Republicans: The Virtue of Realism

 

As I sat down to type my nth comment defending the Republican Party against claims that it is useless, has accomplished nothing, and needs to be abandoned, I decided to write a post about it instead.

If the Republican Party were a monarchy, it could announce its intentions and its loyal subjects would fall in line and march as ordered. As king, the Republican Party could use its fiat power to declare that the things it claims to support and believe in — American exceptionalism, limited government, free markets, a strong military, and the Constitution — were sacrosanct; the Party’s subjects would dutifully vote for the Party and elect its candidates.

But that isn’t how political parties work. They may lead a little, but mostly they seek to attract voters who are generally sympathetic to the party’s positions. The party doesn’t tell the people what to want, but rather tries to convince the people that the party is the best vehicle through which the people can move their own agendas forward.

We have two viable political parties. One, the Republican Party, espouses those ideas mentioned above, of limited government and traditional order; the other has a far more expansive view of the role of government, and places little value on tradition. One, the Republican Party, is dominated by a large center-right contingent that is rarely sufficiently ideological to please its more right-leaning members; the other is increasingly dominated by a hard-left radical fringe that more and more alienates its larger center-left membership.

There is no practical alternative to one of those two parties, nor will one arise in the near future. It’s important that conservatives understand this: There is no path to a successful conservative alternative to the Republican Party that does not pass through huge and sustained Democrat victories at the national level.

This is true because we live in a strongly left-leaning media space, one that reaches most Americans on a daily basis through mainstream media and social networks almost all of which are relentlessly and increasingly dishonest and biased. Any attempt to create a conservative alternative to the Republican Party would be met with glee on the left, which would correctly recognize an opportunity to confuse, mislead, and divide the conservative electorate and prevent either conservative party from achieving a viable majority. This should be obvious to anyone who gives it even a moment’s thought.

The parties exist to get their candidates elected. They attempt to do this by attracting members and supporters who agree more with their positions than with the other party’s positions. Since most Americans are neither far-right nor far-left, each party has to try to appeal to a substantial portion of the electorate closer to the middle of the political bell curve. That means that neither party can be “purist,” in the sense of taking a strong ideological stand that is at odds with a large majority of the electorate.

Conservatives have an advantage at the moment in that the Democratic Party is increasingly being directed by hard-left extremists, and it has become difficult for even a complicit mainstream media to hide that. Now is a good time for the Republican Party to reach out to an electorate increasingly disenchanted by the left’s excesses. The greater the electoral advantage the Republican Party has, the more it can safely put forward candidates who represent the Party’s more conservative positions. We should be working to increase participation in the Republican Party by pointing out what the Party represents and how that contrasts with the progressive left’s agenda. This should be a moment to build up the Republican Party, not tear it down.

If the Republican Party has not been conservative enough for my tastes, I think that has more to do with the electorate than with the Party. The Party has to strike a balance between ideology and relevance: it has to get its candidates elected, and that means competing in the large center of America’s political space. Our goal should be to increase the Party’s electoral margins, so that it can put forth conservative candidates who can be confident of broad support, and so that we can afford to choose candidates a little further to the right without fear of losing critical moderate votes.

There is no ultimate victory here. The battle between conservatism and radicalism never ends. America will never be as conservative a nation as I want her to be. The Republican Party will never be as conservative as I am — not in my lifetime, anyway, not while remaining politically viable.

But the Republican Party is the only political platform that can successfully oppose the left. Criticize it sensibly. Encourage it to embrace the best of the Trump experience and to welcome those who saw in him something missing in American politics. Push the party to live up to its own stated vision. But don’t abandon it or run it into the ground. We are seeing right now what the alternative looks like.

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  1. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Henry Racette: As I sat down to type my nth comment defending the Republican Party against claims that it is useless, has accomplished nothing, and needs to be abandoned, I decided to write a post about it instead.

    Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

    47th time’s a charm!

    • #1
  2. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: As I sat down to type my nth comment defending the Republican Party against claims that it is useless, has accomplished nothing, and needs to be abandoned, I decided to write a post about it instead.

    Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

    47th time’s a charm!

    Yes, I don’t expect this one to go over very well. It’s easier to throw bombs than to invest time and energy in constructive efforts. I think we saw that writ large throughout 2020, as our cities burned.

    • #2
  3. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Henry Racette: But the Republican Party is the only political platform that can successfully oppose the left.

