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Why Crazy Republicans Get Elected

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor had a fascinating column today. You can read it here on his Facebook page. In it he documents the bizarre and nearly clinical insanity that has gripped the Republican party. As I read it I kept wondering how, if the party has totally gone off the rails, do they maintain a significant presence in American politics? How do they keep winning elections, dominate so many state legislatures, control the Senate and have a stranglehold on the House?

It happens for the simplest of reasons: nearly half the electorate votes for candidates running as Republicans no matter how nutty they are, how bizarre their platforms are, how blisteringly ignorant they are or, as Reich put it, that they display a “level of ignorance and prejudice unprecedented in modern American politics.”

How? Why? Well, first there is the 27% “Crazification Factor.” This has been around for awhile and gets more empirical support in every election. It’s also called the “Keyes Constant” in honor of Alan Keyes who was totally, batshit crazy but still managed to pull in 27% of the vote against Barack Obama in his 2004 run for the Senate.

In short, about a quarter of voters are just nuts. They hold bizarre notions, are riven with fear of anything new or different, harbor racist attitudes, are homophobic, anti-science, anti-woman and have passionate religious beliefs that prop up these views. These are the folks who voted for Keyes and also for others like David Duke or Orly Taitz. If you don’t who Taitz is go here. But pour yourself a stiff one before you click.

Then there are those we can call “devoted Republicans.” They account for maybe another 15%. These are the folks who were raised Republicans, have always voted for the GOP and always will. They are typically more moderate and cleave to conservative positions because they honestly believe they are the right ones.These folks are upset with how things are going but loyalty keeps them in line.

This gets us to 42%. Then there’s a small group made up of wealthy, successful people who see that the deregulatory, low-tax positions of the GOP favor them. I’ll estimate another 5% of voters fall into this category. We’re almost there…

Now toss in people who just like something about some nominee, they think they have a cool haircut or remind them of a favorite, deceased uncle. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are but there will always be a couple of folks who cast their ballots on these vague, emotional reasons.

A boost, minor but real, comes from the voter-suppression campaigns that make it more difficult for minorities, the elderly, students and the poor to vote. These groups all tend to support Democrats so the GOP’s edge goes up if they can prevent these folks from registering or, failing that, from getting to the polls.

Finally, toss in a small error rate (people who pulled the wrong lever, checked the wrong box) and lo and behold, nearly half of the country is voting for crazy people and crazy positions.

The final nail in the country’s coffin? The effective gerrymandering after the 2010 census in states where the GOP took over after the midterm elections. This one operates independently of the others. Its impact becomes obvious when you realize that more people voted for Democratic candidates for the House in the last election but the GOP still ended up with a huge majority.

Can the country survive this? I think so but it’ll take some time. Most of the crazification gang are old, white and male. They are a necessarily diminishing cohort. Many of the more moderate “GOP-lifers” are beginning to see that their Grand Old Party is, in fact, not really their friend.

A quick look at the state of the economy under the past several administrations is rather startling and, if you’re an upper-middle class Republican, disturbing. Even Forbes, the bible of this group, says so. This article documents the long-term patterns showing that, despite the conventional wisdom, Democrats are far better at dealing with economic and financial issues than Republicans.

A moment of hope arrived from a good friend who was a life-long Republican. He told me recently that he’s switched to “Independent” because, as Reich described so well, his former party is out of its freaking mind. He’s probably going to need a year or two to adjust emotionally but I’m fairly certain he’ll soon be one of us.

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