Bibi and the Demise of the GOP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to pretend that he has a solid relationship with both political parties in the US; the reality of the situation is far more complicated. On the Republican side of the ledger, support for a strong American presence in the Middle East is divided between neo-cons and neo-isolationists. Both of these foreign policy positions, however, are also sub-groups of the three major elements within the Grand Old Party. These three essential branches of the party are the establishment, the evangelicals and the working-class nationalists. Not only is there a vast division on the question of America’s foreign entanglements, there is also an acute division with relation to class interest involving foreign trade and the loss of American industrial jobs to overseas production.

Within the Democratic party, current divisions are much less sharp. Hillary Clinton is not an isolationist, but the majority of her party leans in that direction. On the question of the need for Middle East involvement, a Clinton presidency would seek a stronger role than her more timid predecessor, but the backlash within Mrs. Clinton’s party would probably stymie a more involved effort. The only factor which would allow her to move forward on Syria, Iran, ISIS, Hezbollah or Russia would be whether or not she decided to be a one-term president only. If that were the case, she would have little political capital to lose. At this point, it is far too early to speculate.

But it is not too early to recognize two very important factors. First, the GOP is not now the majority political party in the US. This is extremely important to understand. And second, the Democratic Party has very little empathy for the right-wing in Israel. Of course, the Democrats have no strategic vision regarding the Palestinians and the future of the Middle East as a whole. This has been made abundantly clear over the last seven years of the Obama administration. But then neither do the Republicans, for that matter. The difference, however, is that the Democrats expect the Israeli right-wing to be more forthcoming with regard to Bibi’s professed support for the so-called two-state solution. Also, Hillary will probably be very tough regarding an end to settlement expansion. A Clinton presidency would continue to pressure Israel strongly to make concessions, especially if Bibi continues to be prime minister. It is broadly understood that Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu do not get along very well. If this negative relationship continues unabated, support for Israel within the Democratic Party will continue to wane.

So, what is the likelihood of a Clinton presidency? Well, it is a far, far greater prospect than a Donald J. Trump presidency. And it is a far greater prospect (one far, not two) than a Senator Ted Cruz presidency. And it is also a greater prospect than any other typical establishment Republican candidate who might capture the nomination. In fact, an establishment candidate could probably only become the party’s nominee because the two outsiders (Cruz and Trump) couldn’t achieve majority delegate status before the convention in Cleveland, Ohio. In other words, the Republicans — as a minority US political party — are now much too divided internally to have any kind of viable chance to win a general election. Given the fact that the divisions within their Republican ranks are so acute, the prospect of either Trump or Cruz capturing the votes of independents and women, or working to unite the party’s three branches internally (around an establishment candidate), is probably next to nil.

The Republicans simply can’t win a US presidential election without some kind of “miracle”. Their best chance for such a “miracle” would probably be the complete unraveling of the global financial system. This remains a wild card possibility. In fact, it is the whole question of economic globalization — with its loss of jobs and dire financial risks — which has caused the current chasms within the Republican Party in the first place. Remember, it has taken forty years for the GOP to finally descend into the position of minority status as a political party. American politics run in cycles of thirty to forty years.

The Republican Party had been anathema to white southerners for many decades — in fact since the beginning of the US Civil War. Starting in 1968, white southerners began to abandon the Democratic Party in droves. This event, caused by Democratic Party support for the civil rights movement, was truly historic. Democratic Party support in the southern region of the US was no longer a truism of the American political system.

From 1968 onward, a revolution happened in American politics. The white South had become Republican Party red. But this was not only true of the old segregationist South. Many other regional white working-class voters also abandoned the Democratic Party over issues related to race. However, the race issue tended to be disguised. Instead, the abandonment occurred over issues perceived within a more politically correct framework. In other words, issues tangential to race, but not explicit, such as poverty programs, school integration, urban crime and general welfare. In other words, a large portion of the white working-class electorate broke with liberalism and their own class interests. Instead, they began to identify with a political party overtly built on the interests of the wealthy and the ownership class.

The GOP establishment (long the home of Wall Street), the upper middle class, the small business owner and the farmer had now inherited a whole new class of voter. White evangelical religious groups, composed of many blue-collar people, also started to vote Republican. This religious vote toward the right also included, for the first time, a new element of northern urban Catholics (traditionally a bastion of working-class support within the Democratic Party). Hence, over a period of forty years (from 1968 to 2008) and with the infusion of many millions of new (mostly white) working-class voters, it was the Republican Party which became the majority party in the US. In fact, the Democrats could only win a national presidential election by either running a Southern centrist or by a peculiar default (like after the Watergate scandal).

