Sunday, October 30th, 2016
By Reed Galen
As our tortuous campaign season is finally concluding, the conversation about the future of the Republican Party and conservatives in America is just beginning. It is a discussion absolutely worth having — and there are some stark, terribly uncomfortable realities 2016 has made us face. The GOP that many of us grew up with is dead. It will not return. We should bury it and its attendant zombies deep inside a lead-lined pit so that none of its current noxious radiation seeps out.
After writing several pieces on the future of the American conservative party, a number of Democrats pointed out, rather pointedly, that the nationalism and nativism that’s come to fruition this year is not a bug, but a feature of the GOP in the last 50 or so years. Whether anyone knew that the “Southern Strategy” of 1968 and beyond would eventually lead us to a place where we would become the old, white, angry party is hard to say — most of the architects have passed into history.
Over those five decades, Republicans spent too much time burning bridges and breaking promises.
Addition by subtraction is never a workable model for a political party, whose job is ostensibly to elect like-minded people to public office. The GOP has assiduously alienated African Americans, Latinos, women, the LGBT community, everyone who didn’t look like us or live like us. If the opposite of love is indeed indifference, than our ignorance of the hopes, dreams and fears of inner city black communities, it’s hard to see how we could have displayed more apathy over the years.
We have forgotten what nearly every man, woman and parent wants: A better life for their children than they were able to enjoy. Color, religion and orientation do not factor into whether you desperately want your kid to go to a better school or earn a better wage — those things are universal.
What is so sad and disappointing is that if Republicans had done any sort of true outreach to and/or work with the groups who now vote against us by 90% or so, is that statistics should have helped us capture a significant portion of those communities. If we know that African Americans make up 13% of the US population, we can extrapolate that not everyone started out believing in a far-left progressive worldview.
Instead of working to find a way to help them find a better path, we ignored them, called them “Welfare Queens” or outright pretended they don’t exist. Even now, the ongoing plight of a city like Chicago is not illustrated as a need for radically different thinking, but as an excuse to deny any new ideas on guns in America.
We’ve long known that Latinos are devoted Catholics who believe in strong family bonds — and are willing to work hard to make it in America. Instead, we’ve spent decades telling them they’re not welcome here, whether they’re natural born or not. The GOP has too often referred to mothers or grandfathers in terms of being hardened criminals for crossing the border to make a better life for their families. This is not an invitation to amnesty: But the idea that we will some how roundup and deport 11 million people is as un-American an idea as we’ve come up with.
Establishment Republicans (the front of the class) have for too-long used activist conservatives (the back of the class) to achieve elective office only to ignore campaign promises and conservative ideology for being part of the Washington Machine. Leadership, donors and operatives (this author included) have long complained about having to deal with “true believers” but we have never shied away from producing television ads or dropping mail pieces that we knew would inflame their baser passions in the service of our campaigns.
When Donald Trump describes the rigged game in DC, he’s not wrong; that truth-telling is likely among the only things keeping his campaign on life support with 11 days to go. Like any good batch of self-styled elites, knowing what is best for the little people is not an exclusively Democratic or liberal mindset. The conservative masses, who first truly awoke in 2010, rose up against their betters with a giant, orange middle finger in the form of Trump; our own Frankenstein’s monster who’s neither Republican nor conservative but became the tribune for tens millions of forgotten and frustrated Americans.
The issues American conservatism faces are philosophical but not purely so. To read an excellent recitation of the plight conservative intellectuals, read Matthew Continetti’s latest piece, describing a time when conservative leaders actually sat and had reasoned, intellectual arguments with one another on issues of prime importance to the GOP. We have traded such discourse for screaming, and carrying on.
We’ve traded Bill Buckley and Ronald Reagan for Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Talk radio personalities, who sit atop their radio towers raining down invective are perhaps the worst actors of the bunch. Rather than hewing to any sort of coherent philosophy, they prey on the anger of their audiences, changing tack as their listeners find new and different things to extol as the end of the Republic.
Where to now? There are several paths available, and all should be explored in earnest. In Utah this year, a little known candidate, Evan McMullin, is making a play to win the Beehive State’s six electoral votes. If he does so, he will be the first third party candidate to capture electors since 1968. He, his running mate Mindy Finn (and old friend and colleague) and his core team of talented political operatives are already looking to the future. Six electoral votes does not a President make, but it does plant a flag and in the words of General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr, “We’ll start the war from right here!”
Since the mid-1990s, when Republicans began gobbling up state legislative seats by the dozen, the GOP has used its majorities to gerrymander districts to the extent that no one other than extreme partisans of either party can win, chipping away at “swing districts” and ensuring that the primary contest is the true decider of the election, months before voters of all parties (and non-parties) have a chance to decide.
To begin chipping away at the districts currently held, or likely to be held by those of the pro-Trump, alt-right persuasion, it will take a concerted and expensive effort to convince moderately conservative, low and mid-propensity voters to actually show in Republican primary contests. If we want to change the party from the inside, the fastest way to do it is by electing people who believe as you do.
Then there is the total abandonment of the GOP by prospective candidates. Forgoing damaging and ugly primary campaigns, independents can qualify for the ballot in any number of ways, giving voters three viable options on Election Day in November, rather than being stuck, as we are now, with two candidates too few people like or see as legitimate contenders for high office. A great deal of additional research must be conducted, but for independent voters and many Republicans younger than 45, the “R” behind someone’s name may no longer be enough to get them to pull the lever for the home team.
Per ABC’s @MatthewJDowd, in the United States Senate, for example, it would only take two or three more declared independent members to begin making a real difference. If they all agreed not to caucus with either party, they could form a bloc all on their own, especially in a closely divided upper chamber, in which they would be crucial to achieving cloture and ultimately passage of legislation.
Whatever this new movement ultimately becomes, whether its new growth within the GOP proper or a new party altogether, it cannot be a creature of Washington, DC. It cannot be just the party of the operatives, the donors and the professional superstructure. It must be an organic, citizen-focused movement that takes hard looks at many of the issues with which Americans, individual citizens, contend and develop a philosophy and ultimately governing ethos that recognizes what government can and should do directly, and how it can and should assist individuals and communities to achieve their goals.
It cannot be a wholly owned subsidiary of any particular special interest group, whether it is Wall Street or K Street; Pharma or Labor. We need a lot more Mr. and Mrs. Smiths going to Washington and a lot less former chiefs of staff taking up the seats of their former bosses.
But as Mayor Rahm Emmanuel would say, let’s not let a crisis go to waste. The benefit of reaching the bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up. We should take advantage of this political and ideological nadir to begin building a new, optimistic movement that can build trust with those we’ve ignored — on both sides of the river. Rarely does there appear to be a time when so much of the American population is looking for a new direction, new leadership and new options in their politics. Let’s not waste this chance. Let’s get to work.
Copyright 2016. Jedburghs, LLC.
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