To The GOP, How On Earth Did We Get Here?
The Republican Party is no longer the Grand Old Party. This is a thought I’ve struggled to come to terms with for the past several years of my life. I have always been proud of my Republican heritage and the fact that I’m a member of a party molded by great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. However, it seems my party has lost its identity and now struggles with holding together its once strong base of Christian, conservative, libertarian, and federalist voters. Instead of standing united, the party stands on the precipice of completing an unrecognizable and dangerous radical transformation due to its leaders and representatives continually avoiding devastating and deeply divisive issues.
The disintegration of the Republican Party as I’ve known it has not been an instantaneous process. Rather its faltering has extended from key choices made by its leaders to listen to and embrace the wrong voices. I can think of no better example of this than when I met well-known political commentator, Dinesh D’Souza.
I met Dinesh at a Republican Party dinner in Eastern Idaho during my time on a gubernatorial campaign. I had heard of him previously due to his deeply polarizing and well-known rhetoric. Despite what I had heard, I honestly was intrigued to meet him. I knew he was someone that had the chance to work directly with former President Ronald Reagan. I eagerly looked forward to hearing about some of Dinesh’s interactions with Reagan, and he didn’t disappoint. He referred to Reagan’s ability to humorously disagree with his Democratic colleagues while still showing them respect (Reagan’s cow manure example about the Democratic platform is still one of my favorites.) He explained how much he admired Reagan’s courage and his gift of being “The Great Communicator” while in office.
However, after Dinesh finished his great stories about Reagan and after the laughs of the fully attentive crowd had subsided, he interjected, “Those days are long gone!” He went on to explain that no longer can good, faithful, and strong Republicans have a friendship with their Democratic counterparts. His reasons being that Democrats are “deranged,” “have completely lost their minds,” and have embraced dangerous fascist and socialist policies.
In every way possible, he labeled Democrats our mortal enemies. As Dinesh finished his final remarks, the audience rose to its feet and clapped, shouted, even cheered with great satisfaction. Meanwhile, I sat, feeling dumbfounded, even stunned. I didn’t know how to feel, but at the very least, I knew this wasn’t my party. The vitriolic hate Dinesh spewed on the audience that evening did not in the slightest represent the conservative values I had grown to love.
As I look back on the speech given by Dinesh and the reaction of the audience, I realize that what took place that evening was really just a symptom of a much larger problem in the Republican Party. In fact, it seems that the Republican Party is suffering from 3 main problems: 1) Republicans’ near worship of Former President Donald Trump, 2) the loss of the true meaning of conservatism, and 3) the mixture of Trump’s idolization and the abandonment of conservatism pave the way for anti-socialist rhetoric.
The Republican Party Has Embraced “The Weird Worship of One Dude”
The first and perhaps most pressing problem for the Republican Party is the growing obsession of supporters and political leaders alike beginning with former president Donald Trump. As described in a story from The Enquirer, a news source from Ohio, “Allegiance to Trump, or lack thereof, became a defining characteristic for Republicans from City Hall to the U.S. Capitol.” It’s ironic that Trump became such a focal point for the party considering so many key party figures opposed his candidacy for president. For example, Senators (and 2016 presidential candidates) Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio each vowed that because Trump did NOT represent the true conservative values of the Republican Party, he must not become the face of the party. More importantly, each of these Senators echoed in one form or another that the longer Trump remained present in party leadership, the greater the threat he posed to the party’s future. There is perhaps no better foreshadowing of this belief than when Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted in 2016, “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed… and we will deserve it.”
Despite the initial strong rhetoric of these Senators as well as many other Republicans, their voices of warning were quickly silenced. Instead of holding fast to their beliefs and advising caution, the Republican congressmen and women shifted their energy to rallying behind their newly appointed president. Trump’s support among Republican voters seemed to be growing with each passing day. Within the first few weeks of Trump’s inauguration it appeared clear that congressional Republicans would be judged for their work done while in office on one single criteria - are they loyal and faithful to President Trump? As a result of this near fanatical peer pressure from their voting bases, politicians felt forced to keep up with their voting bases’ loud cheering and supporting (much like the same audience who clapped and cheered for Dinesh) of Trump’s actions while in office.
