • Members of a political party may deviate from the party line to maximize their electoral advantage in the current system where candidates are elected individually on a party label.
  • The new right in politics, which took over the Republican Party, is characterized by conflict rather than ideology, aiming to stop 'kingmakers' and implement their vision.
  • The Republican Party's struggle with internal conflicts and leadership turnover is linked to a focus on conflict with liberals rather than coherent ideology.
  • There is a division within the Republican Party between those who seek compromise and legitimate contestation of ideas versus those who adopt an apocalyptic style viewing the opposition as existential threats.
  • The new right rejects mutual toleration, embraces apocalyptic rhetoric, and prioritizes clashes over partial visions for the common good.

Small Donor Donations and Nominating Procedures

34:50 - 42:41

  • Small donor donations played a significant role in funding the Trump campaign, with $35 million raised in small donations.
  • Richard Vigory was instrumental in utilizing direct mail and small donors to fund right-wing causes since the 1970s.
  • Direct mail tactics involve appeal to emotion, negativity, and conflict to attract donors, with techniques like automatic monthly donations and apocalyptic tones.
  • The McGovern-Fraser Commission brought about reforms in the nominating procedures for presidential candidates, transitioning from party regulars choosing candidates at conventions to primaries.

Shift towards Direct Primaries

42:21 - 49:37

  • The McGovern-Frazier Commission aimed to empower social movements and issue-driven activists in influencing party decisions at the state level.
  • The shift towards direct primaries led to a system where formal party actors had little say in the nomination process, resulting in a free-for-all of state primaries and caucuses.
  • Critics argue that the new nomination system favors ideological extremists and outsiders over mainstream nominees, leading to potential challenges for effective governance.
  • Democrats introduced superdelegates through the Hunt Commission in 1981 to incorporate experienced party members into the decision-making process.
  • The spread of primary rules to Republicans was influenced by state laws and internal dynamics within the party favoring movement conservatives over traditional figures.

Challenges in Party Decision-Making

49:17 - 56:28

  • The Electoral College was meant to be a gatekeeper against a Trump-like demagogue, but its absence has led to vulnerability to such figures.
  • Political scientists are generally skeptical of open primaries and freewheeling systems, preferring parties with the ability to make their own internal decisions on nominees.
  • The erosion of legitimacy and trust within parties has weakened their ability to enforce rules and prevent extremism.
  • Super delegates were intended to have a pivotal role in nominating candidates but lacked legitimacy and never exercised decisive decision-making power.
  • Democrats weakened super delegates following the Bernie Sanders experience, potentially opening the door for different factions within the party.
  • There are concerns about the lack of strategic decision-making by parties in selecting candidates, which could pose a genuine danger to American democracy.

Nomination Process and Democratic Party

56:05 - 1:03:05

  • Presidents' ability to secure renomination has changed over time due to evolving party dynamics.
  • The Democratic Party's nomination process in 2020 was marked by lack of coordination and haphazard decision-making.
  • Joe Biden's nomination in 2020 reflected a convergence of party actors rather than a strategic plan.
  • There were concerns about Joe Biden's age and performance as President, impacting his candidacy.
  • Challenges with Kamala Harris as VP created political issues for the Democratic Party.

Citizenship and American History

1:02:42 - 1:06:17

  • Citizenship in America has often been associated with violent subjugation and exclusion of non-citizens.
  • Understanding the duality of American history is crucial to making sense of 19th century America.
  • Machine politics in America directed benefits primarily to core Irish constituencies rather than being spread evenly.
  • The book 'An American Melodrama' provides a detailed account of the dramatic 1968 presidential campaign.
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