To preface, when someone tries to simplify anything into two entities, their almost always wrong. For example, claiming that if you did not vote for Obama, you are a racist is a very flawed argument. Maybe someone did not vote for Obama because he is black, but maybe they did not vote for Obama because they believe in fiscal conservatism, or are a war hawk, or maybe a mix of all three. My point is, the Republican Party, like everything else in this world, is incredibly nuanced and the blanket claim that a Republican is either a Paul Ryan type or a Stephen Bannon type is not true.
Yet, my title still claims that Ryan and Bannon represent two sides of the Republican coin, why is that? Mainly, I feel that Ryan and Bannon are good representatives in which many factions of the Republican Party can be sorted under. Every Republican is their own person, so to analyze the factions in Republicanism you would have to analyze every individual Republican whose unique viewpoints and experiences make their viewpoints unique. Essentially, what I am saying is that every person who belongs to the Republican Party is his or her own unique faction.
So, instead of writing an absurdly long paper analyzing the viewpoints of approximately 100 million people I think it is much more affective (although less accurate) to narrow the Republican base into two areas: Bannon Republicans and Ryan Republicans. Just be aware that not everyone underneath these tents thinks exactly alike.
Stephen Bannon and Paul Ryan are far from a match made in heaven. Ryan is the darling of Republican economic think tanks and capitalists. Despite Ryan’s willing participation in earmarking wasteful spending in his district (something all Congressman do in order to remain popular back home) he is still notably dedicated to fiscal discipline, sometimes even to an unreasonably high degree. Bannon is less of a numbers guy and even less of a fiscal conservative. Bannon is more of a populist and a white nationalist. Many social programs, which Ryan would like to cut, also provide immense benefit to white people so Bannon does not want to cut them. Most recently, Bannon’s timid opposition to Obamacare demonstrated this. Obamacare helps many white Americans, who represent Donald Trump’s base and are important for Bannon’s vision, which appears to be a white America. Bannon, like Trump, also supports increased spending on infrastructure, (beneficial to working whites) running in sharp contrast with Ryan’s goal on cutting spending, not increasing it.
Despite their differences, Bannon policies and Ryan policies can overlap. Firstly, some social spending is mainly beneficial to minorities. Programs that help the poor in cities tend to disproportionately benefit minorities due to the racial makeup of said poor in America’s cities. Bannon would likely want to cut these social programs, while maintaining the programs, which benefit the rural poor whom are a majority white. Furthermore, Bannon would also want to cut business taxes and environmental regulation in order to spur manufacturing jobs in the United States,’ resulting in more work for America’s white working class. Ultimately, there are areas, which Bannon Republicans and Ryan Republicans agree on, just for different reasons. Ryan would like to cut regulation and welfare because he is pursuing a free market, Bannon would like to cut regulation and welfare because it would be beneficial to white Americans.
To represent the struggle of Republican identity as a clash between Bannon’s principles and Ryan’s principles is flawed. There is no clash, because that clash ended when Trump won the presidency and Bannon, a main architect of Trump’s success, won the struggle for a Republican identity. Rather, Ryan is faced with the incredible uphill battle of convincing the Trump administration to practice fiscal restraint. Remember, this is an administration, which wants to spend $21.6 billion on a border wall. Furthermore, Ryan only represents the people in Wisconsin’s 1st District, and, like it or not, Trump represents America. Ryan holds much less of a mandate than Trump and it shows, as Trump has an 86% popularity rating among Republicans and Ryan has much less at 65%. It must be quite embarrassing for Ryan, knowing that he is less popular than a man with no integrity that brags about sexually assaulting women.
It is easy to feel bad for Ryan and other traditional Republicans as they watch the worst of their party bubble to the surface and take on leadership positions. Honestly, though, they should have seen it coming. A big part of the Republican Party’s ability to build a winning coalition came with an uneasy alliance of the white nationalists who had left the Democrats after Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through major civil rights legislation. Since Nixon, the Republicans have relied on this “silent majority” to win elections. Republicans, to protect their image, never explicitly appealed to the silent majority, and instead just positioned themselves slightly closer to a white nationalistic agenda then their Democratic counterparts. But, due to many reasons, such as an increasing American minority population and the threat of terrorism, these Bannon-esque white nationalists have begun to push for more drastic measures, ousting traditional conservative leaders. As Ryan clings to the Trump administration, hoping that Trump suddenly embraces the policies of Ronald Reagan hopefully he’ll remember who created this beast.
A quick end note: My analysis here proves to be very critical of the Republican Party, its splintering, and its trajectory. My absence of critique against the Democrats, by no means, should be interpreted as evidence that the Democrats are perfect as the way they are. The Democrats are having a splintering of their own, as evidenced by the hostility between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. There is an inner struggle between idealists and realists in the left that poses just as big as a problem for them as Trump is to the Republicans.