What will become of the Republican Party? Will they survive, and what will it take for them to clean up their mess? And what must the Democrats do?
The GOP is having a bad hair day, due in part, though not exclusively, to its standard-bearer, President Donald Trump. The party was handed a defeat, a self-inflicted wound, due to insufficient internal support for an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill that would have cost millions of people their health insurance coverage. The chronically unpopular, Darwinian piece of legislation — a testament to what happens when bad campaign slogans become policy — also would have cost some lawmakers their seats for the suffering they would have inflicted on the public, and rightly so.
Trump’s popularity is at historic lows, hovering around the mid- to- high-thirties, as the commander-in-chief embarrasses Americans abroad and makes our allies cringe. He and his family continue to mix business and the affairs of state and profit from both, while his cabinet secretaries dismantle their respective departments and agencies. The president creates witch hunts based on fake news, such as his voter integrity commission that really serves as a voter suppression commission, and which is based on the unfounded, fraudulent notion he would have won the popular vote but for millions of illegal voters.
More importantly, Russiagate is heating up, with various investigations underway, and special counsel Robert Mueller having hired a team of prosecutors, presumably to indict and imprison members of the Trump camp for colluding with Russians to fix the 2016 presidential election.
If Russiagate ultimately consumes the Trump administration and other Republican officials, potentially implicating the party in criminal wrongdoing over treason, money laundering, and more, we must consider the options facing the GOP. Formerly the party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the Republican Party is at a crossroads. Once the advocates of emancipation and civil rights, of post-Civil War Reconstruction and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the Republicans evolved over time into the party of the Southern Strategy and extremist Christian fundamentalism, a white nationalist, anti-government, “fake news” and pro-Putin party that loves authoritarianism and disrespects the rule of law. Moderates left in droves, as liberal Republicans had been M.I.A. for years.
GOP leadership failed to heed the RNC’s 100-page 2012 election autopsy report — the Growth and Opportunity Project — which suggested the Republican Party connect with voters’ concerns, appeal to women, young people, and people of color, and embrace immigration reform. The report found that people believe the GOP is not welcoming or inclusive on social issues and does not care about people — factors that are “doing great harm to the Party and its candidates on the federal level, especially in presidential years.”
“The Republican Party must be the champion of those who seek to climb the economic ladder of life. Low-income Americans are hard-working people who want to become hard-working middle-income Americans,” the autopsy reads. “We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.”
Ultimately, the GOP did not follow the report’s recommendations, and the result was a Trump victory, a rebuke of the nation’s demographic changes, and the nonwhite-straight-Christian-male voters the party must court to ensure long-term viability.
If the Trump presidency goes down and takes the Republican Party with it, the party could face banishment in the political wilderness in 2018, 2020, and beyond, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps the GOP should dissolve and allow another party to form from its ashes.
Another option is for the reasonable center-right and conservative folks in the room — perhaps those who have found Trumpism and its ethno-nationalist underpinnings repulsive — to attempt to take back and rebuild their party. If the Republicans hope to extricate themselves from the Trump legacy, they must clear a path away from the greed, xenophobia, voter suppression, and mean-spirited policies that have defined their party and the greater political environment in general in recent years.
This, however, does not mean the Democratic Party should take comfort. Surely, the Democrats would stand to benefit from the implosion or at least the weakening of the GOP. Nevertheless, the Dems, too, must engage in some soul-searching and introspection, and stand for far more than merely opposing Trump. They need a long-term strategy with an agenda and a message that will energize people.
For years, the Democrats drifted away from the rights of working people and embraced the needs of Wall Street over labor, with some of their politicians on the take from big money and special corporate interests. Part of that agenda has been the neoliberal gutting of the social safety net and pensions, privatization of public schools, right-to-work laws, financial deregulation, and other policies that have favored the professional elites and the Davos class of bankers and high-tech billionaires. Ignoring working families, the Dems allowed an opening for the faux populism of a barnstorming snake-oil salesman.
The Democrats should not learn the wrong lessons from the 2016 election, including the notion they should focus on chasing suburban Republican voters, or spend resources courting Trump supporters who voted for the candidate based on appeals to white skin solidarity and never were for the taking.
A multiracial coalition with a progressive message of economic justice is the key to Democrats winning in the South, particularly outside of urban areas. Black women are the most loyal of the base, and the Democrats would be wise not to ignore them and other core constituencies. Plus, Dems need to grow a spine, and take bold positions such as supporting single-payer healthcare — as Al Gore just announced, though he failed to do so during his 2000 presidential run — without fear of offending anyone.
In times of crisis, there is opportunity. If both the Republicans and the Democrats hope to emerge intact from the smoke of the Trump conflagration that is taking place, some major changes are in order. For both parties, the keys to success require hard choices and even harder work.