Now, however, almost everything the Republican Party accomplished over this forty-year period has changed. The white working-class element of the Republican Party is in complete revolt against both the establishment and the traditional conservative wings of the old GOP. Meanwhile, there is a divide between religious evangelicals and a far more moderate base of suburban northern women. This has driven many millions of former Republican women voters toward more secular, Democratic Party politicians. As white suburban women leave the GOP, so too do their successful and educated husbands. This has now become a tidal wave, especially with the perception that less-educated working class whites have given their support to the extremely crude (and rude) candidacy of Donald Trump. Trump might poll well with white working-class males, but he has very little credibility among women, establishment-orientated conservatives, and the vast majority of college-educated people, both Republican and Democrat.

It is definitely the harsh anger of the white working class which has caused the Republican Party its greatest angst. But certainly this anger is not difficult to understand. Over the past twenty years, industrial and financial globalization has impoverished working-class people across the board in the US. Wages have dropped, as jobs have moved overseas. Meanwhile, millions of illegal aliens have crossed America’s borders, bringing down the price of labor even further. The establishment wing of the Republican Party has supported the movement of US industries to low-wage countries, while at the same time tolerating the increased infusion of other low-wage workers into the US proper. Republican political support in Congress and the White House for such a low-wage environment — along with the largest trade deficit of any country in the history of the world — has now driven the GOP to deep division and the point of total collapse.

These movements of labor and capital have not gone unnoticed by so-called uneducated working-class people. These voters might not be able to afford college, but they’re not dumb. Among Democrats, the globalization of capital and the weakening of labor have pushed traditional pro-capitalist moderates much farther to the left. Within the Republican Party, it has caused the rise of a phenomenon better known as the Trump revolt. This revolt is not only against the Republican establishment, but also against all other more conservative groupings within the party.

Outside the Republican Party, the Trump revolt is perceived as a racist movement directed primarily against Hispanics, Blacks and many other people of color. In the process, the US has become a country more divided than ever across lines of race and class. However, people of color have slowly caught up in number to their white fellow citizens. So far, the economic contradictions between working-class Democrats and the more affluent Democratic Party members (suburban middle-class and upper-class liberals) have not divided the party. But the same cannot be said for white working-class Republicans within their own, far more white and racially homogenous political party.

Simply put, the Republican Party can’t win with Trump, and they can’t win without his supporters. In fact, they need all three elements of the party to flock to the polls. The problem is that they probably need a more established and moderate candidate at the head of their ticket in order to even stand an outside chance of winning. As a minority party, the GOP needs desperately to pull in votes from centrists and college-educated men and women. And even then, victory might still be a long shot without Trump and his working-class supporters.

The fact is that the majority of Americans are completely alienated from not only the Trump revolt, but also from Cruz and his far-right, angry Tea-Party conservatives. The center of the American political spectrum has now moved firmly into the Democratic Party camp. Meanwhile, evangelicals (across the board) will probably not vote for any candidate who doesn’t stand against their perception of a secular drift away from religious values. These evangelicals didn’t come out strongly for either McCain or Romney in the last two presidential elections. And they will continue to stay at home until a candidate with a strong articulation of Judeo-Christian values can capture the nomination of the Republican party.

So where does this leave Bibi and the Likud? Since 2009, the prime minister has seemingly exhibited a distinctly Republican tilt to his policy conception. At least, that is the appearance from the ascendant side of the American political spectrum, the Democratic Party. This is especially true because of his speech to Congress last March. Whether or not such a Democratic Party perception has validity is irrelevant. Even among American Jews, Israel’s position within the Democratic Party continues to slip.

First and foremost, Bibi needs to articulate a strategy for the Middle East and toward the Palestinians which can capture the imagination of the world. Only by taking the lead can Israel hope to stem the erosion of its support within America’s majority political party, the Democratic Party. As the region of the Middle East careens out of control, the entire world needs a vision of a future Middle East which can be inspirational. This is especially true in the US among Democrats hesitant to support any foreign entanglements. Israel needs the American people as their strategic partner. But America can no longer play the role of the world’s sole policeman. Israel’s strategy must adjust to this new reality.

It is up to the prime minister of Israel to show that he or she has a vision of a new Middle East to present to a new American president. Thirteen months from now, the US will have elected its first female president. Either Bibi will be up to the task, or a new Israeli election would need to be called. Because sometime early in the year 2017, the Democratic Party will begin their third consecutive term in control of the White House. That is, after the inauguration of President Hillary R. Clinton.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).