by Timothy Lane
Many people have been working up lists of the disparate groups making up the Republican Party and its voters. Many of them especially see the great divide between Establishment and anti-Establishment types (which is one very reasonable way to divide them). Over the past couple of years, my own analyses have been based on a division into four general groups.
The first consists of those I call Hunkers, terminology I adopted from the New York Democrats 175 years ago. These were so named because they “hunker” after office. Back then, under the Spoils System, this could include offices such as running the New York City customs-house (a really plum position, and especially lucrative to grafters). Today we have civil service, though we also have bloated bureaucracies and staffs, so the number of important political positions is probably actually larger. But even more important today is lobbying (and the rent-seeking of many who hire lobbyists). Basically, Hunkers may be conservative, or may not be, but it doesn’t really matter to them. Office, power, perks, or specific lobbying goals – those matter far more than any minor details such as the national interest. The perfect example of a Hunker today is Trent Lott.
The next group is the Country-Club Republicans. These are upper- and upper-middle-class types, usually businessmen, and in most of the country they’re socially moderate to liberal, though they may be fiscal conservatives. (On the other hand, those involved in larger businesses often have no more use for free market capitalism than do liberals; both have a preference for crony capitalism). Again, however, issues don’t matter much to such times. I see them as consensus-seekers, since in their personal and professional lives they tend to be deal-makers. There are exceptions (such as Steve Forbes), but most are no more inclined than any other citizens to pay enough attention to politics to know (and care) what’s really happening.
The next group consists of the Barnburners, terminology I again take from New York Democrats 175 years ago. Their name comes from a willingness to burn down the barn (i.e., the party) if they don’t get their way. These are people passionately concerned with a single issue (such as banning abortion) or a connected group of issues (such as the Tea Partiers). Such people have little interest in the GOP as a party rather than as a vehicle for their views. (One might note that a substantial number of liberals have the same relationship with the Democrats, the difference being that they don’t generally have to pressure their own elites to reflect liberal Barnburner views.) Naturally, there’s a great deal of distrust between them and the party’s leaders and Establishment. The latter don’t mind the votes, but they don’t like the pressure, and seem to have a hard time figuring out that they often can’t get the votes without facing the pressure. But many, who feel their seats are safe enough, would rather accept whatever they can get even as a minority (there were many who thought that Bob Michel, who led Republicans in the House before the Gingrich revolution, was like that).
Finally, we have the large group of Grassroots voters. They mostly tend to be conservative, though they don’t have the passion of the Barnburners. But – and this is what the GOP Establishment can’t seem to grasp (since none of them seem to have any personal connections to Grassroots voters) – the Grassroots and generally sympathetic to the Barnburners. So as the party leaders revile the Barnburners (mostly the Tea Partiers today), they alienate notably them, but also the Grassroots. Until they learn better, there will be a GOP Civil War.
As for me, I’m probably mostly a Grassroots voter (I supported Trey Grayson over Rand Paul in the 2010 primary, though I later concluded that Paul had been much the better choice), but with VERY strong Barnburner sympathies. And so, I certainly have no trust (and little use) for the Hunkers (and no great fondness for the Country Clubbers these days). • (1901 views)