People are beginning to wonder why the Republican Party can’t get its act together and repeal and replace ObamaCare. The question reveals a category mistake, the assumption that there is such a thing as the “Republican Party.”
In fact, there are three of them, and they’re all distinct. That became clear from a remarkable new analysis of voter preferences by Lee Drutman at the Voter Survey Group. Drutman asked voters to identify whom they voted for and how they felt about various economic and social issues. He then mapped this out in a diagram.
We’ve been told that Republicans are extreme and Democrats moderate. Drutman’s diagram shows that the opposite is true. Democratic voters congregated at the very economically and socially liberal corner. By contrast, the Republicans were all over the place.
The next surprise was the strength of Republican social conservatism. That’s something our “growth and opportunity” Republican establishment, and all the smart people at right-wing think tanks, never figured out. They saw the world only on an economic axis. How fellow Republicans might have felt about same-sex marriage and abortion was simply an embarrassment.
It turns out, however, that the Republican voter, unlike the party establishment, is socially conservative and economically middle of the road. In fact, there are a lot of left-of-center Republicans on economic issues such as free trade and Social Security.
But here’s Drutman’s big surprise. The sweet spot in American politics, the place where elections are won, is the socially conservative and economically liberal quadrant. And the winner is going to be the fellow who’s not going to touch Social Security and who promises to nominate a judge in the mold of Antonin Scalia.
Donald Trump, in other words.
Trump placed himself to the left of the other Republican candidates on a variety of economic issues. And when it came to the socially conservative “values voter,” the Democrats were locked in to their extremely liberal base, particularly with Hillary Clinton as the nominee.
Right now the Democrats know they’re in a bind. They want to learn how to connect with the forgotten voter in the heartland. Drutman’s little diagram tells them how they can do so. And also why they can never do so. They’re never going to be able to walk away from liberal identity politics, from full abortion rights, from the gender-benders. They’re stuck in the loser quadrant.