Back in April, 2016, before our country’s antiquated Electoral College, Russian interference, misogyny, terrible reporting, and some sort of mass insanity resulted in the election to the Presidency of a buffoonish demagogue who surrounded himself with a crew of deplorable and corrupt fixers, scam artists, sycophants, reality stars, future jailbirds, and unqualified family members that would be laughed at in the worst banana republic, I bestowed the first AOG Linguistic Kardashian Award for overexposure to “firestorm.” You can read it here.
Since then, I feel the need to bestow another award to “the base.” I don’t know when this word became in vogue, but now, all you hear about are politicians playing to their base. Wikipedia defines “Base” as:
In politics, the term base refers to a group of voters who almost always support a single party’s candidates for elected office. Base voters are very unlikely to vote for the candidate of an opposing party, regardless of the specific views each candidate holds. In the United States, this is typically because high-level candidates must hold the same stances on key issues as a party’s base in order to gain the party’s nomination and thus be guaranteed ballot access. In the case of legislative elections, base voters often prefer to support their party’s candidate against an otherwise appealing opponent in order to strengthen their party’s chances of gaining a simple majority; typically the gateway to overarching power in a legislature.
This interesting column from Charles Houmans, the politics editor for The New York Times Magazine, from 2017 notes:
A political party’s base, for much of the 20th century, usually came with an indefinite article attached: a base, rather than the base. This was a straightforward reflection of how parties operated, as sometimes lumpy and uneasy coalitions of disparate interests.
Houmans goes on to describe how this changed:
In 1990, when Bush proposed a tax-reform package that included modest increases in some brackets, House Republicans revolted, led by an ambitious Georgia congressman named Newt Gingrich. “It is a signal,” he told The Washington Post, “that the base of the Republican Party opposes raising taxes and that the package had better be awfully good.” The base had, in Gingrich’s formulation, become something new: not a coalition to be expanded but a force to be propitiated or crossed at Bush’s peril. It was not there to be molded by politicians like Jack Kemp. It was there to give orders to them, through mediums like Gingrich — whose personal policy hobbyhorses, it just so happened, matched the base’s.