    This is the truth. It’s unavoidable. 

    And to say that it can’t be changed is to to deny what we all just witnessed with Trump’s surprise presidential candidacy, his unconventional campaign for office, his astonishing victory, and his four years of incredibly good, intelligent, and productive work. 

    • #3
  4. James Salerno Coolidge
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    Henry,

    I understand your points, but I don’t think we will be in a dual-party monopoly forever. The Republican party did not exist for the first six decades of our union. Things can change. How do massive changes happen? Slowly, then suddenly.

    • #4
  5. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Henry Racette:

    If the Republican Party were a monarchy, it could announce its intentions and its loyal subjects would fall in line and march as ordered. . . . But that isn’t how political parties work.

    It’s kind of how the GOP works, as evidenced in the attitude “Who else are they going to vote for?”

    It doesn’t occur them that the base might just stay home.

    The Party has to strike a balance between ideology and relevance: it has to get its candidates elected, and that means competing in the large center of America’s political space.

    Prediction: the GOP will continue chase after the elusive “moderate” by abandoning the right.

    Henry Racette: If the Republican Party has not been conservative enough for my tastes, I think that has more to do with the electorate than with the Party.

    And I think you’re wrong about that. The party promises the electorate red-meat conservatism and delivers mushy milquetoast. Voters are increasingly dismayed and feel disenfranchised from their elected officials. That’s not the fault of the voters. That’s the fault of the party continually failing to deliver on their promises.

    I point this out all the time, but I’ll do it again: when they had both houses of Congress and the White House for two years, they couldn’t even manage to defund the baby-parts traffickers at Planned Parenthood. They saved Obamacare, which was nothing but a gift to insurance companies anyway and sent the costs of healthcare skyrocketing. (You want the cost of something to go up? Effing subsidize it, guys! Then you act surprised when the costs go up! Are all our elected officials economic imbeciles? Or are they in on the take?)

    But I agree with you blaming the voters for the sorry state of the GOP. We were stupid to believe their promises and vote for them.

    • #5
  6. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    Henry,

    I understand your points, but I don’t think we will be in a dual-party monopoly forever. The Republican party did not exist for the first six decades of our union. Things can change. How do massive changes happen? Slowly, then suddenly.

    James, forever is a long time, and I won’t make predictions about it. But tell me: do you believe that, given the current media and tech environment, a new conservative party could be launched successfully — given all that the left would throw at it when it sees what a wonderful opportunity this is to rule without opposition? I don’t.

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: If the Republican Party has not been conservative enough for my tastes, I think that has more to do with the electorate than with the Party.

    And I think you’re wrong about that. The party promises the electorate red-meat conservatism and delivers mushy milquetoast.

    Politicians tend to be cautious. They want to be re-elected. I think elected Republicans recognize that, in our current knife-edge climate, it’s dangerous to be too easily caricatured as hard-right. For every DrewInWisconsin who throws the party under the bus for being insufficiently right, there are two more moderate folk who are a bit embarrassed to vote Republican, but do it because they just don’t like what the other party is doing — and who would stop doing it if they thought the guy they voted for really was a red-meat conservative instead of a more centrist sort.

    Do you imagine that moving the party away from the center would secure it more votes. The challenge is to keep it right of center, and far enough right to really do some good, while not going so far right so often that we lose a lot of people in the thick middle.

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):
    But I agree with you blaming the voters for the sorry state of the GOP. We were stupid to believe their promises and vote for them.

    It isn’t about blaming anyone. It’s about recognizing reality and trying to function within it, rather than throwing a tantrum and shooting ourselves in the foot. If you think it’s “stupid” to vote for the only viable opposition to the Democrats, that’s your call. Take your marbles and go home. Conservatism will limp along without you. But I think voting for the most conservative viable candidates while trying to strengthen and embolden the party remains the only sensible thing to do.

    • #6
  7. Jim Chase Member
    Jim Chase
    @JimChase

    Henry Racette: But the Republican Party is the only political platform that can successfully oppose the left. Criticize it sensibly. Encourage it to embrace the best of the Trump experience and to welcome those who saw in him something missing in American politics. Push the party to live up to its own stated vision.

    And herein lies a key part of the challenge.  The Republican party has for decades struggled to articulate a vision that can penetrate the prevailing winds of media noise, much less demonstrate any allegiance to that vision.  Love him or hate him, the last Republican figure who had any success with that was Newt and his “Contract with America” in the mid-’90s.  It’s not an original thought or notion, but it seems that a 21st century version of that is in order – to articulate a picture of America that not only has a broad-enough appeal that can compete against falsities of what the hard-left is peddling, but also one that puts at its core a restoration of sorts of the institutions that are vital to the continuance of the American experiment.  This business of just not being as bad as “the other guy” is not a long term strategy for success – for either side.

    Still, it’s hard not to think that the tipping point has already been reached.  I’m not sure there are any unifying figures left in politics that could convince the “people” of this little notion of Lincoln’s:

    We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

    Party politics is now fully engulfed in the owning and/or destruction of the other.  The extremes on each side want this.  I’m not so certain that’s true of the broader electorate – they just want to live their lives without the burden of oppressive government regulating their every activity.  Or so I’d hope.

    • #7
  8. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    But I think voting for the most conservative viable candidates while trying to strengthen and embolden the party remains the only sensible thing to do.

    Tell that to the NeverTrumpers who not only voted for Biden, but donated to his campaign, and encouraged other Republicans to do the same. I spit on their political graves. When the Bushes, Romneys, and McCains all abandoned the GOP base and threw in for the Democrats, the scales should have dropped from everyone’s eyes. There is only the permanent bipartisan fusion party anymore.

    • #8
  9. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    Well, if the Republicans are never going to do anything conservative because “the electorate really doesn’t want that,” then why don’t they just level with us? Why can’t they tell us, “We’re never going to secure the border. And we’re going to push for Amnesty because our big business patrons love that cheap labor.” Or, “We’re never going to repeal Obamacare; our donors are making money hand over fist on it.”  Or, “We’d be perfectly happy to see every manufacturing job in America sent to China.” 

    You know, if they cannot do those things because the electorate doesn’t really want those things, then being honest won’t hurt. Right?  

    • #9
  10. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Henry Racette: The parties exist to get their candidates elected.

    Truer words were never spoken.  
    They do NOT exist to enact the policies they promised to support.   They exist to get elected.   Period.   Establishment Republicans understand this completely.    They pointedly do not strive to enact the principles espoused at election time.   Hence they are useless.

    Democrats understand this as well.  However their electoral strategy involves increasing the pool of voters dependent upon government largesse.   So once elected, it benefits them to dole out largesse.   It’s the lesson  taught by Las Vegas … random rewards keep the customers coming back.   Hence the relentless drift to the Left.

    • #10
  11. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Henry Racette: Now is a good time for the Republican Party to reach out to an electorate increasingly disenchanted by the left’s excesses.

    Assumes facts not in evidence.   The midterms will determine just how disenchanted whose voters are.    
    And if the Republicans do manage to reach out to a group of disenchanted voters?   So what?    Your own axiom assures us that they don’t care a bit about doing anything once elected.   Getting elected is end in itself.

    • #11
  12. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    Do you imagine that moving the party away from the center would secure it more votes.

    Wasn’t the entire McCain/Romney strategy to run as centrists, rebuke all those “divisive” cultural issues, and avoid alienating “centrists?”  Isn’t that the strategy of northeastern liberal Republicans like Scott Brown?  

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I agree with almost everything you say, Hank. Here’s my problem: I don’t believe that most Republican politicians want conservative leaders. I think they may in their dreams, but they rely on old beliefs about what it takes to get elected. I think they still believe that Republicans will only get elected if they move to the middle, even while they watch the Left self-destruct. In fact, I wonder if some of them believe that the Republicans would look like the Left (chaos) if we moved more to the Right! I have seen a number of people talking about pushing against our own instincts. Remember how Trump went for the black vote, when most Republicans had given up on them? That’s what Republicans need to do: stop playing it safe, let go of old misperceptions, and assertively look for candidates who are actually Conservatives.

    • #13
  14. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    Ekosj (View Comment):
    Establishment Republicans understand this completely.    They pointedly do not strive to enact the principles espoused at election time.   Hence they are useless.

    Some people are just happy to have a red banner hanging in the halls of power instead of a blue one.

    The one’s who want a victory to mean more than that will invariably be disappointed.

    But I think what really red-pilled people against the Republican Party was the period from 2017 to 2019 when they held congressional majorities and the White House and still failed (deliberately) to repeal Obamacare or secure the border (they actually fought against Trump when he tried) or  even defund sanctuary cities but did manage to pass a massive tax cut.  And don’t try to tell me “It was all McCain.” Because it wasn’t.

