What’s to Blame for GOP Fundraising Woes

For those confused by the odd paradox of the Democrats out-raising the GOP by a 3:1 margin despite historic unpopularity at the top of their ticket, consider this anecdote from October 2017.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) resigned from his congressional seat after it was revealed that he had engaged in an extramarital affair.  The scandal was compounded by the fact that Rep. Murphy, a staunch defender of the pro-life movement, reportedly encouraged his mistress to get an abortion when they thought she might be pregnant.

The real gut-punch of the scandal was the text that Rep. Murphy sent disavowing pro-life messages released from his own campaign.  Upon his mistress calling out his hypocrisy in suggesting an abortion despite his anti-abortion advocacy at events such as March for Life, he responded: “I get what you say about my March for life messages. I’ve never written them. Staff does them. I read them and winced. I told staff don’t write any more. I will.”

Hypocrites, at the very least, know that what they are doing is wrong.  They believe in the truth of their causes but are too weak to live up to their own standards.  In the case of Rep. Murphy, it appeared that he didn’t believe in the pro-life movement.

This anecdote is a symptom of a larger issue within the GOP: elected leaders being ineffective at best, and full-fledged leftist at worst.  Indeed, this phenomenon was broadly covered in an April 2023 article by Daily Wire investigative reporter Luke Rosiak, who noted that the most left-leaning GOP state representatives on average were found in states with the largest Republican majorities, such as Utah, Wyoming, and South Carolina — a stark contrast to Democrats, who pass radical legislation even with the slimmest majorities.  Too often, it seems that elections have consequences, but only when the Democrats win; the best one can hope for when voting Republican is that he can, at least temporarily, serve as a foil to the Progressives’ most radical policies.  Running candidates who can actually win is key, of course, but at some point, conservatives need to see tangible results, actual policy victories that not only slow the tide of progressive policies, but also begin to reverse them.  In this economy, donating hard-earned dollars to whatever silver tongued clean-cut businessman-veteran-Christian-family-man cookie-cutter candidate the GOP establishment trots out is too large a gamble for many to take.  We’ve been burned too many times.

Donald Trump is the antithesis of everything we would expect from a Republican political figure.  His speaking style, though highly effective, could hardly be called eloquent.  He’s a successful businessman, sure, but doesn’t have the dignified political legacy of, say, the Romneys, nor can he claim a compelling “rags to riches” journey like a Vivek Ramaswamy.  Perhaps most damning is that his personal life has been tabloid fodder for decades.  And, despite his strong rhetoric, Trump is far from an ideologue, exhibiting surprising flexibility on a range of issues.  To the shock of the political elite, Trump is perhaps the most resilient political figure in all of human history, as he is poised to potentially win a second term despite the two impeachments, absurd lawsuits, primary challenges, January 6, and all the other “scandals” the media have brewed up.

Why?  Because for the first time in nearly 40 years, it feels as though the conservative movement has more to offer than just being a bulwark against the radical left.  We see actual pushback, tangible progress.  Trump, regardless of how he may feel personally about abortion, showed extreme political courage in getting three conservatives appointed to the Supreme Court who have been instrumental in major legal victories, most notably the overturning of Roe v. Wade.  For the first time in decades, the world under Trump’s leadership became more stable as his administration defied conventional foreign policy wisdom to negotiate the Abraham Accords, a stark contrast to the global chaos under nearly every other administration over the past half-century.  His tax and regulatory cuts contributed to a booming economy.  Perhaps most significantly, his energy policies led to energy independence for the first time in 70 years.  Border crossings were at their lowest levels since 1971.  These policy goals have not been unique, historically, within the Republican party; the difference is that Trump actually accomplished them.  As a result, and despite his bombast and larger-than-life persona as an entertainer, Trump’s visit to East Palestine, Ohio somehow seemed far more real and sincere than anything else coming out of D.C. (or, for that matter, any state capital).

That isn’t to say that Trump’s record is perfect.  A critic may reasonably bring up, for example, his failure to cut spending.  That criticism is valid, but of course no president has cut the national debt since the Coolidge administration.  The U.S. response to COVID-19 is another frequent line of attack — but do you think the Republicans of elections past, the Bush/McCain/Romneys of the world, would have opened the country sooner?  Or the other GOP contenders in 2016?  Would some of the GOP governors who showed enough political courage to keep their states open behaved the same way if they faced re-election that fall?

I say this not to excuse any policy shortcomings from the Trump administration, but until the GOP consistently wins victories on spending cuts, such attacks seem a bit hollow.

What is most revealing, however, is the utter silence of Trump’s biggest critics in the GOP — the Paul Ryans, Mitt Romneys, George Bushes, and Liz Cheneys of the world — against some of the left’s most egregious policies.  George W. Bush famously ran an unapologetic Evangelical, pro-life campaign.  Why isn’t he on every conservative news outlet expressing outrage over the arrest of six peaceful pro-life protesters in the U.S.?  The former president lamented the risk to Afghan girls following the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan.  Why isn’t he more outraged over the erasure of women here?  Sen. Romney has expressed opposition to men participating in women’s sports; why didn’t he express outrage at his own state’s Republican governor for vetoing a bill that protected women’s sports?

These are names that once wielded significant influence within the Republican party, and these figures still hold some sway over the more moderate factions of the base; they still have an audience on establishment media platforms, and they could help move the needle on many of the issues that used to be central to their campaign promises.  The fact that they use their platform to clutch their pearls every time Trump makes an off-the-cuff remark but stand on the sidelines as the very values they claim to cherish — patriotism, religion, and family — suffer irreparable damage under Biden, demonstrates their lack of any actual core beliefs or moral clarity.  The politicians with seemingly impeccable character govern as cowards, while the billionaire playboy delivers with conviction.  If only the rest of the party showed half of that conviction or fight.

Despite progress and policy success under Trump, the GOP faces a turbulent future.  Coming off a bitterly disappointing 2022 midterm, Trump-endorsed MAGA candidates must prove that they can win consistently to justify campaign donations.  More importantly, the GOP as a whole must convince its voters that, if successful, they can actually govern effectively and implement conservative policies.

Unfortunately, the latter seems highly unlikely, considering just a few recent headlines, from the Senate’s weak immigration bill pushed by several high-profile Republicans to the GOP’s disgraceful inability to unite long enough to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas in the House.  At the state level, in Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine became the fourth Republican governor to veto legislation that banned boys from participating in women’s sports.  (Fortunately, this veto was overridden.)  If most elected Republicans don’t really believe even in fundamental issues such as border security and biological reality, one can hardly blame donors for being skittish, with or without Ronna McDaniel at the head.

J. Allen Cartwright is a chemical researcher in the energy sector.  His interest is in the interplay of politics with cultural and scientific institutions.  He can be followed on X at @jallencrtwright.

Image via Public Domain Pictures.

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