Are We Witnessing The Last Gasp Of The GOP? Not Likely

by George Kennedy on March 7, 2012


Are We Witnessing The Last Gasp Of The GOP?  Not Likely

What may appear to some bloggers as the “Last Gasp Of The GOP” is perhaps no more than the throes of a political party struggling to establish traction in an American society where their governing philosophy and social objectives are in conflict with a more ethnically diverse, youthful, and progressive populace.

The GOP today seems to be a house divided against itself and moderates are not welcome.  Santorum and Gingrich, for example, have considerable appeal to the Christian evangelicals and blue-collar Republicans.  Romney, on the hand, speaks to and represents the Wall Street crowd, and the older and more affluent and educated suburban voters.

What we can be certain of is that each group’s shared contempt, even hatred of the President, will keep the party afloat and “unified” through November and into 2016.

Although four-in-ten Republicans in a recent poll expressed a preference for other candidates to represent them in the coming matchup with President Obama, it is unlikely they will vote for a Democrat or desert the Republican Party.  When significant numbers of the Party’s more traditional base express an interest in forming, or joining, a third party, the GOP might be on the verge of extinction.  The real challenge for Republican Party leadership is how to extricate today’s GOP from an entrenched 19th century mindset.

An executive of a D.C.-based Republican polling firm says, “It’s not enough to convince voters that Obama isn’t working.  The key is convincing voters that the GOP provides an alternative.”

This executive is right on point.  The GOP in recent years planted the seeds of the bitter harvest it seems to be reaping among many Republicans disenchanted with their candidates for the White House this election cycle.  Turnout among Republican voters is low.  That sense of disenchantment most likely has spread among some conservative Democrats and those independents less inclined to support the GOP’s stance on divisive social issues.  Moreover, there are disaffected liberals who wanted a reasonable alternative to President Obama.

The Republican Party is on the ropes because its message is angry, their vision is too frequently moralistic, and its political and social philosophy is too judgmental for the rest of the electorate.  This posture presents problems for women, African Americans, Latinos, and the middle class.

The GOP is the party of, by, and for the rich – without apology.  That is arguably a structural weakness.  Here is another:  Republicans connect with those who have been fed a steady diet of lies and distortions about those who do not agree with them or look like them.   This is a part of the Republican base upon which the GOP may hope to build.  However, this task becomes more daunting unless their message resonates with moderates and independents.  These two groups have consistently voiced their displeasure at the GOP’s lack of interest in governance and its fealty to the narrow interests of a corporate, financial, and government elite.

We have heard this before and it bears repeating:  Republicans need a positive vision.  They need to think big and put forth bold ideas to excite a new generation.  Instead, their social policy prescriptions would deny more than uplift, or prove invasive more than supportive.  They have no plan the electorate would support to revitalize the economy or to create jobs other than through draconian austerity measures or trickle-down tax policies.

“Trickle-down” supply side policies combined with more austerity will not lead to the demise of the GOP.  It is, however, likely that the consequences of these policies will inhibit the GOP’s efforts to broaden its base of support.

Another inhibiting factor is the leadership of the Republican Party has squandered the public trust for the past three decades while becoming addicted to mismanaging our national and natural resources.

On the plus side, the GOP is resilient, persistent, well-financed, aggressive, organized, vocal, and hungry for power.   As an aside, the Democrats would do well to match the Republican’s intensity and clarity of purpose.   Also, the Republicans are guided by rules of their own design and expect to be permitted wide latitude in how they interpret facts and history.  Unfortunately, theirs is a worldview increasingly at odds with modern society.

Evidence of this dysfunctionality is their obsession, by modern standards, with the human anatomy from the waist down:  anti-gay (GLBTG) persons, anti same-sex marriage, anti-women’s contraception and health protections, and anti-abortion.

To this list, add the GOP’s preference for conflict over piece, tax benefits for the rich while privatizing the safety net for the 99-percent, and unbridled capitalism at the expense of balance and the larger public good.

The Republican Party is very much alive and determined to extract a hefty price for its place at the negotiating table with the President and the Democrats.  Should they not prevail this November, we can expect less flexibility in their negotiations with their Democratic colleagues on the Hill or with a second-term President Obama.  The vitriol directed against the President will be palpable and ever more vigorous because he becomes a lame duck on the day he is sworn in for his second and final term.

We should assume that if the Republicans capture the Senate and retain either control or maintain a significant presence in the House, they will eschew any entreaties to change key Party priorities with regard to the economy, the environment, energy production, tax policy, foreign policy, the Democrats, education, labor, states’ rights, civil rights, voting rights, and women’s issues.   Therefore, four more years of Republican obstruction may not represent a material improvement over the first term of our first African American president.

The GOP will survive.  We should not expect that it would play a role in bridging the political, economic, and social divide in the U.S.   There appears to be the attitude that if they are consistent and persistent in telling us that the country is at the brink of disaster under the Democrats, perhaps we will entrust them once again to offer prescriptions we know do not work.  Republicans are a patient lot.

Looking toward the future:  The electorate is the one potent instrument capable of inspiring the GOP to reexamine the role it could usefully play in strengthening the economy, creating jobs, developing a more comprehensive energy policy, making America more competitive globally, and revitalizing our manufacturing sector.  In fact, we need the Republicans to accomplish any of these goals – all of which are vital to our national security.  Compromise, bipartisanship, and a willingness to set aside party goals for the larger benefit of the country is what the voters seek from both parties.

However, even though voters today desire both parties to work together, the word “compromise” is not part of the Republican lexicon.  Indeed, Republican behavior during the Obama administration to date, and particularly since the party gained control of the House in 2010, confirms its desire to achieve “my way or the highway” legislation.

The Republican drumbeat has the same cadence-sounding message since the New Deal.  Its economic stew to nourish America has the ingredients of smaller government, privatization, deregulation, plus the spice of outsourcing.  Yet, voters know that this recipe has been tried and fed before, and it has failed to work for most of the middle class and blue-collar workers.

Our problems of affordable health care, fair banking practices, safe working conditions, a clean environment, a sound education system, and a steady job creation (that balances and irons out any extreme fluctuations in the business cycle) are too vital to be entrusted entirely to the private sector.  Modern government today must be involved any public-private-sector efforts to address these concerns.

Government must be part of any formula to heal an unhealthy nation.  This is what government is charged to do.  History has shown that unbridled corporations lead to unfair business practices and create harmful monopolies and trusts.  If the Republicans continue to control one branch of the government with their current attitudes toward problem solving and presidential prejudice, the people of this great country will suffer a painful and an unnecessarily slow recovery.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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