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The Very Separate World of Conservative Republicans (and the Fox Who Loves Them)

Reported by Guest Blogger - October 23, 2009 -

A very interesting piece of political analysis, called Why Republican Leaders will have Trouble Speaking to the Rest of America was recently released by Democracy Corp, a non-profit research and analysis group founded by James Carville and Stanley Greenberg. This paper goes a long way to explaining the “man the barricades” mentality of a segment of the electorate and the blind faith in Fox News. And it also highlights the difficulty, if not impossibility, of Republican leaders being able to talk to those on both sides of the barricades.

To do the research, Democracy Corp, working in Atlanta, Georgia, assembled focus groups of “self-identifying conservative Republicans," the group that makes up “almost one-in-five voters in the electorate, and nearly two out of every three self-identified Republicans.” They also worked with groups of “older, white, non-college independents and weak partisans, represent(ing) some of the most conservative swing voters in the electorate” in Cleveland, Ohio. The importance of independent conservatives to the party is further highlighted by recent Washington Post/ABC polling that shows only 21% of voters identify as Republican.

One interesting finding from the focus groups was that, in contrast to what many Democratic figures are suggesting, race appears to play very little role in opposition to President Obama. “... We gave these groups of older, white Republican base voters in Georgia full opportunity to bring race into their discussion – but it did not ever become a central element, and indeed, was almost beside the point.” But this conclusion is almost an aside in light of the powerful partisan attitude on the part of the “conservative Republicans.”

The “independent conservatives” reject out of hand the current phobia about “socialism.” They may disagree with some aspects of health care reform, but they recognize the unsustainability of the current system and hope for some version of reform this year. And looking to the welfare of the nation, they do hope that Obama has a successful presidency.

The self-identified “conservative Republicans”, on the other hand, embrace this fear of “socialism.” They hope for the defeat of health care reform because they see it as but one facet of Obama’s “socialist agenda.” And they indeed hope for his failure, for, according to the paper, “They believe Obama is determined to fundamentally change and weaken our country, taking it away from its founding principles.”

The “conservative Republicans” believe that Obama is deceptively advancing a “hidden agenda to weaken and ultimately destroy the foundations of our country.” The pace at which he pushed through the stimulus plan, the pronouncements about Gitmo and the hurry to pass health care reform are seen as just a cover for this “hidden agenda.” Thus the calls to “read the bill,” as if closer examination of health care legislation will reveal the “death panels.”

They believe that Obama’s and the Democrats' real goal is to bankrupt the country, destroy the economy and make all Americans dependent on the government. They have fears and doubts about Obama’s birth, his secret Muslim roots, his association with “terrorist” Bill Ayers, his anti-American pastor, the power of the socialist/Maoist eugenics-supporting potentially genocidal “czars,” the government bailout of banks, the auto industry, and of course government control of health care. They see all that as further evidence of a concerted effort to establish socialism and destroy our freedom.

As described in the report, the sense of “shared identity, starting with a core sense of values and beliefs” sets them apart. Reinforcing this sense of separateness, the “conservative Republicans” see themselves as disparaged and mocked by the “liberal elite” and the secular society as a whole. They also believe that they alone have a “special knowledge” and understanding of what is happening in America.

In many ways this sounds like a cult. And a rational person might ask themselves, where do they get these ideas and this “special knowledge?” Which brings us to the unifying source for the world view of the Republican base, Fox News.

“A central part of the collective identity built by conservative Republicans in the current political environment is their belief that they possess knowledge and insight that the majority of Americans – whether too lazy or too misguided to find it for themselves – do not possess. A combination of conservative media outlets are the means by which they have gained this knowledge, led by FOX News (“the truth tellers“), and to a lesser degree conservative talk radio. Their antipathy and distrust toward the mainstream media could not be stronger, and they fiercely defend FOX as the only truly objective news outlet.

Glenn Beck is the recipient of much adulation from this group, particularly from the women (Isn’t that a gruesome thought?). And he has achieved a prominent role in the construction of this conservative catechism. Fully 50% of these focus group participants watch Beck on a daily basis.

So what do they want, these self-identified “conservative Republicans?” First, they want Obama to fail. After that, they yearn for a return to this country's “founding principals”- though they are a bit uncertain on exactly what those principals are - and, of course, the return to “Judeo-Christian values.”

Every movement needs icons, and, for these “conservative Republicans, the role of Old Testament prophet is played by Ronald Reagan. They see the Republican party as stumbling since then, and are defensive, if somewhat embarrassed, by George W. Bush. They are looking for a leader to bring them out of the wilderness. And though divided on whether Sarah Palin has viability as a national candidate, they are united in their admiration of her for portraying true conservative values.

Suffice it to say that, according to the report, “The independent voters in our groups clearly viewed these issues very, very differently.”

So this is the dilemma facing Republican leaders (whoever they may be); how to secure the base that has been marinating in the oddest combination of fear and phobia, while simultaneously appealing to the independent conservatives who see the entire construct of fearing the socialist/Maoist/terrorists cabal as, at best, gross rhetorical excess. Can they secure the base while appealing to the more rational?

This is not just a problem for the Republican party, but for the nation as a whole. Can we somehow assimilate a subset of citizens who are continually spoon-fed fear of conspiracies. Can we talk them off the ledge? Do we even need to try? Or will they find their own way home after a few years, when the “Brownshirts” don’t march down Pennsylvania Avenue, the millions don’t take to the streets waving Obama’s “Little Red Book”, the economy sputters back to relative health, and the sky doesn’t fall?