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Whither, Republicans?

The Democrats lost the election bigtime, far more than the Republicans won it. As a Democrat I naturally worry more about my own party and what we should be doing, but that’s far from the most interesting story. After all, the Republicans inherited the vacuum amid 37% turnout and approval ratings for Congress at around 14%.

That’s not a win, it’s a default. And it’s not good to have power without any strong mandate.

What on earth should the Republicans do about it? There are two main schools of thought. One is to show that they deserve to be in government by demonstrating competence, the other is to keep pounding the Democrats and show how bad the other guys are. Governing seems like the obvious choice, but the landscape that has to be crossed is full of landmines. This might be an interesting two years.

William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review.  He was always a bit askew.

William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review. He was always a bit askew.

While looking for good articles on the options, I came across two from the National Review that make for a good contrast. Given the passing of William F. Buckley, and for that matter a conservative Republican wing that is interested in actually governing, the National Review may not be as influential as it used to be. But it clearly represents the thinking of Establishment Republicans – the ones that have to pull the party together.

I don’t know of a good source for influential, unified Tea Party Republican thought. If you have one, please let me know.

The first article is by the usually reliable Charles Krauthammer. If you can get past his partisan bluster, the guy is a solid thinker and a real pragmatist. He likes getting things done. His advice to the party is explicit:

(The election) was a negative judgment, not an endorsement of the GOP. The prize for winning is nothing but the opportunity for Republicans to show that they can govern — the opportunity to seize the national agenda.

Five weeks ago, I suggested a series of initiatives that would be like the 1994 “Contract with America,” but this time post facto. It’s not rocket science. Mitch McConnell, the incoming Senate majority leader, and House speaker John Boehner are already at work producing such an agenda.

Charles Krauthammer. This is about as close as he gets to smiling.

I like this for many reasons, none of them partisan. Of the many items he believes needs to be tackled most are reform-minded – hitting the tax code, closing corporate profit depatriation, and restarting Simpson-Bowles. As much as I think that there is an opening for the Democratic Party to become a party of wholesale reform, the natural place for this is in the Republican Party.

No matter how it gets started, major reform is essential. The world is changing through globalism, technology, and generational turnover in ways that we are not even close to grasping. Interjecting reform into our national political dialogue is essential, and probably something like a genie that cannot be put back once it is let out. Yes, let’s do this.

But there is a trap for the Republican Party if it tries to govern. The divisions between Establishment and Tea Party wings will necessarily show in any real policy debate, as discussed in this article by the unnamed Editors of National Review:

If Republicans proclaim that they have to govern now that they run Congress, they maximize the incentive for the Democrats to filibuster everything they can — and for President Obama to veto the remainder. Then the Democrats will explain that the Republicans are too extreme to get anything done.

A prove-you-can-govern strategy will inevitably divide the party on the same tea-party-vs.-establishment lines that Republicans have just succeeded in overcoming.

Yes, this is the worst picture of Ted Cruz I could find.  Sue me.

Yes, this is the worst picture of Sen. Cruz I could find. Sue me.

Some of that strain showed when Sen. Ted Cruz reflexively came out against Net Neutrality within minutes of Obama being for it. His statement that “Net neutrality is Obamacare for the internet” was relentlessly ridiculed across the ‘net by everyone who cares about openness. The traps for Republicans are even bigger than the National Review realizes – the party is completely not used to governing, but very used to throwing bombs. And let’s not forget the Libertarian wing of the party, their big wild card that keeps them from totally losing the youth vote.

Which will it be – a Republican Party that governs or something like a mob that keeps throwing bombs? So far, we have only seen the latter. I expect that this is what will win out despite the leadership trying desperately to take control of their caucus.

This might be a fun two years after all – unless, of course, you actually care for the future of the United States.

18 thoughts on “Whither, Republicans?

  1. I don’t think you can put this entirely on the Republican party. Democrats could do a lot more if they were united around a solid plan and would put pressure on the republican leadership. There is almost none now. The stalemate is about two parties that are completely spent and have no leadership at all so you can’t fault just one.

    • Yes, but the total collapse of government comes from a complete unwillingness to bargain and compromise – and we have to blame that on the Republican Party leadership.

    • Yes, that is true. I don’t think the Republicans have any good options unless they can keep themselves focused. That seems to be the hard part. The Tea Party is already gearing up for an utterly pointless fight on Net Neutrality, for example.

  2. CNN:

    “President Obama has asked his national security team for another review of the U.S. policy toward Syria after realizing that ISIS may not be defeated without a political transition in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al Assad, senior US officials and diplomats tell CNN.”

  3. There’s really no hope for the Republican Party. The Establishment deliberately changed convention rules to lock out insurgent candidates for President, and they’ve used other means to do the same at the Senate, House, and state legislature levels. (Governor’s races are an exception, and insurgents can win.)

    The “vetted” candidates for the Republican Party all worship at the altar of corrupt thieving CEOs… which isn’t actually the problem. The problem is that those CEOs have drunk the Kool-Aid — they believe their own propaganda, — and their propaganda involves completely non-functional economic and ecological policies. But they’re true believers, and facts don’t influence them.

    In short, the Republicans who can get nominated (to anything other than Governor) are firmly committed to policies which are inherently unable to work — which are guaranteed to lead to destruction. Anyone who deviates from these insane policies is thrown out of the party — look at Charlie Crist.

    Brownback is a fairly dramatic example of a Republican who has committed himself and his party to the utter destruction of his state, Kansas. (Of course that’s not what he thinks he’s doing, but it is the result.)

    The Republican Party is a dead party walking. Because they’ve committed to policies that can’t possibly work, they can’t actually win; all they can do is make a mess.

    The problem is that the Democratic Party is, for the most part, not offering alternatives. Obama’s policies are 90% George W. Bush policies, which is completely insane, but there you are. Governor Cuomo of New York, a supposed Democrat, actually deliberately gerrymandered the state Senate in favor of the Republicans.

    This can only be resolved with the emergence of a powerful third party which knocks the Republican Party out and becomes the “second party”. This has happened before. Look up the Whigs prior to 1860.

    The more unpleasant possibility is that the Republican Party dismantles democracy in the US (heck, they committed one coup already, back in 2000) — in that case they will be overthrown by civil war, or possibly palace coup. Because their policies *still* won’t work, so people will eventually demand their overthrown.

    • Agree all around. The Republicans face a demographic problem as their voters are very old now. It is entirely up to the Democrats to offer the alternative, IMHO.

  4. …. I’ve been trying to figure out what the successful third party is going to be, and I’m thinking it’s going to be a “small business” backed party, a sort of Libertarian-Green fusion.

    The Republicans, of course, hate small business (their core mission is to crush small business for the benefit of big business), while the Democrats don’t seem to care either way about small business…. this leaves a power bloc with a decent amount of money, but with no natural party to vote for.

    • The Free Democrats in Germany are my kind of party, and I’d like to see something like that here. But we have little to no space for more than two parties, sadly.

  5. Indeed, opportunity knocks for both parties. For the GOP it’s find your center and govern — and be relevant, or just keep obstructing for ideological (and most illogical) reasons. They won the battle of making everyone so miserable they voted for change just for the sake of it. For the Democrats; wake up, rise up the challenge and improve your messaging and effectiveness. I voted my conscience this time and went Green Party. It’s awful to watch the mainstream parties destroy each other along with the country.

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