Even though we’re only a few months removed, it feels like Trump’s time in office will be the Republican’s version of the Trojan Horse in their own undoing. When Trump announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential nomination, Republican leadership knew he did not represent the best interests of the party nor the Republican values that had been cultivated for the past 30 years following Reagan’s time in office. However, the party, which had lost the past two presidential elections and appeared poised for potentially losing a third one in a row, was so starved of political victories that it chose to marry itself to Trump’s campaign in hopes of finding its way to political greatness again.
All this was done under the foolish notion that Trump could be controlled and used as a vehicle for putting good, solid Republicans back in key positions in the White House. Like the Trojans who welcomed a wooden horse, the Republican party welcomed a political outsider, believing he didn’t pose a serious threat to the trajectory and longevity of the party. Little did Republicans realize then how little control they’d have in a Trump-held White House.
For many Republicans, Trump came into the White House as a breath of fresh air, a shiny new present—the Republican’s version of a new horse. However, in reality, he has become the gateway for extremist right-wing affiliates, such as Dinesh D’Souza, Alex Jones, and Steve Bannon, to have a greater voice in Republican politics. Furthermore, on multiple occasions he made very clear that he had no interest in embracing key conservative values unless they benefited him.
The combination of a blatant disregard for truth, obsession with self image, and a complete and total lack of a moral compass should have been enough to stop Republicans from ever supporting such a candidate. But it didn’t. And as a result, all the wrong voices (i.e. D’Souza, Jones, Bannon, etc) are now defining what it means to be a Republican and a conservative.
Perhaps my comparisons come off extreme, but Trump did not fulfill his role as president on the basis of being a leader. Instead, he fulfilled it on the basis of being a national icon and celebrity obsessed with receiving the adoration of his faithful followers. A friend of mine described Trump’s fixation with his self image this way, he “led in a way to cultivate his fans” and in return “his supporters [fulfilled the role of a] studio audience ready to applaud his every move.”
As Trump’s popularity grew, so did his power. With that power, Trump became obsessed with rooting out any and all members of the party who opposed him or his policies. Look at the recent examples of his speech from CPAC, his vow to defund any and all “RINOs” in Congress, or his attempt to pressure Mike Pence into delivering the U.S. presidential nomination to him. It is clear that Trump has reshaped the Republican Party and has chosen to embrace the belief that “‘[r]eal power is – I don’t even want to use the word – fear.’” And what comes as a result of that fear? Forcing a party to back your claims that a major U.S. election was rigged. Calling upon an armed mob to “hang Mike Pence” at the U.S. Capitol. Causing an entire voting base to abandon their conservative roots in place of being a ReTrumplican.
The Republican Party No Longer Embraces Nor Understands the Meaning of Conservatism
Although it is clear that Former President Trump has had a large impact on the Republican Party losing its conservative identity, the soul of the party has been in a state of flux since the end of President George W. Bush’s last term in office. However, even as recently as 2012’s and 2016’s presidential primaries, journalists such as Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic were able to identify key parts of the conservative platform. For Conor, he lays out 21 points to describe conservatism.
As I reviewed each point and thought about my own conservative beliefs, I was pleased to find that I agreed with 13 of the suggested points and to some degree with at least 5 additional points. Despite my conviction and belief in these principles, it amazes me that I still feel a sense of not being a good, faithful conservative based on the perceptions of my peers and fellow party members. In reality, though, I do not believe I have abandoned my values but rather it is my party that has abandoned the conservative platform.
The abandonment of conservative principles by Republicans has taken place because members of the party have focused less on being educated in constitutional and philosophical principles and more on being political cheerleaders. This trend, which has been most apparent in discussions regarding President Trump, is now something that applies to almost all elected Republican officials. For example, when Senator Cruz chose to take a trip to Cancun in the midst of a major ice storm in Texas, a steady flurry of criticism was directed at him. But for many Republicans of the state of Texas, instead of choosing to hold their Senator accountable, they chose to defend and excuse his actions for leaving his state. Putting it another way, discussions about Senator Cruz’s trip to Cancun have seldomly centered on the discussion of what a good, faithful Republican U.S. Senator “should” do and instead on what a Republican U.S. Senator “can” do during a time of crisis. True conservatives should hold their leaders (i.e. Ted Cruz) accountable. True conservatives should base their support of policies or actions of their political leaders not on the basis of what is popular but of what is constitutional AND morally defendable. True conservatives should not trade their foundational values for cheap, temporary political victories. In most ways, recent actions of the Republican Party seem to indicate that we’ve lost these fundamental cornerstones of conservatism.
