The Demise of the GOP?

I grew up Republican. My parents were active in the local party apparatus. My father even had a weekly radio program broadcast in Siskiyou County (California). I expect the parents of most of my friends were Republicans as well -- at least in the 1960s. Back then there still remained a strong centrist portion of the party. Nelson Rockefeller, Edward Brooke, Mark Hatfield, Gerald Ford, etc. This was the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Indeed, this was the party of Teddy Roosevelt -- a key Progressive politician of the early 20th century. It was the party through which African Americans first gained access to the political system.

I long ago left the GOP (back when I was a student at an Evangelical seminary). I did so because I had begun to realize that the modern GOP was changing, that it was becoming narrower and focused on just a couple of social issues, plus the policy of cutting taxes for the wealthy. The defeat of Lincoln Chaffee in Rhode Island (at the hands of his own party) and the switch of Arlen Specter to the Democrats in Pennsylvania has put moderate Republicans on the endangered species list. With the exception of Maine and one senator from New Hampshire, the Republican Party in New England is essentially dead.

With this as background I found Christine Todd Whitman's editorial piece interesting. She's calling for the rebirth of centrist Republican principles, which she defines as:

In the coming election cycle, we have the opportunity to remind the nation that our party is committed to such important values as fiscal restraint, less government interference in our everyday lives, environmental policies that promote a balanced approach between protection and economic interest, and a foreign policy that is engaged with the rest of the world. The responsibility of ensuring that the party follows the right path lies with those moderates who are willing to work to make it happen. I anticipate that centrists will convene in the coming days to discuss how we can return the party to the sensible middle.

The former governor of New Jersey has a right to be concerned. The GOP has become a party dearth of ideas, a party of no, and unfortunately a party whose public face has become a collection of what I consider to be clowns -- Newt, Rush, Sean H., oh and the torturer-in-chief Dick Cheney. It would be nice if there was a more centrist GOP -- although I'm a Democrat, I don't relish a one party state. But, I don't expect change happening very quickly.


Anonymous said…
It should be interesting. They are scrambling.

You may be suprised- Early in the primaries I supported Ron Paul (with money, first time ever!) because he was the only one saying what I wanted to hear about war. Including Obama.

Anyway, Christine's a piece of work too, but I guess even she recoiled against Cheney's agenda for torturing nature.

David Mc
Although it is possible--more than I would have believed even last year--that the GOP goes the way of the Whigs and completely disappears, I think it likely to recover. However, if it does recover, I expect it to take 2 more election cycles ('10 and '12) to begin moving in the right direction. They could be in the wilderness for some time. Remember that after '68, Democrats lost 5 of the next 6 presidential elections, but finally managed to get our act together.

On the presidential level, the GOP may already be on the verge of being no longer viable nationally: They haven't won the popular vote since 1988. Because of Ross Perot, this was obscured in '92 and '96 when Clinton only won pluralities rather than clear majorities of the popular vote. But he won both the popular and electoral votes in large numbers.

In 2000, Gore won the popular vote (and maybe FL too, we'll never know), but the Supreme Court decisiion gave the electoral college to Bush. In '04, Bush MAY have won the popular vote, but there was enough voting machine irregularities that this will never be certain--but this only works by keeping the race very close. In '08, the popular and electoral votes were a landslide for Obama.

We are watching the GOP virtually disappear from New England--once its stronghold. It is dominant now only in the South (and Democrats made inroads there in the last 2 election cycles), Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. It is losing ground everywhere else.

The problem for the GOP is that folk like Whitman and Peggy Noonan, and others can see what needs to be done, but they cannot get there. The GOP made 2 Faustian bargains that are now killing them. The first was in '65 after the Voting Rights Act. With this move, the Democratic Party broke its own Faustian bargain with the segregationists (and '68 watched the complete destruction of the FDR coalition). After '65, the Democrats were no longer a strange combination of progressives and segregationists. The Republicans actively courted the fleeing white segregationists beginning with Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and continuing when Ronald Reagan began his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, MS (site of the murder of civil rights workers Goodman, Shwerner, and Cheney) and gave a speech emphasizing "states rights," which was the battle cry of the segregationists. It was code. But this Faustian bargain only worked as long as white people are in the majority--and that demographic is ending fast (even in the South).

The second Faustian bargain was made in 1980 with the Religious Right. But that works only as long as the RR is dominant. Its not as dead as segregationist power is, but that demographic too is losing ground. See your Pew Study posting and similar recent studies. The weakening of this demographic means that the wedge issues of abortion, gay rights, the death penalty, and church-state issues, don't have the power they once did. (The only wedge issue that remains strong is gun control--in which the nation is actually more conservative now than just a few years ago. The GOP seems poised to make torture their new wedge issue, but THAT will backfire on them quickly if they aren't careful.)

To make a comeback, the GOP must reject these bargains. They must reject the white supremacists clearly. African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, etc. are much more politically diverse than their current voting patterns suggest. But to woo them into the GOP fold takes a desire to really work for racial justice--and that alienates the white supremacists that still dominate the GOP's base.

Illustration: Karl Rove can read demographics. On his advice, Bush began courting the rising Hispanic demographic--and with some initial success. Many Hispanics are culturally conservative and, thus, not in favor of same-sex marriage, gun control, church-state separation, or abortion. But when the GOP rejected immigration reform, it lost the momentum gained and the Hispanics went back to the Democratic Party. The message of "You're not welcome" trumped everything else.

Likewise with the 2nd Faustian bargain. Some in the GOP now want to drop opposition to same-sex marriage, to gays openly serving in the military, to workplace discrimination, etc. They know they have to appeal to those for whom the Religious Right is toxic. But, the religious right, like the white supremacists, are too much of the remaining base. They can't break away to attract independents without alienating those who donate most of the money, knock on doors, canvass, etc.

So, every time the GOP tries to do what is necessary to grow again, it angers what is left of its base and backtracks to apologize and grovel--which turns off others once more. It's a vicious circle.

But if the GOP does disappear, we will not have 1 party rule for long. Either another conservative party will replace it (maybe the Libertarians?) or the Democrats will split in two. We see the seeds of that possibility already in the tensions between the progressive caucus and the Blue Dog caucus.
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