When Republican primary voters choose a demagogue who evinced indifference to “free market” pieties — and support for massive infrastructure stimulus, universal health care, price controls on pharmaceuticals, and higher taxes on the rich — as their 2016 standard-bearer, many pundits were perplexed. But they shouldn’t have been. It would be far stranger if Republican voters really did feel a deep loyalty to the Ryan budget. After all, no mass constituency in any other advanced democracy on planet Earth has ever rallied behind such a cause.
The GOP has not made support for tax cuts (no matter the economic conditions, geopolitical circumstances, or resulting consequences for social spending) the first principle of its domestic agenda because that is a popular and rational governing ideal — but because it is an excellent value proposition to offer to well-heeled reactionaries in search of a medium-risk, high-return investment opportunity.
To this point, the GOP has paid no great electoral price for the fact that there is no significant constituency for its economic agenda; over the past decade, Republicans have managed to grow more fanatically committed to fiscal policies that their voters find abhorrent — and more politically powerful.
A variety of factors have abetted this odd achievement, not least the fact that most voters pay far less attention to the details of policy than to identity-based appeals. Through “culture war” rhetoric and legislation, the GOP has established itself as the party of rural Americans, cultural traditionalists, gun enthusiasts, and the (proudly) white and native-born. The broad appeal of this reactionary brand of identity politics (combined with copious Koch network cash, the right’s vast propaganda apparatus, and a touch of voter suppression) has allowed the Republican Party to have its fringe fiscal agenda, and its electoral majorities, too.