Revealed! How the Republican Party really works (and why Hillary will be the nominee, and...)

| Mon Jul. 3, 2006 4:42 PM EDT

Our man in Washington, Jim Ridgeway, filed a dispatch last week reporting on a breakfast with conservative political guru Grover Norquist (about whom there's lots more in Michael Scherer's Mother Jones profile). Now you, too, can be transported to the American Prospect-sponsored meeting via the magic of audio. Grab some coffee and refrigerator-cold Danishes to recreate the setting, put up your feet, and listen to Norquist explain how the right manages to hold together a "low-maintenance coalition" of gun owners, home schoolers, businesses (not including the kind who want big government subsidies—that's a different coalition) and various faith activists, by catering to them on only their "primary vote-moving issues" and to hell with all the rest.

On the issue that moves their vote, what they want from the government is to be left alone. They want to be left alone to practice their religion and raise their kids in that faith and not have schools throwing prophylactics at kids etc. That's why on the right, we're able to have evangelical Protestants, Pentecostals, as well as conservative Catholics and conservative Muslims and orthodox Jews etc. who may not agree on who goes to heaven and why, but they understand that if they are to have the right to raise their kids and go to heaven, the pagans over there have to have the same right to raise their kids to go to Hades.

So you've got Pat Buchanan and others saying there are all these fissures, on secondary and tertiary issues. But on the primary vote-moving issues, everyone has their foot in the center and they're not in conflict on anything. The guy who wants to spend all day counting his money, the guy who wants to spend all day fondling his weaponry, and the guy who wants to be in church all day, may look at each other and say, "Well that's pretty weird, and that's not what I want to do with my spare time, but that does not threaten my ability to go to church, have my guns, have my property, run my business, home school my kids.

And this handily helps explain why Republicans are the tax-and-spend party these days:

Spending is not a problem because it's not a primary vote-moving issue for anyone in the coalition. If you keep everybody happy on their primary issue and disappoint on a secondary issue, everyone grumbles, but no one walks out the door.

Bonus: How the left works, according to Norquist:


The way I see the vote-moving parts of the left, it's trial lawyers with resources, it's organized labor with resources, it's the two wings of the dependency movement—people who are locked into welfare and people who make $90,000 making sure they stay there—and what we cheerfully call the "coercive utopians" who spend their time telling us that toilets have to be too small to flush and cars have to be too small to have kids.

More (including Norquist responding to questions on his friend Jack Abramoff, on Social Security ("The otherwise very intelligent people at the White House made an error"), on Hillary and the Republican presidential field, on why the Republicans have kept the House and Senate election after election, and what Dems should say on the war:

The best position for Democratic Party is to stand here and go 'Bush and Iraq, how do you like that?' And then shut up. It's like the old joke, 'How's your wife?' 'Compared to what?' I know that there's this constant conversation, we've got to get a theme and all that, and at some point Republicans will say Democrats don't have any answers. But if you've had a problem hung around your neck, 'They don't have any answers' doesn't work as well.

In that spirit (and because a great debate, along with things like this, reminds us of what we love about America), go have a good Fourth.

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