by ALEX KLEIN, The Daily Beast
From the fiscal cliff to immigration, the Republican Party remains sorely divided over its post-loss platform. The “blame Romney first” camp is making a lot of noise about a kindler, gentler GOP and slamming their former frontman for an epic “47 percent” fumble.
But that’s a tough sell. How do you dispatch a party’s favorite worldview—that of right-leaning “makers” and left-leaning “takers”—when the guy who popularized it got the VP nod and is now the de facto leader of your congressional caucus? Tearing a whole party away from the calming logic of bought-off voters is tough, and many on the right are still stuck on the idea. After Obama’s victory, Bill O’Reilly explained, “There are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff, and who is going to give them things? President Obama.” Rush Limbaugh—without whose booming, car-journey-defining voice no GOP realignment will be possible—doubled down, giving the “gifts” line a literal, Christmas-season spin: “It’s just very difficult to beat Santa Claus,” he said. “People are not going to vote against Santa Claus ... [Obama voters] got more stuff than other people.” Ann Coulter said Obama’s America was “interested in handouts.” And as Bill Whittle put it, “Republicans should commit to their own story.”
So while Bobby Jindal and a handful of others may want to sweet-talk single women and Hispanics, in the base-stoking (and primary-deciding) conservative media, the Paul Ryanist argument is proving resilient. Together, it makes for an appealing economic determinism: find out how people will vote by measuring their income and federal entitlements.
But the Republican Party must ditch this line of thinking. Sure, it’s divisive. But more important, it’s empirically false. We’ve already shown how the makers-takers narrative breaks down on the state level: the amount a state’s average citizen gets in federal dollars has no bearing on how that citizen votes. But of course, states are lumpy, with pockets of wealth and poverty. So now we’ve drilled down a level. With the help of the National Priorities Project, I’ve compiled per capita–spending and median-income data for almost every county in the United States. (Those figures come from the 2010 Consolidated Federal Funds Report.) And for the first time, we’ve compared how America’s counties voted with how much their average resident makes a year and gets from the federal government. The data set covers 2,707, or more than 90 percent, of America’s 3,033 counties.