Corey Cook: Polarization, vitriol and ability to govern
Cook, Boise State’s dean of the School of Public Service, is writing from the GOP convention for the Statesman.
As implausible as it once seemed, tonight Donald J. Trump will accept the Republican Party’s nomination for president. After the balloons fall in Cleveland, he will be leading a party that appears more unified and better positioned to take back the White House in 2016.
The stakes for Trump’s speech are high. Behind the scenes in Cleveland, there remains some discontent with the party’s nominee. After an incredibly bruising primary, several delegates I’ve spoken with here insist that they can never vote for Trump and don’t trust him to be a reliable conservative. But the convention has certainly helped his cause.
Speakers have been serving generous helpings of red meat to the party base and eviscerating Secretary Hillary Clinton’s record in the State Department and challenging her fitness to serve in public office. Throughout the week, delegates have been regularly riled up by speakers to an extent I’ve never witnessed at a national convention, including chanting “lock her up” throughout the proceedings.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, one of the few national Republicans who seems to maintain positive relationships across the party’s numerous divides, made a compelling case for party unity. And while few of elected officials speaking on the floor have made a full-throated case for the nominee (instead of focusing their energies on attacking Obama and Clinton), the Trump family have made the case effectively.
It remains to be seen whether this convention might persuade voters across the political spectrum to support Trump in November. Make no mistake: This is a “base” convention in a “base” election year. Far from heeding the lessons of the Republican Party’s 2012 campaign autopsy report that urged the party to broaden its appeal, the rhetoric at this convention has been as caustic as any in memory and more than any I’ve witnessed. And I don’t expect anything different in Philadelphia next week, where Democrats will take aim at the newly nominated Trump.
This will certainly help rile up the bases of each party, maintain party unity after divisive primaries and prop up turnout. But it is unlikely to persuade independents or moderates to become enthusiastic about either candidate, and will likely widen the growing divide between the parties.
Political psychologists show that voters process information through existing partisan lenses. This motivated reasoning allows voters to screen out inconvenient information that might undermine their existing preferences. In other words, Trump supporters’ attacks on Clinton, as well as Clinton’s supporters attacks on Trump, are unlikely to have much persuasive effect. Rather, voters choose to assimilate or ignore dissonant information in order to maintain their views towards the candidates.
In an environment where the two party’s nominees are well known and historically disliked, vitriolic rhetoric is unlikely to persuade doubters, but will increase the provocation of each party’s base.
Got questions for Corey Cook about the GOP convention? He’ll answer them on the Statesman’s Facebook page at 1 p.m. Mountain Time.
While this makes sense from a political strategy standpoint, one clear result will be a more deeply polarized country after the election. Considerable research shows that while voters’ positions on policy issues have not become more polarized, the two parties have become more ideologically distinctive over the past several decades. In short, we have become better at aligning our ideological differences with our partisan ones.
More disturbing, our attitudes towards members of the opposing party have hardened precipitously. Our growing polarization is largely about our affinity for our own party and deep aversion to, if not outright suspicion of, the opposing party.
Obviously this leaves out those voters who have weak connections to political parties who become disaffected from politics. But it also compromises our capacity to govern effectively and solve public problems. During the 2008 and 2012 conventions, which I was fortunate to attend, there was substantial disagreement between the two parties. And every now and then, some tough rhetoric. But the tone and tenor of the conventions suggested that these were reasonable policy disagreements and a conflict, as Ryan said on Tuesday night, over ideas.
The rhetoric this week by both Democrats gearing up for Philadelphia and Republicans at their convention in Cleveland has directly challenged the legitimacy of their opponents to hold office.
This acidic discourse is far from unprecedented in our history. At an important moment of increasing international and domestic tensions, it is increasingly divisive and concerning. Trump has a rare opportunity tonight to offer a compelling vision of a unified nation. Thursday’s convention theme is “Make America one again.” It’s a noble idea.
Trump will study Western issues
Public lands might not be an issue that affects Donald Trump in his Trump Tower on New York’s 5th Avenue, but it could greatly influence how Idahoans vote come November.
“We have an opportunity for this conversation on public lands to take some seed and grow,” Steve Yates, the GOP Idaho State chairman, said in Cleveland.
Yates said that the issue of public lands is especially important in Idaho, where more than half the state is owned by the federal government.
Clinton Daniel, an Idaho delegate for Ted Cruz, said that it’s an issue he hopes Trump takes a look at. Cruz was aggressively for returning federal lands to the states, but Trump expressed opposition to any change in federal land ownership. Cruz won the Idaho GOP primary in a landslide.
“The federal lands issue doesn’t just affect Idaho,” Daniel said. “He’s going to hear from a bunch of other states, and it affects all Western states.”
Layne Bangerter, an Idaho delegate for Trump, said that Trump will learn about Western issues.
“There wasn’t anyone well-versed in Western issues, so we’re going to have to reach out to Donald Trump and get signals that he’s going to care about those issues,” Bangerter said.
Waiss David Aramesh, student journalist at Penn State University