The Hobson’s Choice that Confronts the GOP Donor Class

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the GOP high-rollers — the billionaires and multi-multi-millionaires who bankroll the party — are not themselves white nationalist bigots. (Yes, I realize that in some cases that’s likely counterfactual.)

What these Knights of St. Ayn want from the GOP is the enactment into law of their neoliberalism, an ideological apotheosis of “the market” that dovetails nicely with their quest for additional riches.

Neoliberalism requires that any use of government for anything be subjected to extreme vetting, because any use of the tax system by government to redistribute assets supplants the market as a distributor of those assets.

But here’s the thing. The American people as a whole don’t buy neoliberalism. The American people as a whole recognize that a mixed economy has worked well in the US for a century or so — an economy that includes a robust market and at the same time an allocation to government of responsibilities that the market can’t be trusted to handle appropriately.

A thorough-going neoliberal regime in the US would not include Social Security as we know it or Medicare or Medicaid. The level of pollution of the air, water, and earth would be left largely to the market. Federal lands, including the vast areas preserved for posterity from unrestricted development, would be sold off to the highest bidder. Wall Street would be free to do much as it pleased with other people’s money.

If the Republican Party stood only for the enactment into law of neoliberalism, it would win very few elections. That’s why the GOP donor class has welcomed over the past half-century the migration to the party of the voters who think of themselves as members of a white culture, refugees from a Democratic Party that embraced civil rights in the 1960s. It’s the coalition of moneyed pooh-bahs and this insular culture of white identity that has produced GOP electoral success.

Trump’s ascendance threatens this coalition. On the one hand, his supporters among the members of the white identity culture have not been thrilled with the reality of the neoliberal agenda. These voters rely on government assistance of one sort or another, and they value it. The neoliberal attack on Medicaid has not gone down well with them. On the other hand, the obvious bigotry of the GOP’s supporters in the white identity culture, amplified by Trump, leaves the neoliberals in the very awkward position of having to take sides. They would prefer to remain silent, continuing to have the electoral support of the bigots. But how can they, in the face of Charlottesville and the rest?

The key question now is whether the GOP leadership can find a way out of this state of affairs as the 2018 elections near. If not, and if the Democrats can get their act together, expect large and deserved GOP losses and therefore a postponement of the neoliberal utopia that seemed almost close enough to touch a few months ago.

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