July 30, 2009

The Republican Party suffered a resounding defeat in November 2008, perhaps the worst in American history. The party leadership is working desperately to recover while scratching their heads about two questions: How did it happen, and how can they regain political relevance? They might also ask themselves if it is even possible to once again become a potent voice in national politics. Perhaps it is time for the emergence of a new political party.

The concept of a new political party may strike fear in the hearts of conservatives. If it were to emerge as a third party it could divide the conservative vote and ensure a liberal victory in the next election. It is widely agreed, for example, that Ross Perot's Reform Party delivered the 1996 presidential election to the Democrats.

In the early days of our constitutional republic, many of the Founding Fathers were opposed to political parties, believing they would give rise to corruption and political power struggles. Who can say they were wrong? But inevitably, as suffrage was extended to more and more citizens, differences of political philosophy would eventually divide voters into different camps that would become strong voices for their views; thus the birth of political parties.

Initially the two party system was characterized by the division between the Federalist Party, which favored a strong central government, and the Democratic-Republican Party, which advocated minimum centralization with strong grassroots authority. By the time James Madison took office the Federalist Party had faded into obscurity, and soon after disbanded. Eventually the Democratic-Republican Party divided into Democratic and Republican parties, and with a few notable hiccups became the two party system we know today.

If a new conservative political party were to emerge, it could succeed only if it were to replace the Republican Party rather than competing with it. But the Republican Party has much lost ground to regain before it can once again become a strong political force. A new party, on the other hand, would have nothing to undo in its quest for supporters.

There are some things contributing to the Republican debacle that seem obvious to a grassroots conservative.

Washington Republicans talked like conservatives and acted like something else—for a long time. Expanding the Federal government was as much their doing as it was their opponents'.

The Republican base was once comprised of those who wanted limited government and preservation (or restoration) of individual liberty, but these folks abandoned the party when it no longer acted on their behalf.

Even when elected Republicans had a good message they were not proactive in delivering it to the people. They were constantly in a reactive mode, defending themselves against mean-spirited people who accused them of being mean-spirited, and trying to be all things to all people.

In trying to appeal to "moderates" and "liberals" they lost both their message and their appeal even to their base.

All of these things together resulted in the Republican leadership losing the trust of the American people on a grand scale.

Observe what happened recently with the tax day Tea Parties, involving hundreds of thousands of citizens: Republicans, Democrats and Independents from all socio-economic strata. The President said the following at a town meeting in Missouri "Those of you who are watching certain news channels on which I'm not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around, let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we are going to stabilize Social Security. But let's not play games and pretend that the reason [for the deficit] is because of the Recovery Act."

This suggests that the President misinterpreted the message of the protests. Contrary to the proclamations of the mainstream media and the Administration, these protests were not orchestrated or paid for by any political party or corporate entity. The protestors were not a group of mean-spirited, racist, greedy people. They were folks who are concerned about where our leaders are taking us. They are afraid that uncontrolled spending in Washington will lead to unmanageable national debt, higher taxes and rampant inflation. And they are concerned about the loss of personal liberty to the centralization of power in Washington. What these folks are looking for is principled leadership.

The question remains if the Republican Party is able to recover from the utter lack of trust of the American people, most of whom are conservative in that they want government to shrink and get out of the business of telling the American people what is best for them. And they want a legislative agenda that is based on principle, not pragmatism. Gaining trust is a long process that involves keeping commitments and being true to your word. It only takes one incident to lose all the trust gained over a long time, and that is precisely where the GOP is today—at the bottom of the slope. There is reason to doubt whether the party leadership can make adequately profound changes in time to stem the tide of socialistic change.

Perhaps some principled leaders will emerge who can galvanize the efforts of a restless "tea party" public into a new political party under a libertarian or conservative banner in less time than that required to shore up the GOP.

But if the Republican Party is to survive and realize a significant resurgence it will have to act quickly and commit to specific behaviors, such as:

  • Stop trying to embrace liberals or independents who do not agree with your principles. State your principles clearly and unequivocally and let your base gather to your leadership. You can live with a base that is not unanimous on every policy detail, but don't compromise your fundamental conservative beliefs.
  • Stop apologizing for your principles. If the opposition is insecure enough to call you mean-spirited, racist or greedy, you know it is not true, so stand your ground. Don't let them control your message such that you are constantly denying their accusations and explaining yourself. They are the ones who are mean-spirited and intolerant.
  • Don't lie about your principles and beliefs to get elected.
  • Make a permanent commitment to governing on founding principles, not political power or pragmatism. Resist the temptation to put aside principle and act on emotion.

On April 25, 2009, Howard Underwood published an article "The Problem with Republicans" on the American Thinker web site. Mr. Underwood is an attorney and lifelong conservative. The article is worth reading. Although Mr. Underwood speaks from a Republican perspective, I believe his words encompass values shared by Americans from all walks of life, not just Republicans.

Will the GOP step up to the challenge and do it quickly, or is it time for a new dynamic, principled conservative political party to emerge?

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.