A Revealing Republican Assessment

Governor Paul LePage – Robert F. Bukaty | AP

I enjoyed Bangor Daily News columnist and Republican Governors Association staffer Matt Gagnon’s offering today discussing what the Republican Party has done wrong from a tactical standpoint.

He doesn’t address the elephants in the room (my apologies) of the GOP being stuck on the less-popular side of a wide range of issues while becoming more demographically insular in a country that is increasingly diverse, but he does write about an important aspect of the Republican worldview: what he terms right-wing “victimhood” and emotions-based “populism.”

Today’s right-wing populists spends most of their time complaining about various brands of elites: the mainstream media, liberal academia, popular culture, politicians of any stripe and the so-called unprincipled establishment.

This was on full display last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. As Palin stood up, she delivered her usual shtick, positioning herself as the heroine of “the people,” and contrasting it against the vile corruption of the various elites, while making no intellectual argument for conservatism at all.

I have no particular love for the establishment, the mainstream press or any of the people Palin typically complains about, of course. But my issue is that the basis of her appeal is to the emotions — particularly resentment and anger — of the people listening, rather than a thoughtful appeal to superior ideas.

There are two things I find very interesting about this argument. The first is that this could easily be read as a stinging rebuke of the attitude and methods of Governor Paul LePage. Our chief executive’s noted disdain for facts, reliance on the politics of division and fear and his oft-displayed resentful anger would all seem to qualify him as part of what Gagnon says is the problem facing the Republican Party.

The second is that Gagnon’s assessment runs almost exactly counter to Party’s own recently-published internal evaluation. That document, released with fanfare on its own website on Monday, calls for more populism and less intellectualism.

The perception, revealed in polling, that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party and its candidates on the federal level, especially in presidential years. It is a major deficiency that must be addressed.

One of the contributors to this problem is that while Democrats tend to talk about people, Republicans tend to talk about policy. Our ideas can sound distant and removed from people’s lives. Instead of connecting with voters’ concerns, we too often sound like bookkeepers. We need to do a better job connecting people to our policies.

I’d be interested to hear Matt’s thoughts on this, but mine would be that perhaps they have slightly different objectives, with the report focused more on the next election and Gagnon worrying more about the Party’s long-term viability.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald