There is a reason GOP strategists and those interested in growing the party’s intellectual, cultural, and social capital oppose the Ted Cruz-led attempt to force the defunding of the Affordable Care Act. Sure, maybe some people actually support the law and hope it works. (Count me among those.) But mostly, it’s because what’s good for the de-funders in the context of their own districts is demonstrably bad for the party if it hopes to expand its relationships with new audiences. Opposing health insurance can increase the depth of intensity of its already intensified base. But opposing the expansion of health insurance will not invite new followers. The GOP needs new approaches, not deeper commitments to already existing ones. Most of all, the GOP needs to develop creative new methods of growing intellectual and social capital.
All of which is by way of introducing a report at the New Yorker website, by the excellent journalist Ryan Lizza, who provides data showing why the “suicide caucus” is driven by interests that stand in opposition to the interests of the party as a whole. If we can assume the GOP’s audiences want the party to become competitive again in state-wide, mini-national races for senate seats, let alone in the fully national race for the White House, audiences currently supporting the suicide caucus should read this:
On August 21st, Congressman Mark Meadows sent a letter to John Boehner …. and with the help of the conservative group FreedomWorks, as well as some heavy campaigning by Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Mike Lee, seventy-nine like-minded House Republicans from districts very similar to Meadows’s added their signatures….
[A] few weeks later, Boehner adopted the course demanded by Meadows and his colleagues.
The ability of eighty members of the House of Representatives to push the Republican Party into a strategic course that is condemned by the party’s top strategists is a historical oddity. It’s especially strange when you consider some of the numbers behind the suicide caucus. As we approach a likely government shutdown this month and then a more perilous fight over raising the debt ceiling in October, it’s worth considering the demographics and geography of the eighty districts whose members have steered national policy over the past few weeks.
As the above map, detailing the geography of the suicide caucus, shows, half of these districts are concentrated in the South, and a quarter of them are in the Midwest, while there’s a smattering of thirteen in the rural West and four in rural Pennsylvania (outside the population centers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). Naturally, there are no members from New England, the megalopolis corridor from Washington to Boston, or along the Pacific coastline.
These eighty members represent just eighteen per cent of the House and just a third of the two hundred and thirty-three House Republicans. They were elected with fourteen and a half million of the hundred and eighteen million votes cast in House elections last November, or twelve per cent of the total. In all, they represent fifty-eight million constituents. That may sound like a lot, but it’s just eighteen per cent of the population.
Most of the members of the suicide caucus have districts very similar to Meadows’s. While the most salient demographic fact about America is that it is becoming more diverse, Republican districts actually became less diverse in 2012. According to figures compiled by The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman, a leading expert on House demographics who provided me with most of the raw data I’ve used here, the average House Republican district became two percentage points more white in 2012.
The members of the suicide caucus live in a different America from the one that most political commentators describe when talking about how the country is transforming. [Bold added for emphasis]
What the GOP needs in these districts is conservatives with the ability to convince their constituents to relate to the rest of the country, who can convince their audiences back home to see their futures as interconnected with the rest of the country. Instead, the GOP has freeloaders. Men who see little beyond their own immediate interests. Men who take advantage and live off a mediated environment built for intense demonization of others. These conservatives are organizational liabilities, not assets.