Posted 27 days ago
Heideman's brief history of party formation and change in the United States was excellent. I actually wish he would have focused on that aspect entirely, and would not have gone into the clash between capital and labor, which I felt was weak and overly ideological. Specifically towards the end, when he starts going into the Tea Party and what the future of the Republican Party might look like, the essay grew way less fact-based and more a critique and regurgitation of what a lot of people are saying about the future of the Party (which frankly, we don't know and will depend on the Biden administrations handling of the current crises).
Heideman starts with challenging the view that the Republican Party is becoming the working-class party:
Yet for all the noise about the GOP’s transformation into a working-class party, the claim has remarkably little basis in fact. Examination of survey data reveals that the working class has undergone a slight shift toward the Republican Party, but it is nothing resembling the kind of “coalitional transformation” claimed by party boosters. Similarly, there is no evidence that workers are today a more important constituency in the Republican Party than in the past. The GOP, simply put, is not transforming into a working-class party.
He provides a number of voter polls that show that the "flight" from the Democratic Party of working-class voters went independent and not Republican. But I think there is something seriously missing here. These "independent" voters are larely new versions of libertarianism and/or just fed-up with the system. This makes them prone to either conservative economics and/or wild candidates that don't fit the norm (i.e. Trump). So where it's fair to say that workers didn't realign to the Republican Party, they are surely on the brink. And therefore I think it's fair for Republicans to suggest that they have the opportunity to collect these voters into their pool.
On top of that, many of Heideman's statistics only run up to 2015 or 2018 - that misses a serious shift in recent years that has been taking place. Making predictions based on data three years ago, in a fast-paced political climate and a global pandemic, is to be speculative at best and just completely wrong at worst.
Where I questioned all of these points, Heideman posists that the shift isn't because of voters, but rather:
This transformation in the party was not driven by a change in its voting base. Instead, it stems from the interaction of two transformations in American politics and society: the weakening of the parties since the 1970s, and the political disorganization of corporate America since the 1980s.
He then dives into the history of American parties, which is fantastic. He goes all the way back to the founders to show that the "hollowed out" party system was intentional to avoid "factions":
Alexander Hamilton, who, like all of the Constitutional generation, used the terms “faction” and “party” interchangeably, argued that one of the chief virtues of the Constitution would be its role in suppressing parties. “We are attempting by this Constitution,” he told the New York state ratification convention, “to abolish factions.”
When thinking of the history of Europe, where parties exist across elections and have a set leadership structure, we could argue that there was much more instability. The Nazi Party in Germany, the National Fascist Party in Italy, and a number of others built massive factions that caused huge swings in European politics. On the other hand, America has tended to be more "centrist" because our Party system is more ephemeral. Heideman writes:
The national committees of the party exist mainly to oversee the presidential nomination process. The congressional parties each exist independently, with no institutional link to the national committees. Most staff are employed either by individual members of Congress or by the congressional caucuses, which are funded out of congressional operating expenses. In the United States, there does not exist an actual organizational analogue to the UK Labour Party or the Christian Democratic Union of Germany.
To me, this is where the essay lost its appeal and then started divings into the mess of Tea Party, Republican Party predictions. It's clear that Heideman is not an expert in this, and probably should have left the second part of the essay, focused on "the political disorganization of corporate America" for another time. I was simply not conviced.