Has the GOP Learned Anything from Recent Electoral Debacles?
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 To the inattentive independent voters they appear as a tired, old, and outdated group of reluctant warriors.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.
Shouldn’t a worthwhile party have a clearly defined and well articulated purpose for being? Something better than avoiding political oblivion or being the party of “not them”? There are so many Democrat initiatives frightening people today: government power and control, fiscal bankruptcy, war, dilution of the American heritage, on and on, all of which are thought to be in direct conflict with the beliefs of the GOP. Isn’t it reasonable to expect a forceful GOP leadership, armed with a strong sense of purpose, would be up front leading the principled opposition both in the chamber and loudly in every public forum? I guess I missed them.
There is a saying: When the trumpeter blows an uncertain note the troops are slow to follow. The GOP lacks both notes and trumpeters and therefore no one is following. A wave of anti-democrat and anti-incumbent voting may benefit them, but as before they will fail in governing without a central purpose.
May I be so bold as to suggest the most obvious one? How about a return to the words of maybe the greatest Republican, Abraham Lincoln, when at Gettysburg he called for us to rededicate ourselves to “a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. “
Our founding principles of freedom, equality, and the rights of the individual are simple, clear, and overwhelmingly desired. A party standing strong on a renewed dedication to liberty of the individual, applied particularly to economic and personal choice issues like health care, is what the nation is shouting for, praying for, and punishing incumbents for not advancing. Most of the voting nation realizes there is no chance to reverse the downward direction of the country without a revival or replacement of the GOP. It is abundantly clear that, with the focus of the people on fiscal and economic issues, there is an overwhelming desire for real Republican Party values to be ascendant. Yet at a time they should be heroes the party continues to thrash about in blind self-doubt.
Leading with purpose means a whole new approach. Instead of saying “vote for us because we oppose ObamaCare!” what should be said is: “We are the party dedicated to individual freedom and ObamaCare is an assault on that freedom. Vote for us because we will do all in our power to defeat it.” Not a small difference. Instead, when the issue of repealing ObamaCare comes up, the GOP’s message is, as usual, muddled and uncertain.
The GOP is supposed to be different, a party driven by principles and beliefs. They desire to be so most times, but they are also woefully inadequate in resolve. At a time when we need strong visible leaders we have Kirks, Snowes, and Grahams. The electorate knows what the GOP is supposed to stand for and they resent the fact that they waiver so easily. This is why Reagan was so popular and why he is so sorely missed.
Finally, every GOP officeholder needs to understand that functional leadership is as a party and without strong unity they can never move forward. As it is today, whenever a GOP member of the Congress makes a strong statement or takes a harder conservative line, like maybe Joe Barton or Jim Bunning, the base cheers wildly while the party leaders run in predictable Pavlovian fashion to publicly denounce their own and to distance themselves from them. In dividing themselves in such a prideless fashion, they again prove the lack of conviction that drives respect for the GOP ever lower despite 70+% disillusionment for the other side. Decide on your purpose, wear it with pride and enthusiasm, and stick together to support each other. People will see and respect that.
A cleaned house; new leadership with courage and unshakeable convictions to principles instead of feigned populism; and a rededication to founding principles, stated proudly and with no apologies everywhere possible by a unified party. Few are enthused by the party as it currently exists, but the time is past right for a revolution within the party -- and without.