The insurgent fringe?
  • Seth Perlman/AP Photos
  • The insurgent fringe?

I’ve had an insight into the Republican gains in the November elections. A lot of people aren’t going to agree with it.

But I’m chewing over the “Bagehot” column in the January 17-23 Economist. The exasperated financial columnist says voters in Britain, who in May will elect a new Parliament, have an “epic choice” to make that they’re not paying attention to. There’s an “enormous difference” between the Conservatives and Labour on “the issue of pre-eminent national importance”—fiscal policy. Yet despite the “colossal significance” of this issue voters aren’t paying much attention to it. Polls show support for both parties is declining, while the fortunes of “insurgent fringe parties” with nothing to say about the economy continue to rise.

Bagehot calls the Conservatives and Labour Britain’s “two parties of government.” And he says diminishing support for them “reflects the fortunes of established parties across the Western world.”

The Republicans are one of the U.S.’s two established parties. Yet they bucked the global trend. How did this happen?

It happened, I think, because the the Republicans managed to present themselves to voters as both a party of government and as an insurgent fringe party. Trust us to run the government was one message; Let’s bring the temple down! was another. It’s a contradiction Republicans will have to work out eventually, but look where it’s got them!