Whither the Grand Old Party?

Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s presidential election (and whenever it is certified), many directions concerning the nation’s political future may also begin to be answered. Mile markers of those directions are likely to appear in the states, especially formerly red ones, which relate to the nature of the Republican party and congressional legislation.

Under the 45th president, the Republican party’s national raison d’etre has been subsumed into that of the incumbent candidate. Despite a primary campaign leading up to the 2016 election that was marked by a fair amount of personal animosities, leading GOP senators nonetheless inexplicably swallowed campaign insults, voted against impeachment, and reneged on a commitment not to support a Supreme Court nomination leading up to a presidential election. At the same time, the GOP has turned a blind eye to truly ludicrous conspiracy theories propelling political dialogue to the extent that at least two House candidates have embraced them.

A sizable blue wave this November might generate as many as 10 new senators for the Democratic party in states such as Texas, Kansas, Georgia, and South Carolina, that last saw Dems decades ago. In Virginia, for example, the blue wave may upset two long-held GOP seats to the opposition. One current GOP representative, ousted by his own party, remarked about his party’s alliance with QAnon:

It’s absolutely ludicrous that there’s anyone who would believe that Democrats have a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles that are funding a deep state coup against the present administration. That’s incredibly ignorant.

As noted, this is merely one of many mile markers. The continuing lunge to an extreme right position was signaled as part of the backlash to Virginia’s political shift toward Democratic rule; at least three counties have passed resolutions endorsing local militias. “Biden’s coming for us; there will be a war,” said the leader of the Virginia Militia Alliance.  At the same time, the evangelical bloc has witnessed the downfall of Jerry Falwell as President of Liberty University and a re-emergence of racial turmoil at the Virginia Military Institute.  Several intense House campaigns may further signal the direction of the Commonwealth in years ahead.  

In the closing weeks of the 2020 campaign, as the pandemic worsened, reflected in a steeply rising number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, a White House agency announced the virus had been conquered. Most GOP Senate candidates failed to challenge the assertion and, at the same time, held their silence as the Director of National Intelligence announced that China and Iran were leading election interference campaigns to damage the candidacy of the incumbent. Nor was there comment just a few days later when that allegation was withdrawn by the DNI (after it was revealed that he had ad-libbed it into the agreed-upon text).

As the coronavirus further throttled the economy, businesses failed, and jobs were lost, the GOP majority in the Senate determined that the national priority was the seating of a Supreme Court justice over the needs of the American people. The attempt to paint the opposition as favoring court packing likely failed as voters recognized that packing the Court with conservatives was a cynical political equivocation–and exactly what the GOP had been doing for years.

Whether or not Biden succeeds to the White House, many of the most pressing matters of public policy and political necessity will remain.

Whether or not Biden succeeds to the White House, many of the most pressing matters of public policy and political necessity will remain. There are as many as 15 potential Democratic Senate newcomers who may take office, decidedly defining the chamber’s majority, possibly for two sessions.

Avoiding the imprimatur of the regime of the 45th president may be a bridge too far in any short run. Scrubbing conspiracy theory candidates from its ranks is likely an easier task than rebutting the allegiances endorsed by Senate incumbents. While the landscape for the GOP in the House may be less dramatic, Democrats have spent two years consolidating an attractive legislative agenda and attracting new, more diverse candidates to its ranks.

It is entirely the responsibility of the GOP to refigure and reconfigure its game. Never-Trumpers such as the Lincoln Project and others have thrown down a gauntlet to signal the necessity for disestablishment from the past four years. Few believe that the accomplishment of depriving Democrats of one Supreme Court seat in favor of an increasingly conservative court and federal judiciary are sufficient to rest political laurels. Given the overall economic record, the much-vaunted tax cuts also are short lived as job numbers continue to infect state and local revenues.

Issues of gerrymandered districts and efforts to limit voting opportunity by the GOP will continue to be connected with partisan political advantage. Neither of these are “value” concerns for selected voting cohorts such as evangelicals. The task is to identify issues consistent with the party’s traditional philosophy while encompassing them in a political platform. GOP party loyalists will be challenged by the absence of a platform in 2020 as the 2024 cycle approaches.

One intriguing component of GOP dynamics for the next four years, even in the face of a Trump victory, is the role or fate of the Never Trumpers such as the Lincoln Project. leaders.  In the same vein, a loss by the incumbent, who campaigned without a platform, provides a blank slate for a different GOP.  These, however, depend upon the post-election electoral demographics.  On the other hand, the parting message from the Democratic Senate Minority leader following the Barrett confirmation to the Supreme Court to the GOP promised a barren legislative field upon which to campaign.

As with all political phenomena, nothing discussed here is absolute—mile markers may be fixed along a road but ultimately they do not describe the location or direction. One certainty, however, is that democratic progress toward a more perfect union requires social and political competition. The dissolution of the GOP is not a sign of health but a rise from ashes might be.

Categories: Issues

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