Right of Center

by Joel Corbin

This column will primarily discuss the internal policy of, and issues dealing with, conservatism in general, and the Republican party in particular. Please send questions and comments to me at jcorbin@indiana.edu.

Whose party is fragmented?

C-SPAN was recently airing the Christian Coalition's convention, showing the speeches made by various representatives and Senators. The convention featured talks by some big GOP names, such as Tom DeLay, Trent Lott, and John Kasich. Obviously, these speakers see the members of the Christian Coalition as important to their reelection efforts, and need to stay in their good graces. This give rise to the question: Do individual groups (like the Christian Coalition) comprise the largest block of votes for Republican candidates in an election? In other words, is the Republican party (and the modern conservative movement) made up of a variety of one-issue voting blocks? Does the GOP depend on a loose association of special interest groups to maintain its voter base? No, and right now that's the main difference between the two major parties.

The Democratic party is largely dependent upon a variety of one-issue voting groups. These groups will only vote for democrats as long as the principal candidates support that group's cause. Examples of one-issue voting groups include environmentalists, those in favor of abortion, the homosexual community, and various advocacy groups like the NAACP and Rainbow Coalition. If the loose alliance were to fracture at all, the Democratic party would be in trouble. Comparatively smaller is the portion of democratic voters who are staunchly democratic, not quick to change their support with the shifting of the political winds. Keeping all of these groups happy is a difficult task, and the Democrats often have trouble.

The Republican party is in the opposite (and more desirable) position. The GOP's main support comes from the staunch supporters, rather than the various one-issue voting groups. A shift in the winds means less to the GOP, because the main block of support won't be blown away. A good example is the phenomenon of "Reagan Democrats" who shifted their support to the GOP, as they saw Carter's policies prove ineffective. Despite a recession in the early 1980s, these voters (the staunch and slow-to-change) kept Reagan in office as his economic plan began to turn the country around.

An even better example is the second "Republican Revolution" in 1994. After the GOP majority had been swept into office, the infamous school-lunch and Medicare debates, as well as the government shutdown pushed many of the one-issue voters (and the media) back to the Democrats. But the staunch support stayed there, and even though it looked bad for the GOP for a while, the Republicans maintained their majority through two more elections. Therefore, it is easy to see that the party with the base with overlapping interests will succeed, while the loose associations will most often fail.

So what does this mean for the future of the Republican party? First, the party must continue efforts to consolidate and coordinate its staunch supporters. This is probably the only reason the majority has held together, because the media is allied with the White House against it. The threat of fragmentation is real, yet preventable. Party unity may be difficult to achieve on all issues, but the GOP cannot afford to look disorganized and weak as the 1998 and 2000 elections approach. Second, Republicans must take steps to retain the one issue voters by turning them into staunch supporters. One of the main reasons Bob Dole lost in 1996 is because too many Republicans didn't see him as their personal favorite among the GOP candidates. This sort of attitude will continue to put Democrats in the White House, and could totally erode the Congressional majority. Only by changing this sort of attitude will the GOP be able to achieve any large victories. The next "Right of Center" will discuss this problem, and offer some solutions for it.

Eric Seymour

Robert Schiener

Joel Corbin