    • #14
  15. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Remember how Trump went for the black vote, when most Republicans had given up on them?

    More than that, Trump went after the 40% of the electorate that doesn’t vote. That was bold. The number of disaffected voters who don’t participate in elections because they believe… justifiably… that it doesn’t matter far exceeds the number of suburban wine-box Karens who supposedly can be persuaded to vote for Republicans if they “focus on bread and butter economic issues.” 

    • #15
  16. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Henry Racette: One, the Republican Party, espouses those ideas mentioned above, of limited government and traditional order;

    Sure.  They espouse it.  They do little to see that it comes to pass.

    • #16
  17. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    Do you imagine that moving the party away from the center would secure it more votes.

    Wasn’t the entire McCain/Romney strategy to run as centrists, rebuke all those “divisive” cultural issues, and avoid alienating “centrists?” Isn’t that the strategy of northeastern liberal Republicans like Scott Brown?

    The last time we ran a genuine conservative we won back to back landslides.   But then we listened to the kinder and gentlers.   The centrists.   And here we are.

    • #17
  18. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I agree with almost everything you say, Hank. Here’s my problem: I don’t believe that most Republican politicians want conservative leaders. I think they may in their dreams, but they rely on old beliefs about what it takes to get elected. I think they still believe that Republicans will only get elected if they move to the middle, even while they watch the Left self-destruct. In fact, I wonder if some of them believe that the Republicans would look like the Left (chaos) if we moved more to the Right! I have seen a number of people talking about pushing against our own instincts. Remember how Trump went for the black vote, when most Republicans had given up on them? That’s what Republicans need to do: stop playing it safe, let go of old misperceptions, and assertively look for candidates who are actually Conservatives.

    Welcome: Facebook LIKES ~ a Truck Load

    • #18
  19. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Henry Racette: We should be working to increase participation in the Republican Party by pointing out what the Party represents and how that contrasts with the progressive left’s agenda. This should be a moment to build up the Republican Party, not tear it down.

    I agree with this, but the people the Republicans will be able to attract are going to be moderates (at the very best), not conservatives.

    • #19
  20. James Salerno Coolidge
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    Henry,

    I understand your points, but I don’t think we will be in a dual-party monopoly forever. The Republican party did not exist for the first six decades of our union. Things can change. How do massive changes happen? Slowly, then suddenly.

    James, forever is a long time, and I won’t make predictions about it. But tell me: do you believe that, given the current media and tech environment, a new conservative party could be launched successfully — given all that the left would throw at it when it sees what a wonderful opportunity this is to rule without opposition? I don’t.

    Yes! Not only do I believe that, but I believe the current media/technology oligarchy will be the catalyst that causes it. A lot of people woke up to it with the Trump presidency and the 2020 coup. Trust in these institutions will never be restored. We’re only a couple more Covington Catholic’s away from the whole house of cards falling over. That’s a good thing.

    And it will be done from the ground up. This is something the left is about 10 steps ahead of the right on. All of that Soros money in local races and DA’s. The right needs to play that game. I think the right is still stuck in top-down mode. Listen to how they talk about DeSantis now, like he’s going to be our knight in shining armor for 2024. It’s not going to be one guy. Putting all the eggs in one basket is a bad strategy. Once conservatives/the right realize this, that’s another sign that we can win this.

    • #20
  21. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Jim Chase (View Comment):
    they just want to live their lives without the burden of oppressive government regulating their every activity.

    I certainly do.  I’m not sure there’s a groundswell for this view.

    • #21
  22. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    Henry,

    I understand your points, but I don’t think we will be in a dual-party monopoly forever. The Republican party did not exist for the first six decades of our union. Things can change. How do massive changes happen? Slowly, then suddenly.

    James, forever is a long time, and I won’t make predictions about it. But tell me: do you believe that, given the current media and tech environment, a new conservative party could be launched successfully — given all that the left would throw at it when it sees what a wonderful opportunity this is to rule without opposition? I don’t.

    Yes! Not only do I believe that, but I believe the current media/technology oligarchy will be the catalyst that causes it. A lot of people woke up to it with the Trump presidency and the 2020 coup. Trust in these institutions will never be restored. We’re only a couple more Covington Catholic’s away from the whole house of cards falling over. That’s a good thing.

