Take one part celebrity, one part pan-offensive interviews, and one part bare bones conservative ideology, and one might create the perfect candidate for the new phase of the Republican Party. Once a bastion of Leave It To Beaver-style politeness and family values, the GOP’s base has proven both willing and able to accept the very vulgarity that Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan once lambasted.
After all, arguably the president’s most famous quote is about how he once tried to have sex with a married woman.
So while Kid Rock hasn’t officially declared he’ll run for Michigan’s Senate seat in 2018, pundits already see him as a shoe-in for the newest phase of the Republican Party: the in-your-face, out-of-control celebrity politician whose main platform is insulting liberals and driving the media up the wall. Kid Rock, who’s real name is Robert James Ritchie, may represent the newest face of the changing Republican Party.
Dennis Lennon, a Republican political consultant in Kid Rock’s home state, said in an interview with Politico that Ritchie is a sure-win for the Republican nomination. “Presuming Kid Rock doesn’t get caught in bed with a little boy, or beat up a woman between now and August 2018, he’s going to win the nomination if he gets in. I think there’s no question about that.”
That may be the new low bar for the Republican Party. Unless a candidate is caught in an act of pedophilia or open violence, little stands in the way of someone with enough name recognition from taking power.
Kid Rock’s controversial past interviews including plenty of fodder for the Democrats. In a broad interview with The New Yorker in 2012, Kid Rock first gave a stamp of approval to gay marriage right before saying a homophobic slur unprintable here. In fact, a great deal of Rock quotes are equally unprintable for their vulgarity, and yet statements that were once beyond the pale appear normal in the wake of the revelations of Trump’s comments with Billy Bush.
Like Trump, Rock’s worldview is hard to pin down, beyond his penchant for hyper-masculine partying complete with cliche-ridden swear-filled tropes. An avid supporter of America’s military, Rock’s own ideology doesn’t seem to have much substance. In fact, an early supporter of Rock’s boils it down to “attitude, common sense, and a love of actual Americans (especially our troops).”
That’s Trumpism to the letter. How such an ideology would navigate the complexities of reforming the healthcare system, formulate a strategy to advance American interests in the multi-faceted Syrian civil war, or raise the debt ceiling while also preserving critical entitlements is not clear. What is clear is that Rock could insult Democrats, liberals, and Republicans who don’t get with his program and almost surely advance to the general election.
The GOP has undergone several huge cultural shifts from the 1960s onwards, as the party retrenched itself with white Southerners in the wake of the Civil Rights Era and then allied with Northern blue collar workers in the 1980s. That combination of working class Northerners and old-fashioned white Southerners was reinforced with an Evangelical Christian backbone and led by a Wall Street-aligned business class. That business class, exemplified by people like the Koch Brothers, the Bush family, and Mitt Romney, stoked the cultural fears of their base by warning about gay marriage, abortion, and immigration, all while doing very little to combat these changes through successful legislation.
But in the wake of the Great Recession and multiple overseas wars, the business class lost control of its base, which produced a rebellious Tea Party that threatened corporate bottom lines in continued confrontations over the national debt. That Tea Party led the assault on the Establishment business class that had long dominated media and the GOP, delegitimizing traditional candidates like Jeb Bush and creating a space for insurgents like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
The supposed cultural firewalls of once-common decency were meant to sink Trump, yet despite repeated insults of the disabled, women, and threats of violence, Trump sailed from a primary victory to a national one. Trump’s lack of cohesive ideas should also have done him in. However, rather than founder, Trump’s vague promises were met with widespread acclaim by the base, including his promise to “Drain the swamp,” an unprecedented candidate pledge.
Kid Rock fits the Trumpian mold. From his righteous but unsupported political anger to his willingness to break the traditional rules of political correctness, Kid Rock may not win Michigan, where the incumbent Democrat retains the advantage, but may instead symbolize the transformation of the GOP from the party of Reagan to the party of Trump. How much electoral life there is in such a party remains to be seen.
[Featured image by Terry Renna/Associated Press]