How Right-Wingers in Congress Came to Represent a Whole Different Country
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When you look at the racial composition of districts, the trend becomes even more pronounced. According to the Census Bureau, 111 House Republicans represent districts that are at least 80 percent white.
This helps explain why immigration reform, desperately sought by the Republican establishment as part of its “rebranding” strategy, is going to face an uphill climb in the House, regardless of whether they achieve some bipartisan agreement in the Senate. As the National Journal's Scott Bland put it, “Not only have many of those members [in overwhelmingly white districts] opposed measures beyond improving border security in the past, but there are also no natural pressure groups for immigration reform in their districts. The Democratic Caucus, which is largely unified in support of some sort of immigration-reform proposal, has just 31 members from such very white districts.”
It's worth noting that while decades of polling suggests that Americans tend to lean somewhat to the right on social issues – God, guns and until recently, gays – they tend to lean somewhat to the left on economic issues. Majorities favor higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, huge numbers want to see the minimum wage hiked and nobody outside the Washington Beltway favors cutting Social Security or Medicare.
Yet the Republicans' rebranding effort is entirely premised on moderating on abortion and immigration and softening the hard-right's rhetoric to avoid another Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin meltdown. Almost nothing has been said about rejecting the economic nostrum of financing tax cuts for the top by cutting social services, despite the majority's rejection of that formula.
At least part of that is the result of a conservative media project that has created a false sense of certainty among Republican base voters with constant repetition of the narrative that the United States is naturally a “center-right” country, and has been since its founding.
Andrew Kohut, former president of the Pew Research Center, wrote recently in the Washington Post that while the polarization of news consumption isn't a recent development, “what is new is a bloc of voters who rely more on conservative media than on the general news media to comprehend the world.”
Pew found that 54 percent of staunch conservatives report that they regularly watch Fox News, compared with 44 percent who read a newspaper and 30 percent who watch network news regularly. Newspapers and/or television networks top all other news sources for other blocs of voters, both on the right and on the left. Neither CNN, NPR or the New York Times has an audience close to that size among other voting blocs.
Conservative Republicans make up as much as 50 percent of the audiences for Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’ Reilly. There is nothing like this on the left. MSNBC’s “Hardball” and “The Rachel Maddow Show” attract significantly fewer liberal Democrats.
This is the activist base of the party, the people House Republicans need to turn out to vote every two years in order to retain their jobs.
The RNC's recent “autopsy report” laments that “outside groups now play an expanded role affecting federal races and, in some ways, overshadow state parties in primary and general elections.” That's the final piece of the puzzle of how the House Republicans came to represent a different country.
With many deep-red districts dominated by an activist conservative base that's been highly politicized by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and a slew of right-wing blogs, Republicans in the House face a far greater threat from primary challenges from their right, and there are a plethora of well financed outside groups that stand poised to make those challenges possible. And they continue to proliferate in the age of Citizens United . Just this week, Tom Landry, a former Congressman from Louisiana, announced that he was forming a new super-PAC called Restore Our Republic that aims to, as Politico put it, “keep stirring up trouble on Capitol Hill from the outside” by supporting “hard-right conservatives in the House of Representatives.” It joins a crowded field. And a little bit of money in a primary goes a long way for challengers who can often tap the energy of the GOP's tea party base to overcome an incumbent's cash advantage.