    And it will be done from the ground up. This is something the left is about 10 steps ahead of the right on. All of that Soros money in local races and DA’s. The right needs to play that game. I think the right is still stuck in top-down mode. Listen to how they talk about DeSantis now, like he’s going to be our knight in shining armor for 2024. It’s not going to be one guy. Putting all the eggs in one basket is a bad strategy. Once conservatives/the right realize this, that’s another sign that we can win this.

    I am a huge fan of ground-up party building, which is kind of what the post was about. We, the electorate, have to nudge and empower the party to go where we want it to go.

    But I think you’re mistaken about Republicans failing to work from the ground up. We tend to do better at the local and state level than we do at the national level. And the worse things are at the national level, the better we do locally.

    • #22
  23. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    But I think voting for the most conservative viable candidates while trying to strengthen and embolden the party remains the only sensible thing to do.

    Tell that to the NeverTrumpers who not only voted for Biden…

    I think that lot is probably lost. But there aren’t many of them. I’d rather tell it to the woe-is-me conservatives who are ready to throw the only viable alternative to the Democratic Party under the bus because it doesn’t live up to their expectations and they think it’s easier to rebuild a new conservative movement than to improve the Republican Party.

    • #23
  24. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    We tend to do better at the local and state level than we do at the national level.

    I suppose it depends on the locality. My state may be purple, but my city is blue. And getting bluer.

    • #24
  25. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    We tend to do better at the local and state level than we do at the national level.

    I suppose it depends on the locality. My state may be purple, but my city is blue. And getting bluer.

    That’s true everywhere.  Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville are blue.  Everywhere else is red (Chattanooga is purple).

    • #25
  26. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    I think that this was an excellent post.  Will the Republican Party go the way of the Whig (We hope in God) Party, or will it find a way to incorporate both Trump and Reagan conservatives?

    I see four alternatives.

    First, the Whig Party had four Presidents.  It split irrevocably over the issue of expanding slavery into the Territories, after the Dred Scott decision.  Donald John Trump, the person, not Trump’s positions, is what could split the Republican Party into two parts.  The Democrats would win several elections, but either the Trump Republican Party or the Reagan Republican Party will survive.  To quote Star Trek, “Either they are going down or we are.”  

    The second option would be for a self-funding candidate like Michael Bloomberg to run, just as Ross Perot did in 1992 and 1996.  

    The third option would be for the Uber Trump candidates in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to lose their primaries, and/or general elections, and for the party to turn away from Trump and go with a candidate who was a Trump supporter until after the 2020 election, and the 2020 Capitol Riot.

    The fourth option would be for divine intervention in the form of a health challenge for Trump, or his indictment.

    Or it could be a combination of the above.

    • #26
  27. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I’d rather tell it to the woe-is-me conservatives who are ready to throw the only viable alternative to the Democratic Party under the bus because it doesn’t live up to their expectations

    Much in the same way a mechanic who promises to fix your car and instead sells it to a chop shop,keeps the money, spits in your face doesn’t live up to your expectations.

    “Republicans have fallen a little short” implies they’ve accomplished *something* but aside from some tax cuts and maybe some judges…. They really haven’t. 

    • #27
  28. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: We should be working to increase participation in the Republican Party by pointing out what the Party represents and how that contrasts with the progressive left’s agenda. This should be a moment to build up the Republican Party, not tear it down.

    I agree with this, but the people the Republicans will be able to attract are going to be moderates (at the very best), not conservatives.

    How do you know?   Reagan Democrats were a genuine force.  Those same people could support a conservative again.

    • #28
  29. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I’d rather tell it to the woe-is-me conservatives who are ready to throw the only viable alternative to the Democratic Party under the bus because it doesn’t live up to their expectations

    Which viable option is that?   Another Bush?   A McCain?   Romney?   Who?

    • #29
  30. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: We should be working to increase participation in the Republican Party by pointing out what the Party represents and how that contrasts with the progressive left’s agenda. This should be a moment to build up the Republican Party, not tear it down.

    I agree with this, but the people the Republicans will be able to attract are going to be moderates (at the very best), not conservatives.

    How do you know? Reagan Democrats were a genuine force. Those same people could support a conservative again.

    Sure.  But Reagan was sui generis. The Democrat voters the Republicans would try to attract are Democrats for a reason.  Unless the Democrats get really crazy, it’s not likely they’ll support a Ron DeSantis.

    • #30