A vital opposition party being essential in a two-party system, the fate of the Republican Party will deserve almost as much attention as the activities of the newly dominant Democratic Party.
Collapse of the Republican Party
Defectors from the Party
Door #1: Purge the Party’s membership, keeping only the faithful
Door #2: reflection and rebuilding
A historical note on the two Party system
1. Collapse of the Republican Party
After a quarter-century in power, to varying degrees, the Republican Party not only faces defeat but disintegration, political and intellectual. The Administrations of the two Bushes have ripped the Party from its modern foundation forged by Barry Goldwater and William Buckley in the 1960’s. A massive tax increase and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 under Bush Sr., the latter of the largest expansions of Federal power for decades — until Bush Jr. Bush Jr’s contempt for civil liberties (other than gun control), massive spending and deficits (a Republican tradition since Reagan), massive expansion of government power, pro-open borders, and enthusiasm for foreign wars.
McCain’s erratic political history — spun as being a “maverick” — gave few signs of change to this mess, other than his steadfast enthusiasm for foreign wars.
As a result the party has almost no doctrinal coherence — what does it stand for? The only strong, consistent policy is opposition to abortion — a long-term aspect of its platform that has over decades has had little impact on public policy. Probably because of the strong public consensus for a position between the extreme views held by the two major parties.
Politically the party has alienated many of its core constituencies. McCain’s long-held contempt for the “religious right”. Bush Jr’s and McCain’s strong support for open borders –opposing one of the most strongly held beliefs of the party core. Most of all, Bush Jr’s disastrous management of the domestic economy and our foreign wars.
Note: before commenting that we have won in Iraq, please explain what we have “won” — in terms of American national objectives.
2. Defectors from the Party
A tangible indication of the Party’s internal weakness is the defection of so many conservatives from McCain-Palin ticket. This has few parallels in American history. Here is a partial list of well-known conseratives or Republicans (distinct but overlapping categories) who have expressed serious concerns about Gov Palin’s fitness as a potential President — some to the point of outright support for Obama.
- Christopher Buckley (source)
- David Frum and Kathleen Parkerat National Review Online.
- Peggy Noonan (President Reagan’s speechwriter) at the Wall Street Journal.
- Colin Powell.
- Kenneth Adelman, long-time diplomat under several Republican administrations (source; bio).
- Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and former Securities and Exchange Commissioner William Donaldson (source).
- Douglas Kmiec, diplomat, long-time conservative (source; bio).
- Lawrence Eagleburger, Sec of State under Bush Sr. and whose endorsement is often cited by McCain, speaking on NPR (AP story, recording) (bio). Later, his walkback (quote here; video here).
- Ken Duberstein, President Reagan’s Chief of Staff, on CNN (bio).
How will the Republican Party’s core react?
3. Door #1: Purge the Party’s membership, keeping only the faithful
Door #1 is to purge all but the faithful remnant. Key Republicans are already digging holes for the stakes and gathering firewood. Two examples follow.
“Sarah Palin’s Future“, Fred Barnes (Executive Editor), Weekly Standard, 27 October 2008 — “Alaska’s most valuable resource.” Excerpt:
Palin, by the way, is unsure about her ultimate role in national politics even if McCain wins, but it’s bound to be more complicated if he loses.
“I don’t know what kind of role the Republican party would want me to play,” she told me. “In the past, I have not been one to be considered for anything by the hierarchy of the party. Certainly not in my state. In some sense, I ran against my party.”
Palin remains skeptical of Republicans. “I would love to promote the party ideals if we’re going to live out the ideals and maybe allow other American voters to understand what the principles of the party are,” she says. “We’ve got to be assured we have enough people in the party who will live out those ideals and it’s not just rhetoric. Otherwise, I’d be wasting my time. There are a lot of things I would and should be doing.”
Rush Limbaugh spoke more explicitly during his 24 October show: ”Good Riddance, GOP Moderates.” Excerpt:
This is Sarah Palin to Fred Barnes; and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the rebuilding of the conservative movement — even if there is no direct leader in charge of making it happen, it will happen by default because it’s going to have to. Even if McCain wins, Colin Powell going to come running back? Is Bill Weld going to come running back? Hell, yes, they will! Hell, yes, they’ll come running back. They’ll do everything they can to stay in the circle of power. Of course they’ll come running back. All these people are out for self-interest. That’s what Sarah Palin is saying. She’s not in it for self-interest. The party had better be what the party is or I don’t have any future in it.
We’re going to rebuild it even if McCain wins. We’re going to have to. These people, these moderates who wanted the big tent, they have taken the party exactly where they said they wanted it to be — and when it got there, these little cowards jumped the ship! I have lost all respect for these people.
And, folks, when I said at the beginning of this that I wanted to turn around and pat myself on the back, it’s because I (and so many like me) knew this exact thing was going to happen and tried to warn people about it during the primaries and so forth. I am not happy it’s happened except for one reason. We flushed ‘em out. We found out they’re not really Republicans and they’re by no means conservatives, and now they’re gone. Now the trick is to keep ‘em out.
What might be the results of this course:
(1) Becoming irrelevant extremists, like the Green and Socialist parties, as both membership and (equally or more important) funding dwindle. Few Americans, and even fewer in our ruling elites, have much interest in losers. No matter how pure their ideology.
(2) The center of gravity to America’s political ideological spectrum shifts left. In most of America the primaries become the key contests in local, State, and national elections, are they are in so many areas today (due to both local political dominance plus gerrymandering).
4. Door #2: reflection and rebuilding
The second option would be far more difficult. What did the Party do wrong? How should its platform change to better express its beliefs for the 21st century? How can it offer something to America that is more than a weak echo of the Democratic Party’s solutions, but not policies attractive only to a small extreme?
5. A historical note on the two Party system
For most of American history the two Party’s were divided by cross-cutting fractures, as a result of the Civil War making the South solidly Democratic terrain. Many of the most conservative factions were in the Democratic Party.
After Johnson’s “New Society” much of the South changed affiliation, but this gave a racist tinge to the Republicans. This weakened or even polluted the foundation laid by Goldwater and Buckley.
Now Obama gives new life to the Democratic Party, but also an opportunity for a fresh start to the Republican Party. America needs a strong second party to provide not just alternative policies, but an alternative view of what America should be. Are the Republicans up to this challenge?
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For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:
Some solutions, ways to reform America:
- Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
- Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008
- Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
- Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
- Fixing America: elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
- Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
- Fixing America: solutions — elections, revolt, passivity, 18 August 2008