The Grand Fall of the Grand Old Party — Part I

The results from the 2012 elections last year that resulted in the re-election of President Obama by a sizable margin and Republican losses in the Senate and the House (although Republicans retained the House, Democrats received nearly 1.4 million more votes than Republicans in House elections) were bad for the GOP. Add to that the debt ceiling and government shutdown fiasco a few months ago and I can’t blame many of my Republican friends for feeling a bit sour about the state of American politics. Republicans have had a pretty bad 2 years; a far cry from the “tea party revolution” of 2010 that swept in and won a net 63 House seats. Combine these recent events with the major long term challenges the party faces and the current trajectory of the Republican Party is undeniably dire. They are headed to permanent minority status nationally and are being reduced a single region, single race, single gender party, and many sensible conservatives know it.

But this entry, despite the title, is not just me endlessly bashing the Republican Party and anyone who supports it (there will be plenty of time for that later). And although I undeniably take a certain joy in watching the Republican Party civil war play out and seeing them finally reaping what they’ve sown over the past decades; I also see the dangers this presents for our political system.

Not since the disappearance of the Whig Party in the 1840s has the United States had a major political party fall off a cliff and into irrelevancy and for good reason; a functioning two-party system is somewhat essential to our democracy thanks to the Constitution. The Electoral College combined with the Winner-take-all design of the House of Representatives (which differs from the proportional style popular in most European countries) makes it much more difficult for serious Third Parties to gain any real positions of power in America.

If it were not for these facts I would honestly continue gleefully watching the demise of the Republican Party while they go the way of the Whigs along with several other of my liberal friends. However, because of the mechanics of our political system, I can’t. Instead I find myself worried that the Republican Party may in fact fade into obscurity for a prolonged period of time and even this displaced, Northeastern liberal Democrat worries about the consequences that could have. In short, America needs a stronger Republican Party and the reason for this need is simple; Third parties are basically made impracticable by constitutional restraints in addition to the legislative rules and nature of the United States Congress. Therefore, the Republican Party must repair itself and become a GOVERNING party again.

 

 

So how do they do this? Well to simplify it the Republican Party must address three major issues that have gotten them where they are now:

– Leadership & Direction
– Demographics
– Ideology

These issues are not mutually exclusive, in fact they each affect one another in some way, and over the course of the next few weeks I’ll be elaborating on each of these. For today, I want to focus on what’s possibly the biggest issue for the Republican Party…Ideology.

Now when I speak of ideology I do not mean that the current members of the Grand Old Party need to check their beliefs at the door and adopt positions merely for political gain (Romney tried this and it failed…horribly). Instead I simply mean that the Republican Party as a whole must become more ideologically diverse. This is something the Democrats had to learn in the 80s.

After controlling the Congress and the Presidency for the majority of 4 decades through a complex but united coalition, in the 1970s the Democrats began splintering much in the same way Republicans have done recently. What used to be a party of minorities, women, southern Dixiecrats, and social liberals began “purging” certain voting blocs from its ranks in the 70s. The result was a party that could claim its purity in liberal ideology, but couldn’t come close to winning a national election — getting trounced in 3 consecutive presidential elections in ’80, ’84, and ’88 and losing 5 of 6 presidential races between 1968 and 1988. The first reactions to these beatings were almost a mirror image of what many hardline Republicans were thinking the day after Romney’s defeat in 2012. Democrats in the 80s didn’t blame their demands for ideological purity or that they were too liberal to be mainstream, instead they diagnosed the problem as the opposite, they hadn’t been liberal ENOUGH. They had become to compromising and had strayed from their liberal principles. “Next time we need to nominate a REAL liberal, not some DINO moderate” was the thinking most liberals had; and so they did, nominating liberal after liberal who had no hopes of appealing to the center with each coming presidential election and with each election came another defeat at the hands of the Republican nominee. 

If this “purge” of impure members and the subsequent losses in presidential races sounds familiar to you it’s because it’s eerily similar to what’s happened with the Republican Party since roughly 2006. The solution, though not easy, is to begin accepting a wider tent. Democrats after the election of George H.W. Bush saw the writing on the wall and finally began looking in the mirror. They began courting the same voters they once considered “impure”, they started opening up their ideological tent to more voices and ideas; these more moderate Democrats called themselves the “New Democrats” and began presenting themselves as center-left moderates who appreciated the importance of pragmatism and compromise. They supported some traditionally conservative positions such as support for welfare reform, cutting taxes, and free trade agreements. They didn’t want BIG government but instead they wanted SMART government. New, moderate leaders emerged to replace the old guard. The result was a presidential victory in 1992 by Clinton followed by popular vote victories in 4 of the next 5 presidential elections. 

Now this is simply a generalization as I know going into more detail would be particularly nuanced and test each of your patience (if I haven’t already). But do not mistake my hope for a functioning Republican Party for benevolence towards it. Instead its just my realization that no Democratic President or Democratic Congress that does not have a super-majority will be able to accomplish anything remotely groundbreaking without a Republican Party in the minority that feels empowered enough to feel as though it can make compromises and concessions with a Democratic President or a Democratic Majority. Otherwise we will continue to get what we have been getting in Congress since 2011 — filibusters, delays, stagnation, and useless yet economically-damaging fights over the debt ceiling; none of which help progress this country forward. It’s time for the Republican Party to stop blaming everyone else (Obama, the media, Tony Romo) and begin looking internally to solve the problems that ail them. The sooner this happens, the sooner it becomes a political party relevant outside of the old Confederacy again.

Next time I’ll tackle another interesting dynamic within the Republican Party, Demographics.

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