Whither the GOP?

In 2016, the GOP -- the insular DC-centered party for about two decades -- is on the ropes.  It’s the victim (if “victim” is the word) of what happens to a major party when events, societal and generational changes, elitism, and voter revulsion (among other factors) come powerfully into play.

On the other hand, the DC-centered Democratic Party is sclerotic, led by the likes of Hillary, Bernie, Warren, and the ever-lurking Joe Biden.  It’s tied and bound to perennially failing leftism, smothering and bullying PC, and an indulgent multiculturalism that floods the nation with illegals (for vote-harvesting purposes) and dangerously tolerates admittance of Muslim populations that surely contain enemy combatants.  Among other sins.    

2016 is shaping up as a critical juncture in the Republican Party’s life.  The stronger dynamics and the promise of winning change are with the Republicans, not the Democrats.  The GOP is being presented with a chance to forge a new road.   The new road for the GOP won’t be a complete departure, but a significant one. 

The chance to strike out in a new way happens when disaffected voters, within and without a party, begin to coalesce, bringing new or neglected issues to the forefront, and pressing for change and reform that better reflects their values and principles.  Such dramatic change offers the promise of a new majority governing coalition.

But givens there aren’t in history.  Certainly, the process of birthing a reformed party with majority potential is fraught with conflicts and pitfalls.  Setbacks happen, though not necessarily fatally to a reformation; that is, if the forces at work are vigorous and authentic.             

The likelihood that the Republican brand disappears?  That it’s ripped to pieces by contending factions?  Slim.  The GOP survived the Great Depression, the biggest precipitant for party realignment since the Civil War.  If the GOP vanished, that would be the first time since the early 1850s that a major party -- the Whigs -- went away.  Sure, nothing is etched in stone.  Neither party has a grant from God to exist in perpetuity.  But it’s a good bet there will be a Republican Party. 

The bigger risk in 2016?  A fracturing that hands the presidency to Hillary (if she’s not indicted) or Biden (the creaky comic hero riding to the rescue). 

2016 isn’t 1964, of course, but it is in one important respect: a party divided against itself usually doesn’t stand… in the winner’s circle.

But mark well.  1964 wasn’t the end of the GOP, per many predictions then.  1964 proved a defeat for the Rockefeller wing of the GOP.  It was the beginning of the conservative era in the modern party’s history.  The Goldwater insurrection changed the trajectory of the Republican Party for a generation, leading to Reagan’s victory in 1980 and finishing up with the Gingrich House majorities in the 1990s. 

Little remembered, the GOP more than recouped its1964 losses in the midterms in 1966.  In 1968, Nixon, who piggybacked on Goldwater’s emerging majority, won the presidency closely over a crippled Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace, who was taking the South out of the Democratic Party in a big way.     

To avoid a 1964-like fracturing of the GOP, however, it’s critical that grassroots conservatives (generally disposed to Ted Cruz) and Trump voters find common ground -- and soon enough -- to nominate either man and avoid a deadlocked convention in Cleveland -- a deadlock ripe for multiple conflicting agendas, mischief, hard feelings, and alienation.  A deadlocked convention seems to be the best opportunity for the establishment to slip one of its own into the nomination.

Yes, Trump or Cruz could conceivably roll up the nomination by April (Super Tuesday in March and other contests that month will weigh heavily on outcome), settling the matter of who the party’s nominee will be.  But unifying thereafter remains critical.    

Sheer numbers are with grassroots conservatives and Trump legions.  Collapse the numbers, and roughly two-thirds of likely Republican voters make an uncontestable majority.  Consolidation of these factions puts establishment Republicans at a decided disadvantage.  The establishment faction would have to choose: go along with the overwhelming majority of the party that backs either Trump or Cruz, or form a rump opposition.  The latter would cause long-term bad blood in no way beneficial to establishment Republican interests.

But fusing the grassroots and Trump voters has its own challenges.  More than a few conservatives are skeptical of Trump and what he stands for.  While Trump’s position against illegals, his strong pronouncements against Islamic extremism, and salvos at political correctness, chiefly, earn accolades among conservatives, questions persist about Trump’s economics, his views on the proper -- limited -- role of the national government, and his stands on social issues.  In all fairness, not all of Trump’s supporters are in step with conservatives’ aims.    

Hammering out understandings between grassroots conservatives and Trump’s legions shouldn’t be regarded as impediments to coalition; they’re challenges to be welcomed and addressed; accommodations need to be found.  A majority party makes accommodations.  That means give and take by conservatives and Trump’s sizeable plurality. 

Where possible, a seat at the table needs to be made for establishment Republicans -- a lesser seat, to be sure.  Yes, as stated, they really need to go along.  But the key is to unite factions.  Doing so with a gun at the establishment’s head isn’t optimal.  Skin in the game is the way, so long as the establishment does so on the majority’s terms.        

Trump’s candidacy could prove a boon to the GOP -- if doors aren’t slammed shut on the voters that Trump is attracting, namely white working class voters, independents, and segments of disaffected Democrats.  The draw for these voters, broadly, is a renewed nationalism and populism.  Both are anathema to establishment Republicans; the latter more so to some conservatives, who are wary of shifting popular sentiment. 

But the popular sentiment now is against big, intrusive, and incompetent national government.  It’s against inbred and self-serving career politicians and bureaucrats who inhabit it.  It’s against concentrations of money and privilege, mostly directed at “Wall Street” and others who have gained wealth and power through their cozy relationships with, or proximate positions to, Uncle Sam.  All the while too many Americans are un- or underemployed, having to stretch paychecks as never before.    

The Republican Party that emerges from 2016 could be a potent and compelling mix of preeminent national interests, reformist conservatism, and openness and receptivity to “the people” (versus elites).  None of these elements are strange or hostile to the American experience.  In fact, nationalism, reform, and the “will of the people” are threads running through the republic from its inception. 

Making a new majority party within the Republican brand is and will continue to be as messy as making sausage (and no prettier).  All the ingredients, though, are there to combine into a governing coalition that could lead the nation for a generation.  “Could,” that is, not “will.”  There are no givens at this time, just a lot of potential.  It will take shrewdness, goodwill, foresightedness, pluck, and some luck to create a majority GOP that leads the nation into the middle decades of the 21st Century.  But it can be done.