How does a political party end up with seventeen candidates for the Presidential nomination, not one of whom has a credible path to the White House? This happens when the core of an organization has collapsed into a starburst of colorful antics and strange characters. Our lack of any coherent or minimally electable leadership signals the triumph of entropy.
This is the end, which is the perfect time to plan the beginning.
No matter what happens next year we have reached the end of a long era in Republican politics marked by the rise of Southern conservatives to dominance. Over the next eight years the Republican Party as we have come to know it will either be reorganized under new leadership and fresh rhetoric, or it will be dissolved and replaced. The Republican Party is too weak to continue to hold its constituent parts together under present alignments.
Running on a combination of policies, candidates, and donors that coalesced forty years ago around problems the country faced sixty years ago, we now find ourselves trapped in a cul de sac. It is now impossible for the party to win the White House absent some epic collapse by the opposing party.
Thanks to the influx of a generation of terrified white Southerners, obsessed with the very real loss of their former cultural, political and economic dominance, the Party of Lincoln has devolved into the primary political expression of white nationalism. Needless to say, white nationalism in this era is a narrow base on which to build a national political party in America.
With its viability compromised, organizational dynamics are going to force the party into an evolutionary break. Many if not most Republicans in positions of authority inside the party are content to utterly dominate politics in the Jim Crow Belt while writing off the rest of the country. That strategy is doomed because it opens up a massive political vacuum, an opportunity too big to ignore, (see Trump, Donald)
In time, that opportunity will be exploited by opponents of the current party infrastructure, either in a successful internal challenge or through a successful challenge from outside the party. A national political party cannot hold itself together on its regional strength in a shrinking geography.
Every credible route back to relevance involves a major reorganization of the party’s core institutions. That will not be easy and it might be impossible. No one can centrally engineer such a change. It will have to develop out of a collection of initiatives rising from many different quarters. In order to succeed, it will have to produce results in each of these seven areas:
Ideology – Democrats have demonstrated for decades that a political party can succeed without a unified ideological basis. Republicans have been more rigidly focused on ideology than is probably healthy. That said, there must be some general philosophical lodestar around which a coalition can coalesce. Republicans are operating under a policy template that was growing dated thirty years ago. An update will be critical. This is one of the areas that The Politics of Crazy was written to address.
Pundits – Imagine for a moment that the issue most discussed in Republican policy circles was the regulatory response to Uber and Airbnb rather than “anchor babies.” In that atmosphere, how would the odds of a Republican victory differ from what we currently see? A pundit class with the barest awareness of urban issues and some minimal openness to minority concerns could open up the Republican policy template.
Think Tanks – It is very difficult to build credible policy absent the influence of smart people who work out the details. Our infrastructure of policy institutes and researchers has been utterly perverted until it is impossible for Republicans to find sound, reality-based advice on policy matters. Candidates who want help building sound legislation are trapped between lobby groups and ideologically blindered “think tanks” with no concern for real-world outcomes.
Donors – It is very unlikely that a fresh wave of relevant Republican leadership is going to emerge from a wave of small donations. Just as the Koch brothers have dedicated half their lives and a chunk of their fortunes to foster the spread of disastrous public policy, new donors will have to step forward to bankroll efforts to build a more credible Republican infrastructure. Those donors are probably sitting in their Napa Valley vineyard right now reading the New York Time (on their iPad) in disgust. They are out there. Someone needs to get them connected.
Candidates – All across the country’s north and west there are young Republicans in mayor’s offices and state legislatures growing increasingly frustrated with the party’s direction. Stepping up in open dissent looks like a career-limiting move, but they are weary of pretending to care about same-sex marriage and abortion. Too many of them are just quitting rather than launching seemingly impossible internal fights.
New Voters – Needless to say, the most obvious way to solve the problems caused by a narrowing political base is to attract new voters. The country’s largest unclaimed voter pool is the vast mass of urban voters trapped under stale Democratic leadership that takes them for granted. Many of them are black and Hispanic and Asian. At best, Republicans treat them mascots, giving them highly visible spots and favors so long as they refrain from expressing any opinions of their own. At worst, we alienate them with efforts to legislate that Olde Tyme Religion. We have to open the party to their authentic, full participation.
Existing Voters – Republican voters do not actually support the extreme positions being taken by our candidates. More rational, considered positions on key issues would gain far more voter support than our current platform, if we would only offer the public that alternative.
There are moves afoot to address the party’s weaknesses in each of these areas. Unfortunately, those efforts are at a nascent stage and there is no institutional force knitting them together. It is very difficult to bring efforts in any of these categories to critical mass without the help of existing networks. The party itself could provide that institutional support, but the opposite is occurring.
That refusal to sponsor a reform effort is creating a dangerous dynamic for the party. If these reform efforts do reach critical mass without formal Republican sponsorship they may develop as a rival entity rather than a wing of the Republican Party. This has happened to the GOP before and it isn’t pretty.
The next wave of energy on the right may emerge from outside the Republican Party’s institutional framework. Reality-based Republican dissidents will have to start communicating with one another in a manner similar what we’ve seen from the Tea Party. We will have to speak out publicly and take more pointed stances at odds with party orthodoxy. Most of all we need to build new networks through which to coordinate.
This is the end, which is the perfect time to plan the beginning. The end of an era can be upsetting, but it presents opportunities. With a bit of planning and coordination, the best days of the Republican Party may still be ahead of us.