Political Animal


April 19, 2013 1:19 PM Meme Watch: How Many Pounds of Flesh Does “The Base” Require?

By Ed Kilgore

I’m going to go back to regular programming until such time as there’s anything fresh to talk about from the Boston saga (stay tuned to the “highlighter” box at the top of the page, BTW, because Ryan Cooper and Rhiannon Kirkland may post some material on this and related subjects at Ten Miles Square). And I had a “hook” for what I am about to write until it was knocked off the aggregator and Politico pages by all the breaking news. But believe me, this meme will be back soon enough: the idea that congressional Republicans, having propitiated the angry gods of “the base” by killing gun legislation, may now have more room to maneuver on immigration reform and/or the budget and/or other subjects. (This is a separate argument, by the way, from the “silver lining” theory propagated by Fawn Johnson at National Journal today that the Senate’s action on guns will produce a backlash eventually leading to even stronger gun legislation, which I’m skeptical about as well).

That may be how some Republican solons look at it, but I wouldn’t put much reliance on the idea that the demise of Manchin-Toomey is a blessing in disguise for progressives or for those still pining for a “bipartisan breeze” in Washington. For one thing, to continue the propitiation metaphor, the “base” is a jealous god, which views every act of ideological “betrayal” as sufficient to justify primary excommunication or primary challenges. For another, this fresh demonstration that “the base” has the power to compel party discipline on guns (only three Republicans joined former Club for Growth president Pat Toomey in the end) will make the desire to impose it on other subjects seem much more practicable. And third, to focus on the next issue coming up in the Senate, it’s never been clear to me that the obsessive desire to find a way to detoxify the GOP among Latino voters—which is the elite factor driving the interest of Beltway Republicans in immigration reform—is shared that widely among hard-core conservative activists, who are more likely to think that insufficient ideological rigor continues to be the party’s biggest problem.

For all the talk about “rebranding” and “reform” in Republican circles, the last opportunity we had to measure the influence of “the base” on GOP behavior was during the 2012 presidential nominating contest, and the rightward pull on the field extended across virtually every issue, most especially immigration and the budget (guns weren’t much discussed). Between Republican senators fearing primary challenges (which includes, lest we forget, the Minority Leader of that chamber) and Republican House members feeling secure in their rotten boroughs, it’s not clear there are that many actual policymakers who are in the position to make some grand judgment that “the base” has obtained its pound of flesh and can be safely ignored. So even if “the base” should feel sufficiently propitiated, it’s not as though any of its representatives are going to come forward to declare themselves sated and give a free pass to Republicans to go whoring after swing voters.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on April 19, 2013 1:35 PM:

    Their base is Manichean.

    And they don't mind being martyrs - as long as they're PURE martyrs.

    I don't know how you sell any shade of "gray," when all the people want to buy is pure and "white," and reject any thing with even an atom of "black" in it.

  • howard on April 19, 2013 1:42 PM:

    it appears to be an article of faith among the beltway media elite that actual policy is boring and that all that matters is the spectacle of politics.

    which leads said elite to misread "bases" (of any sort) in a substantial way: "bases" by definition care very much about actual policymaking.

    so what the media elite keep expecting is that bases are going to behave by the rules of spectacle and then being surprised when it turns out they behave by the rules of policy.

  • Sean Scallon on April 19, 2013 1:58 PM:

    If it is true that the "base" care more about guns than immigration then it can only be certain that if they're going to be a minority eventually, they wish to be an armed one. It's all about priorities.

    And as all things conservative "movement" one simply must listen to the radio, read the op-ed pages and certain blogger to figure out what its sentiments are. If ideological top-end don't find it offense, then a bill may well pass.

  • BillFromPA on April 19, 2013 2:14 PM:

    The rules changed with the coming of the teabaggers. This crew consists of rubes who have been played by the GOP elites for their votes for decades. The election of Obama and the events leading up to that historic event rocked their world in such a way that they stopped being followers and started being leaders. Lacking any real political expereince or guile, they proceded to upend several prominent GOP pols in primaries only to get crushed by the Dems in the general. The genie is out of the bottle and it's not going back in anytime soon. The base IS the party now and unless they learn to candy coat their rhetoric in the future they promise to be a liberal's best friend. They're comitting the sin of telling the voters just what they really think, and that's the undoing of the GOP.

  • jjm on April 19, 2013 2:30 PM:

    All I can say is more guns for Chechen immigrants! Look what wonderful things they have done with them! No tracing of bullets emptied out to make bombs! Great! No tracers in gunpowder!!