Trump & The Abandonment of Conservatism Pave the Way For Increased Anti-Socialism Rhetoric
As a result of the combination of the worship of Trump and abandonment of conservatism, many prominent Republican politicians (i.e. Rubio, Cruz, Graham) have changed the way they win their political races. Instead of focusing on why they’re the best candidates for the job, their focus has been shifted to the Republican Party being the last line of defense to socialism and the evils of the Democratic Party. This negative ad tactic has actually been quite effective and has seen success as recently as the 2020 general elections in the states of Florida and Ohio.
Although negative campaign ads are effective and do sometimes have their place in politics, it seems strange that so many Republicans seem fixated on embracing this vitriolic tactic. Unless that’s because our party and platform no longer stand for the original platform or beliefs our party originally stood for, and the leader of our party has narcissistic tendencies and doesn’t actually reflect true conservative values. If that’s the case, which it certainly appears that way, then the Republican strategy makes complete sense. If a party is not united in its ideology, then uniting against its enemies and villainizing them can easily become its next best strategy.
As tempting as this growing trend might be for politicians to embrace, Republicans have become so focused on saying what they are not that it seems unclear what they truly are. For example, look at the recent case of Republicans attempting to repeal Obamacare. Even though Republicans agreed that their party could come up with a better solution to the Affordable Care Act, the party lacked vision and unity on how to achieve that goal.
A classic example of conservatism is financial security. Amazingly, though, it seems it has been years since the party has truly been concerned about our nation’s growing debt. Whenever Republicans become the minority party in Congress they seem ready and willing to beat the drum of fiscal responsibility, such as when the Democrats had control of Congress during President Obama’s presidency. However, as soon as they obtain a majority of congressional seats (i.e. Trump’s presidency) , it seems like all bets are off and Republican congressional leaders race to secure additional dollars for their states’ benefit. Perhaps, though, the two worst examples of the Republican Party lacking an identity have been their blatant disregard for their constitutional responsibilities with the U.S. 2020 election and the acceptance of most Congressional Republicans to tolerate and even spread misinformation campaigns such as Senator Joni Ernst did about COVID-19. As choices such as Senator Ernst’s are continued to be made, tolerated, ignored and/or supported, it’s only appropriate to ask – how much longer will conservative Republicans, true conservatives, sit by and tolerate this mess?
The problems facing the Republican Party today are not easy issues. There is no easy button! But we can improve the situation. First and foremost, though, it is critical for members of the Republican Party to ask themselves, what does it mean to be conservative? There is so much to get into on this subject, but at the very least, we must find a way back to supporting key fundamental conservative doctrines. Doctrines that include: fiscal responsibility, a high devotion to morality, a relentless commitment to limiting rather than expanding all government and uprooting any and all extremist nonsensical beliefs.
Besides that battle of ideology, we must also consider the statement Dinesh made to the audience that I sat with. Are those days “long gone” where we can no longer view Democrats as fellow Americans, even friends? Are we so obsessed with winning and defending our nation against the evils of socialism (which quite honestly I struggle with knowing what the dangers are anymore since our own party is such a mess) that we’ll no longer consider which policies we actually want to see be enacted in politics? There will be a time and place for discussing potential solutions for restoring the Republican Party. But for now, we should all take the time to reflect and ponder what we want our future to look like.
To my fellow members of the Republican Party, if you feel that our party no longer reflects or embraces your values and morals, what are you willing to do about it? The greatest leaders of the Republican Party (i.e. Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan) were willing to make great sacrifices to preserve the integrity of the party and reject the extremist voices of their day and age. Perhaps, more importantly, their ideological beliefs were not intrinsically tied to the worship of one dude or in beating “the other guys.” Can you say the same?
About the Author: Lance lives in Boise, Idaho. He is currently working with a nonprofit called Crush The Curve Idaho as their Director of Community & Corporate Outreach. Lance’s wife Samantha also works for Crush and the two of them have enjoyed working together for the past year. Lance received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Brigham Young University - Idaho. His experiences in working on several campaigns and serving a two year mission among the people of Eastern Russia has led to his passion and determination to remain active in politics.