Newt Gingrich wows CPAC. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Conservative Fanboy Culture

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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How should we best describe the market that post-policy conservatives are selling to? Noah Berlatsky argues that it's a form of fanboy culture:

Fandom's entertaining, whether you're getting together to geek out over Jack Kirby back issues, Twilight fan fiction or the ins and outs of Benghazi. The problem, though, is that fandom, while a good model for a fun party, is not an especially good blueprint for governing. In particular, the typical fandom obsession with authenticity is a real barrier to building a governing coalition. Fandoms tend to spend a lot of time policing their borders. Metalheads declare this or that act is not sufficiently metal and comics geeks proclaim that "fake geek girls" are trying to invade their space. You have your awesome clubhouse, but it's not as awesome if there's no one to push out.

I hadn't come across that particular explanation of how RINO-hunting became such a central aspect of movement conservative culture. I've always thought of it in terms of the tendency of revolutions to eat their own, which is also linked to the search for authenticity (a major theme of Hannah Arendt's "On Revolution"). Berlatsky's hypothesis has the virtue of being an even less political explanation for what is, in many ways, a not very political phenomenon.

The question is whether it is important to know why Republicans are this way. What really matters is the effect on politicians' incentives, therefore I'm inclined to leave the "why?" alone. On the other hand, if fixing what's wrong with the Republican Party involves ameliorating the bad incentives of the conservative marketplace, then perhaps understanding is rather important.

Let me put it another way: I've always thought that a major cause for the broken Republican Party was an unfortunate series of irresponsible politicians (Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Newt Gingrich) and that the cure would come from the top. But if there's a self-perpetuating fandom culture, it may not play out that way. Or maybe there's a solution that involves leaving that culture to the fringe of the movement.

(Jonathan Bernstein covers U.S. politics for Bloomberg View. He is co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012." Follow him on Twitter at @JBPlainblog.)

  1. I've written a lot about this, and won't restate the whole case in this post. Short form: I think there's something seriously wrong with the Republican Party. The symptoms include lack of interest in policy, hostility to compromise, and inability to banish fringe views and conspiracy theories. I reject the idea that these problems are inherent to conservative thought, or that they involve Republicans being "too" conservative. It's the style and operating procedures, not substantive views, that are dysfunctional. On how I think it happened, see here.

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