For the past several months, polls indicate that a solid majority of Republican voters plan to support Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Ben Carson. Congress under Republican leadership has devolved into a freak show of conspiracy hunters and religious eccentrics, utterly incapable of managing the nation’s affairs. Delusional rhetoric on immigrants and abortion providers is starting to get people killed.
At the national level, the Party of Lincoln is now the Party of Fox News. No Republican of any power or prominence is resisting the tide of crazy sweeping over the party. There is no sign of any relief on the way.
Even for a “Lifer” this is a tough environment. Under these circumstances how can any responsible person remain active in the Republican Party?
As conditions grow more extreme the usual explanations ring hollow. Working for change “from the inside” does, at some point, risk devolving into an excuse. Our collective need for healthy partisan competition does not justify supporting a party that cannot contribute to public discourse. We have reached a point at which any Republican with a conscience needs to be making contingency plans.
Along with those plans, we owe the rest of the country an answer to these two questions:
– Why do you still consider yourself a Republican?
– Under what circumstances would you abandon the party?
Those questions carry a moral urgency that cuts through old loyalties and outweighs the personal investment in political networks built up across a career. There is a point at which my individual distance from the moral character of an institution closes. Conditions can become so extreme that “Not all Republicans” ceases to offer absolution.
Why do I continue to participate in the Republican Party as a local precinct committeeman and advocate? Local factors play the largest role as described at length here, but they feed into the wider picture of what the Republican Party could and should be, described here.
More important than those local conditions and longer-term policy aspirations is the opportunity that may emerge from the party’s pending implosion. Absurd as these national candidates are, their extremism may finally break the party, creating an unprecedented space in which to rebuild.
Faced with an institutional breakdown, we may have a unique opportunity to build a modern organization, disconnected from historical baggage. There is a chance that a retooled Republican Party could emerge from this shitstorm far better positioned for the 21st century than the Democrats. Strange as it may sound, for the next year or two the GOP may offer the most exciting environment for a policy reformer in modern American politics.
Next year’s election is shaping up to be a historic train wreck for the GOP. With control of the White House and Senate beyond any reasonable grasp and with a raving extremist at the top of the ticket, even our House majority is in question. Good riddance. Our existing leadership has brought us nothing but lunacy and dysfunction.
Our greatest challenges come from managing the externalities of global capitalism. How do we cope with the costs that are not factored into free market transactions for energy, health care, finance, education and other critical assets and activities? Our current crop of Republicans responds to these issues by pretending they do not exist. Climate change is a hoax. Tax credits can deliver access to health care. Deregulation and government apathy will bring the best outcomes in banking, energy, trade, education and every other field of endeavor.
By contrast, Democrats would seek to keep pace with the rising complexity of all of these fields by building enormous new bureaucracies to track, manage and control them. It is an effort born of 19th century Weberian bureaucracy that worked fairly well under Industrial capitalism. Faced with the exponentially accelerating complexity of a 21st century knowledge economy, these tactics are doomed to crumble under their own weight.
Democrats cannot pivot to build a new generation of government because they are hopelessly tied to the entrenched interests of the last era. Building a leaner, smarter government that accomplishes more than governments have done in the past under a cheaper, faster framework is the challenge of our generation.
A bloated bureaucracy inextricably tied to the institutions it is meant to regulate. Elections financed almost entirely by secret money beyond accountability or review. Unions, especially public employee unions, so politically powerful in their own right that not even their members can restrain them. Urban political machines incapable of accomplishing the simplest public tasks without the expensive grease of patronage and corruption. Research and vision may spawn promising, popular policy solutions to complex problems, but unless we can address these broken institutions, none of these innovations will ever matter.
The only force that can break the smothering power of the 19th and 20th century institutions is either a reformed Republican Party, or a new political organization that emerges from its collapse. Today’s GOP is pursuing none of these goals. Yet, all of these objectives are embedded in the party’s DNA.
Look closely at polling and you discover that beneath the layer of crazy, these priorities remain the bedrock of the party’s identity. A Republican Party closer to the politics of Teddy Roosevelt, George Romney, or even Richard Nixon, would be a far more promising engine of reform than a Clintonian Democratic Party. And let’s be clear, Hilary Clinton’s victory next year virtually guarantees that the next generation of Democrats will be Clintonians, not Sanders or Warren-style social democrats.
Give American voters a real choice between an ownership society and a European-style social democracy and they will choose the ownership society. It simply fits better with the prevailing values of the American public. Republicans have not offered Americans a vision for a 21st century society because we haven’t been able to shed our delusions. Tax cuts are not always the solution. Less government does not always produce more freedom. Environmental protection matters. Justice for those who have suffered discrimination matters. Providing opportunity for poor families matters. Black lives matter.
Offer Republican voters a sound, credible template of solutions for climate change, gun regulation, universal health insurance, tax reform and other tough subjects – without apologies and hedging – and they will not only back it, they will power it into national dominance. Don’t say it can’t work. There is no proof. No one in leadership has attempted such an effort in my lifetime. Republican voters have come to accept that the only alternative to Republican white nationalism is a smothering blanket of Democratic socialist mediocrity. Someone has to muster the courage to give Americans a real choice.
We do not really know what the Republican Party could be if it stopped pandering to racists. It is worth sticking around to try to force us to find the answer. A blueprint for this process is described at this link.
Perhaps these goals sounds unrealistic, but they are worthy of effort…up to a point. Vision is only as good as its relationship to reality. Continuing to press this vision in a GOP infrastructure committed to a different, darker course can become irresponsible. Right now, the Republican Party at the national level is committed to a very dark course.
What conditions would make it necessary to leave? There are a lot of potential answers, but one stands out as particularly relevant and perhaps imminent. If Donald Trump won the nomination and the party actually lined up behind him, then it would be time to leave. Republicans here locally are doing great work, but there are no “good Nazis.” A Trump victory still seems unlikely, but the possibility is too real to be discounted.
Next year’s nominating process should produce fractures large enough for new voices to emerge. Those openings may not materialize. Perhaps instead the party nominates Cruz, lines up solidly behind him, and goosesteps even farther to the right.
The epic failure of a Cruz campaign in 2016 might open yet another window of opportunity. If that opening fails to produce hopeful new developments prior to the next midterm elections than it is probably time to cut bait.
Barring that or a similar result, it still makes sense to remain active in the GOP, fighting to build a 21st century template for the party. In short, I remain convinced that at least for another year or two, there are better prospects for reform and modernization in the GOP than in the Democratic Party. At least the Republicans are close to a major disruption likely to open their infrastructure to new ideas. Conditions are pretty bad, but there is a twinkling of hope that the party of Lincoln can again be worthy of its heritage.