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This is a meta problem that liberals, leftists, and the Democratic party especially have a huge problem with. We don't understand Republicans because they do not think or behave like we do on a very fundamental level. It's why we've been blindsided by them for decades, and it puts us at a strategic disadvantage. Uncovering this mystery is necessary for future electoral success and the survival of our Republic as we know it.
One of the earliest problems electorally is that Republican policy is so goddamned evil voters literally do not believe anyone could actually endorse it, and therefore pass it off as partisan spin. That alone is a challenging issue, but the real problem goes deeper.
It's a pastime of liberal pundits to point out that the pro-life governor of some flyover state also supports the death penalty and so on and so forth. We get incredulous and infuriated at their blatant hypocrisy. We call them stupid, which really sets them off and fuels a lifetime of hatred for liberals, leftists, and Democrats in the hearts of each and every conservative. However, they don't see themselves that way. They don't think of themselves as self-serving hypocrites or idiots who can't keep their facts straight long enough to form a cogent argument in continuity with the rest of their ideology. We try to describe this as “cognitive dissonance” or other give other armchair diagnosis that doesn't fully capture what's going on. I'd like to give them more credit than that. They clearly believe in something, and in that context their words and actions would make sense, but it's not what they're self-advertising when you ask what they believe in.
I hypothesize that Republicans (and conservatives in general) are not fully honest with themselves or others about what they believe, yet they possess a fully-fleshed out belief system that is self-supporting based on unspoken assumptions that they cannot articulate except through euphemism.
And I think it works like this… Start with two core assumptions:
Everyone has a spot on the big food pyramid of the socio-political hierarchy. Good, smart, and hardworking people of merit make their way to the top. Bad, dumb, and lazy people go to the bottom. For convenience sake, this hierarchy is color-coded. In a zero-sum world, everyone who gets to the top has to knock someone down a rung to make room.
The great thing about this system is that it just… works. You don't have to think about it. All else being equal, this is humanity's natural state. It plays nicely with the Just World fallacy. In this world there are no problems to be solved, merely endured. Is poverty a problem? Don't be poor. Is there a pandemic sweeping the world? Don't be unhealthy, and you won't end up on a ventilator. It's not anyone else's responsibility to fix your problems for you.
That's where liberals come in. Those damn bastard liberals started mucking things up trying fix problems, taking people on the bottom of the pyramid and putting them on the top. That's not fair to conservatives! It's messing with the natural order of things! (One time they did it with a black president and everyone lost their goddamn minds.) This is the root and shoot of all evil, according to conservatives.
Forget climate change, inequality, racism, healthcare, etc. Liberals are a problem to be solved. (Leftists get lumped in there too.) They're broken people. Moral failures. They've been duped into believing Marxist propaganda and are controlled by “Globalists” (ie: the Jews). Their voters are illegitimate because they've either fools, dead people not yet purged from the rolls, bussed in illegal immigrants, or some other fabrication. Their leaders are likewise illegitimate, which means it's okay to break the rules in order to oppose them. It's a moral imperative to do so, in fact.
When conservatives are in charge (like they're supposed to be), their role isn't to fix problems. Government is supposed to enforce the hierarchy by punishing those who defy it. I've spoke elsewhere on how that intersects with the abortion debate. When conservatives aren't in power their job isn't to compromise and keep the wheels of government turning as the loyal opposition, it's to get back in control at any cost. That's because conservatives alone are legitimate and moral leaders, and anything they do or say is likewise legitimate and moral.
The final takeaway is this: Conservatives are not failed liberals. It's not like they left their empathy in their other jeans this morning, or haven't had the issues explained properly to them yet. They aren't interested in creating a better society that is more fair, just, and equitable because they don't believe in one. They want things to go back to “normal,” a vegetative state where nothing ever happens and everyone has their place, briefly punctuated by righteous state-sponsored anger against some heretical deviant.
A lot of these things are borrowed observations that I'm trying to patch together, but I'd be remiss not to plug The Alt-Right Playbook series for its fantastic work. It's also difficult to verify because it's not like any conservative would ever actually validate what I'm saying out of simple self interest, and also because they typically have above average self awareness relative to common root vegetables. However I think if you plug this thinking in to the next incredulous thing your favorite high profile conservative villain says or does, it might make a little more sense.