What will Wall Street do? The Republican Party has been their go to team for most of the last century. Sure Wall Street curried favor among some Democrats also. They are after all the folks who brought us hedge funds. But .to sell their interests to the voting public, Wall Street long ago positioned Republicans as the “Daddy” Party in American politics; the “Father knows best” eat your spinach Party. Wall Streets interests require deft promotion because Big Money is not all that popular in a Democracy where most people, to varying degrees, must struggle to get by. So Republicans were billed as the ‘grown ups” in the room, to contrast with those “flakey” to the point of “radical” liberals who, Republicans asserted, controlled the Democratic Party. Well that game plan has sure been shot to hell. Cue the pyrotechnics over our nation’s debt ceiling.
From the post World War Two days through the close of the 20th Century, Wall Street for the most part fronted Republicans who, by and large, didn’t pick ugly fights with well intentioned liberal goals, just with all the methods advocated to achieve them. The first major glitch in that playbook arrived with the Goldwater movement, which stunned the Republican Establishment in 1964 by defeating Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican Presidential nomination. LBJ’s subsequent landslide victory helped shove the social conservative genie back into its class glass bottle for nearly a generation, but 1964 exposed Wall Streets political Achilles heel. Staid candidates may reassure the general electorate, but staid doesn’t inspire a movement, and to cobble together national electoral majorities Republicans need social value conservative foot soldiers in the trenches to energize their sober centrist appeals. The trick lay in excluding them from the halls of power.
From Big Money’s perspective, Reaganism hit the sweet spot, all the fervor with little loss of real control. Wall Street could, and did, do business with Ronald Reagan, who mostly only frightened off the liberals. But right wing populism can be like crack cocaine. Wall Street soared on the Rush, but soon became dependent to it. Fear and anger bred votes that they came to bank on. Economic populists, for self evident reasons, are problematic for Wall Street to manage but “traditional values” populism posed no such conflict of interest. Increasingly there wasn’t a regressive social movement that Republicans refused to flirt with. But like Frankenstein’s Monster, the coalition that Wall Street helped stitch together developed a life of its own.
They were supposed to stay under the radar. They were supposed to settle for table scraps plus an occasional bone thrown to them. In Washington and on Wall Street the lessons from 1964 were forgotten. Give smoldering ashes oxygen and flames will reignite. Quietly but unambiguously, the John Birch Society strode back in from the cold, as an official sponsor of the CPAC Conference which major candidates for the Republican 2012 Presidential nomination addressed. In the hills and hollows where the KKK once gathered, Right Wing Militias stage military exercises while racism itself is reinvigorated through a “Birtherism” movement obsessed with denying the legitimacy of America’s first African American President.
The Right is embarked on a forced march away from America’s center, with the Republican Party now held as hostage with large portions of that Party showing clear signs of Stockholm syndrome. When there no longer are any holds barred do major financial interests still have a hold on the Right? When virulent conspiracy theories center on the U.N. in N.Y.C, how distant can Wall Street remain? Just how safe is that bet Wall Street made on social conservatism? Its Chosen Son just went down in flames; all the money in the world couldn’t save Mitt Romney from the company he was forced to keep. The litany of litmus tests the New Right forced Romney to pass disqualified him to a broad swath of voters.
The Center refuses to hold and the New Right isn’t strong enough to carry the Republican Party on its own, not on a national scale at least. The Right, for practical purposes, is maxed out. It might yet grow more extreme but it will not grow larger. For every new voter it attracts a former one is repelled, and even that temporary stasis is slipping away as the aged die and a white majority erodes.
This nation has war fatigue but Republicans want more war, or at least more Americans left behind in countries we are trying to exit. Attempts to resurrect the Cold War have not proved very popular. America no longer favors the Republican Party to govern our foreign affairs. Republicans used to reliably win elections by playing to homophobia, but today that tact works against them more often than not. Republicans heavily courted fundamentalists and wound up in a war on science, which is seldom a long term winning strategy. Their embrace of traditional gun culture morphed into defending expanded ammo clips for Survivalists and anti-Government rebels. Opposition to Abortion broadened to attacks on contraceptives, and now rape is heard described as a means of procreation.
Fifty years of branding have been overturned in five. Republicans once were cast as realists with their feet firmly planted on the ground. The Democrats, it was said, were the wild eyed dreamers. That is not how it seems today. The Right embraces brinksmanship as their favored tactic; Shutting down the government slides from being a threat toward a desired outcome.
The self professed custodians of our nations treasure are preparing to play craps with the full faith and credit of the United States of America, and that does not make “The Market” happy. Wall Street, literally, was hit hard by Super Storm Sandy, and the overwhelming majority of House Republicans just voted against bailing New York out. Who can Wall Street turn to, to carry their water now?