“Voters liked Ike—but not the GOP.” – David W. Reinhard
The GOP must die. The Grand Old Party is over and unsalvageable. The name finds its origin in the post-Civil War era as the party that saved the Union, but whatever positive connotations may have come with the GOP moniker are dead and gone now. Today, GOP conjures images of gray hairs at the country club and board meetings at Halliburton, and it seems the only thing it is interested in saving is the status quo. There was a time when these perceptions could be dismissed as partisan pejoratives, but at some point, Republican Party leadership chose to embrace and embody the characterization. Fool me twice, shame on me.
As of late, GOP legacies like Paul Ryan and Liz Cheney have decided that they will draw a line in the sand and say “you’re either with us or against us.” Denouncing the effective but unpolished populism of Donald Trump, they paint the future of the Republican Party as bleak should it continue down this path of uncouth but wildly successful policy. The answer, of course, is a resounding “bye Felicia!” Believing themselves the arbiters of conservatism, they have determined that populism has no place in the Republican Party. By their standards, conservatism amounts to congeniality and infinite surrender. Like a toothless dog that threatens to gum you to death, the GOP has no bite. And I’m left questioning whether it wants to?
Time and again the GOP is swift to embrace the grassroots enthusiasm, fundraising, and voter recruitment efforts, but want none of the policy demands of the foot soldiers of the party. With Joe Biden’s paint still fresh on the walls of the White House in January, the RNC began sending out fundraising emails imploring party members to fund the advancement of Trump’s America. Trump for his part sent a cease and desist to the RNC demanding they divest from the Trump name in their efforts. The party that couldn’t be bothered to mount a legitimate defense of Trump or his supporters is happy to solicit funds to advance candidates who will toe the party line and extinguish the torch of America First. This GOP feels a lot more like controlled opposition than a legitimate alternative to the statism of the Left.
Populism is not foreign to the Republican Party. In its history, perhaps only Teddy Roosevelt and Donald Trump have been elected on the Republican ticket. Still, other candidates like Ron Paul or Pat Buchanan wielded effective ideological influence on the party’s grassroots members. Given the active nature of the grassroots, a party that wishes to exert influence in the national conversation cannot ignore its most politically active members. Because populism is beholden first and foremost to the people and not the party, there is a measure of fluidity that allows the candidate to bring new voices into the fold that strict adherence to party platforms does not. The downside to the populist proposition is question marks around adherence to ideological tenets of the party. Considering the nature of the politicians and their duplicitous tendencies, this does not seem much of a departure from the status quo.
The grassroots of the Republican Party are nothing if not tenacious. Like a predator testing the electric fences for weak spots, the grassroots have consistently mounted offensives against the GOP establishment, only to be rebuffed by the deep pockets and entrenched bureaucracy of Washington, D.C. At times they have found a measure of success in elevating their strongest dark horse candidates such as Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump. Re-emerging from the Paleoconservative/Neoconservative schism was the Tea Party movement of the 2010s, which sought a renewed commitment to fiscal conservatism and a rejection of the offensive wars of the George W. Bush era. From that class of politicians, we saw the rise of several Goldwater-style conservatives, who by remaining true to themselves have seen a measure of success and staying power. Conservatives like Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ron Johnson have pushed to the head of the influence pack in terms of the public conversation, though Johnson emerged as a vocal leader later in the Trump years and has yet to declare for re-election in 2022.
Still, others have reverted to their natural roots and find themselves on the waning end of political sway. Scott Brown of Massachusetts lasted a mere three years in office. The anti-Trump Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has declared his retirement, and Marco Rubio finds himself on the outs with strict Constitutionalists who prefer less of a war hawk. #NeverTrump moderates like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker saw their flames extinguished, and some milquetoast moderates who remain, like Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, or Lisa Murkowski, find themselves increasingly at odds with their own party. The emergence of MAGA has done nothing if it has not exposed the establishment for what it is: a dying power structure lashing out in self-defense.
Having exhausted their support from corporations and the religious right, the GOP establishment is now in a race to the bottom of identity politics. They call it recruitment, but I call it debasement. Whether promoting record numbers of female or minority candidates or elevating the Caitlyn Jenners of the political world, the GOP has lifted a page from the Democrat playbook. The American Left is quick to pounce on conservative minority candidates as tokenism, and, the way in which they are paraded around specifically on their minority status, I have a hard time disagreeing with the label. Identity politics is the entire electoral strategy of the American Left, so if anyone knows tokenism it’s the Left. All of this is not to say that all minority candidates of the conservative persuasion are token candidates, but touting ethnicity, gender, or sexuality as an electable virtue certainly fits the definition. The GOP wants to emulate the success of Donald Trump’s appeal to minorities, which saw the highest minority Republican support since 1960. They are engaging classes of people based on identity instead of promoting good policy. In doing so, the GOP eliminates any modicum of separation between themselves and their counterparts on the Left.
With razor-thin margins for error in government, the current class of GOP establishment consistently fails their constituents. Whether it’s a failed impeachment born of the opposition, or a last-act thumbs down by John McCain on the repeal of the ACA, what remains of the GOP establishment lashes out like a cornered dog. It’s past time to put Ol’ Yeller down. If the Republican party is to survive, it needs to return to its ideological roots and put personal animus aside. It must weed out its phonies and frauds and empower its grassroots to take up its cause. It must listen to its devotees and adapt accordingly. The Republican Party has always been a party of superior ideas, only lacking effective voices to see them to fruition. If the Republican Party is to survive, the GOP must die.
Photo by Julian Hochgesang https://unsplash.com/photos/R0JXN80sjRc