Eating Their Own: The Future Of The GOP

Ken AshfordRepublicansLeave a Comment

It seems that everybody is writing their views about where the Republican Party goes from here, now that they are "in the wilderness", without a leader.  It's a given that the GOP has lost its way.

From what I read, the theme seems to be this: in order to re-emerge, the Republican Party needs to return to its roots.

But from what I read, there's strong disagreement about what those roots are.  I'm seeing the developments of two factions though.

The first is that the Republican Party finds itself "in the wilderness" because it is no longer the party of "small government".   This is true especially in the area of fiscal spending.  Under Bush, government spending is at an all-time high.  Cartoonist Steven Greenberg drew a popular campaign cartoon which explains it all:


The Republican Party also cannot lay claim to being the part of "small government" when it engages in wiretapping of its citizens, etc.

So, many pundits are arguing that the GOP needs to return to its "small government" roots.

The second faction is the "religious right", or more aptly, the "social right".  These are people who favor the GOP because of its stance on abortion, affirmative action, gay marriage, guns, etc.  You know the type.

This second faction is at odds with the first faction, because its tenets (often, not always) embrace the antithesis of a "small government".  A government which tells women what they can and can't do with their bodies?  A government which says who can and can't fall in love and get married?  A government in our bedrooms?

For two and a half decades, the GOP has been able to keep both factions within its tent.  That was no small trick.

But it just didn't work this time.  McCain's selection of Sarah Palin was an attempt to rein in the social/religious right.  It succeeded, but in doing so, he lost independents and libertarians and moderates and people just SICK of the religious right agenda.  The country moved to the left, and most people now see the Democrats as being "better" at handling the economy and foreign affairs. 

And I think more and more people are turned off by the emphasis on social issues, like gay marriage.  They're turned off by it even if they are opposed to it, because of what it happening to their homes and wallets.

In short, *I* think the GOP needs to purge itself of the social/religious right.  It is that branch of the GOP which has alienated the moderates and libertarians, who normally fall into the GOP camp at election time, but failed to this time.

The social/religious right simply isn't that large a constituency anymore.  In fact, I don't think they ever were.  They appeared to be a large constituency, but only because they carried large megaphones in the form of people like Jerry Falwell and Laura Ingraham.

It's not that the majority of Americans aren't religious and/or don't care about these issues.  It's just that the mix of religion and politics is a turnoff.  Always has been always will be.  And when the pious religious right seeks to impose their views on others through the government, it has a tendency to alienate.  And this is why the GOP has fallen into disfavor.

Barry Goldwater, for example, would never have embraced the religious right into his Republican party.  He would have seen those people as heretical to the GOP philosophy of a small government which gets out of people's way. 

The current attacks on Palin, I believe, are being brought about by the "elite" of the Republican Party.  It's step one of the religious right purge.  Social conservatives love her, and are already geared up for the Palin 2012 presidential campaign.  But GOP insiders will have none of that.  They know that you turn more voters OFF than ON with that rhetoric. So they're trying to kick her (and by extension, her social conservative supporters) out of the Big Tent. (FWIW, I think that McCain camp attacks on Palin that she "lost the election" for McCain are silly; after all, he picked her!)

The Palin attacks are part of the larger plan of purging, as expressed here:

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) argued that Senate Republicans need to “re-establish what the Republican Party is all about … [and] get back to this big tent Republican Party” that is united on fiscal conservatism. Although Ensign was not ready to call for a break from socially conservative ideologies, he said issues such as abortion or gay rights should not be at the core of the party.

“I think we lost our way on our fundamentals” in recent years, Ensign said, adding that “those are the issue that we can disagree on as a party.”

And of course, social conservatives are trying to kick GOP insiders and "Trojan Horses" like Colin Powell (who supported Obama) out of the Big Tent.  They've even got a name for this operation in the blogosphere — Operation Leper.

As a progressive, it's fun for me to watch Republicans eat each other.  But also a little sad.

I don't know how it resolves itself.  Both factions are determined.  I suspect it may take years for this to play out.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the emergence of a third party from the warring factions.  Maybe more, as Tbogg suggests in his "Splitters!" post:

"Divided we stand"…no…wait…um… "united we flail" …no, that's not it. Crap, I think I wrote it down on a Wendy's napkin. Look in the back seat of my car…. Oh, here we go:

Peoples Front of Republicans

Republican Peoples Front

Republican Popular People's Front

Front of Republican People Who Wish They Were Popular

Maybe a return of the Know-Nothing Party.  Yeah, Palin would be great in that party.

ADDENDUM:  But, if history teaches us anything, the Republican Party will be back.  Consider this:

"I leave you gentleman now and you will write it. You will interpret it. That's your right. But as I leave you I want you to know — just think how much you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference and it will be one in which I have welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you."

— Richard Nixon, November 7, 1962

UPDATE:  Interesting to read the suggestions for "rebuilding the Republican Party".  Very diverse, and often conflicting.  Some I applaud, like:

Break the association with anti-intellectualism

From the time I became politically aware, one of the strongest associations I made was that of the active evangelical community around me and the republican party. Many of these people believe that the universe is a few thousand years old, Noah's flood explains all of geology, there will be a Rapture soon, and Bush was guided by divine will. Idiots, in other words.

The republican party has been in bed with this crowd for my entire life. There is a distinct anti-intellectual bent that projects the message "we're poorly educated, and proud of it – vote for us!" It brings with it small-mindedness, pettyness, and ridicule.

I am very receptive to economic ideas about small government, but I just cannot bring myself to cast a vote for a party with the associations I just described – and I didn't three days ago.

And then you have ideas like this:

Social Conservatism, with strong families, support for life, and a firm committment to traditional values is essential to America's survival. Weak homes – the result of on-demand abortion and the destruction of traditional marriage – breed a generation of Americans that will be more dependent on the government from everything from the food they eat the morals they learn. That, in turn, will consume more and more resources as our economy suffers from the entrance of this generation into the work force. The ultimate end, of course, is a weakened position for America in the world, and our relegation to becoming the France of the 21st century.

Republicans must launch a drive that will not only drive the hypocrites from the party, but return the GOP to its socially conservative roots, and, at the same time, begin a national campaign to remind and convince Americans of the importance of traditional values.

Ideological clashes.  I'm not sure they can be resolved….