The Republican Party wants me back, they say, believing that I will see them as the natural soul mate I should want to drink tea with. After all, they still say, we are not them. My tolerance for political mediocrity has greatly declined of late, I reply, but you have learned nothing from the electoral disasters of the past few years and, unfortunately, in many ways you are still you. And I remain uninterested.
By now even the most oblivious of the Republican leadership must be aware how unwelcome they are at tea party events. Some may have even recognized the particular animus most of these rallies have toward anyone deemed a “rank and file” GOP official. The reaction from GOP leadership has been all too familiar: silence, confusion, and reluctance to engage. As before, the majority of them seem content to ride what they see as the coming wave, a wave they sadly had little part in creating and which, as a consequence, may well drown many of them. What had been the GOP’s natural base is turning into adamantly independent voters more interested in voting them out than retaining them. The right and center grow ever more fearful and angry while the GOP is reluctant as ever to commit to a path, much less to effectively pursue an alternative vision.
This is the party they want us to come back to? Why? Like children who disappoint hopeful parents one too many times, much of their base has simply given up on them and will never risk being disappointed again. To the inattentive independent voters they appear as a tired, old, and outdated group of reluctant warriors. Hardly inspirational. The GOP may win elections and even prevail for a time, but as before it will not stand without a backbone and committed followers.
So what to do? Trust so thoroughly compromised is impossible to regain and the fix is very painful. The party itself has to decide just how much it wants to get in the game as a political force or if it would prefer to protect the old ways and continue to wander. The disease comes from within and it is there where things must start. Three suggestions:
First, and by far most painful, the entire roster of senior GOP congressional and party officeholders must step out of leadership positions. They don’t need to resign their office — that should be up to the voters in their state or district and there are many good men and women worthy of retention. The senior members, however, must no longer hold the leadership positions in Congress or the reins of internal functions of the party. If the party wants a chance to regain the allegiance of conservative voters they must come to grips with the fact that completely new leadership is absolutely required. The tea party movement exists because of their shortcomings and they are not invited to the table.
It would be a mistake to single out an individual or two to replace when it is the senior party apparatus in total that lacks resolve and leadership. Witness the inability to come to grips with an ineffective and counterproductive party chairman, a purely internal party matter. Why no action? Could it be because he is black and, as usual, we don’t want to appear racist? Very possible. These guys are like the moles in a whack-a-mole game except that you don’t need to whack them when they come up to speak; merely looking at them sternly makes them scurry back down the hole. What they need to understand and accept, however, is that precious few will ever believe that next time they will keep their heads up and take a hit or two when that is required.
The GOP needs a whole new face and personality. Younger, more aggressive, and more willing political combatants are needed to stand and fight unapologetically for a set of principles. There are many new entrants that have the potential to energize the base and attract new voters across all demographic lines. For years we have been teased with the up-and-coming leaders of tomorrow, but they must wait their turn in the nose–to-tail path of party progression. No more. New people need to take over — completely and immediately — because there is no faith in the party leadership and almost none in the rest of the incumbents.
The second step the GOP needs to do to win people like me back is to find, proclaim, and unite behind a clear sense of purpose. The American Heritage Dictionary defines purpose as “the object toward which one strives or for which something exists.” To be a purpose, it must be clear and unbending so that everyone knows it to be what determines one’s actions. It is basic and does not change unless the goal is achieved.