The Failure of The Republican Party And How They Might Recover

Writing obituaries for the Republican Party, or predicting how they might recover, has become a very popular topic. As Bob Barr told CNN, “The Republican Party is in very deep trouble right now.” Bruce Bartlett has written about The Dismal Failure Of The GOP for Forbes.

Bartlett took a historical view of the two major political parties, showing how their relative power has varied over the years. After looking at eras which have little relevance to our current political situation, Bartlett discussed how the Republicans became the majority party after the Democrats became “a more purely liberal party no longer restrained by a conservative Southern wing.” What the Republicans failed to recognize is that you can either have a majority party or a party which consistently supports a single ideology. You cannot have both. Bartlett wrote:

After winning control of Congress and the White House in 2000, Republicans were as full of themselves as Democrats had been after achieving the same goal in 1976 and 1992. Cooperation with the other party was viewed as a sell-out by partisans of the party in control. The dominant element of each party–liberals in 1977 and 1993, and conservatives in 2001–moved quickly to implement long-cherished measures that had been blocked by a lack of unified control of the executive and legislative branches.

As the Republicans moved to the extreme right and purged those who did not follow the party line, the Democrats built the big tent:

At this point, Democrats finally accepted that applying ideological litmus tests was self-defeating. If some moderate or conservative wanted to run in a district that would only elect a moderate or conservative, then it was stupid to insist that they endorse every liberal item in the Democratic agenda. Moderates and conservatives were permitted to dissent from the party line on issues such as gun control if that was what it took to win.

This “big tent” approach was highly successful and greatly helped Democrats retake control of Congress in 2006. What probably hurt congressional Republicans the most, however, was their down-the-line support for every action by George W. Bush, no matter how ill-conceived, poorly implemented or at odds with the party’s basic philosophy, such as when he insisted on a massive expansion of Medicare in 2003.

As a consequence, the Republican brand was destroyed. The party is now widely viewed as corrupt, incompetent, ideologically rigid and out of step with the American mainstream. It should be engaging in self-examination, developing an agenda that addresses the real problems faced by Americans and reaching out to the millions of voters who have left the GOP in recent years. Instead, Republicans are pushing out the last of the party’s moderates as if that will somehow make them more popular with the very moderates whose votes are essential if they are to regain power.

I think Republicans desperately need a group that will do for them what the DLC did for the Democrats. Unfortunately, I see no such organization or any resources available for those that might start one. Those with such resources are either turned off by Republican pandering to its right wing and have left the party or they agree with it. Either way, no one in the Republican Party seems to have any interest in victory, and they prefer to wear defeat as some kind of badge of honor.

Eventually, Republicans will tire of being out of power just as Democrats did, and they will do what it takes to win. But I fear that Republicans will have to at least lose in 2010 and again in 2012 before they start to come to their senses. Perhaps by 2014, some leader with maturity, resources, vision and discipline will find a way of leading the GOP out of the wilderness. But I see no one even in a position to start that process today.

I have often argued that the Republicans must either change their views or go the way of the Whigs. While there is no guarantee of this happening, I also tend to think that at some point we will have a restoration of a two party system, either by the Republicans coming to their senses and recovering or by a new party developing from splits in the Democratic majority.

There are a number of potential ways to see the Republicans coming back into power. Hopefully this will be from them coming to their senses and moving back from the extreme far right. There are also other possibilities.

The Democrats might commit political suicide by following the path of the Republicans should they move to the far left and act to oust those who fail to show ideological purity. At present this is contrary to the direction the Democrats have been moving in, but there are some who do show such tendencies. As I noted a few days ago, it is also possible that Democratic successes could also lead to people no longer having the same reasons to vote Democratic in order to achieve plans offered by the Democrats such as increased access to health care once this is accomplished.

Conditions in the country and the world will play a part in the fortunes of the two political parties. Democratic prospects will be far better if the economy improves over the next few years. Often unpredictable events have a tremendous influence over politics. When George Bush was (questionably) elected in 2000 we could not have predicted that the Republicans would benefit from a terrorist attack in 2001, despite the fact that they mishandled it so badly. When Bush was reelected in 2004 we also could not have predicted that his poor response to Katrina would so quickly demonstrate the incompetence of the Republicans even to many former Republican voters.

Time could work to the benefit of the Republicans. An increasing number of Democratic House and Senate seats are now from areas which have been Republican until recently, making them harder to defend. Historically the party out of office does better in off year elections. Americans tend to both have a short memory and a tendency to grow tired of the party in power. At present this might not help the Republicans as they continue to remind people of why they were voted out as they claim they lost because they were not conservative enough.

Republicans might also return to power based upon their rhetorical ability and tendency to distort the truth. As people forget the disasters of past Republican rule, Voodoo economics might again look attractive. While Republicans policies don’t work in the real world, it sure does sound attractive to be able to cut taxes and simultaneously bring in more revenue. While Republican scare tactics about what Democrats will do are repeatedly contradicted by reality, there’s also a sucker born every minute. There are still many who believe that Democrats want to take away their guns and Bibles, with some conservative claims, such as those spread by Glenn Beck, becoming even more paranoid

The best chance for the Republicans would be, as Bartlett says, to “come to their senses.” At present Bartlett is right that this appears difficult. The general trend of history has been towards freedom and reason while the Republicans try to fight these trends. A party which has many members which support creationism over evolution and modern biology, fights stem cell research on religious grounds, and denies the scientific consensus on climate change will not be taken seriously by most educated and intelligent people in the 21st century.

In order to survive in the modern world, the Republicans must acknowledge both that abortion rights is a settled issue and that the state has no right to tell a woman what she can do with her body. Republicans must realize the government should not intervene in other personal decisions, ranging from contraception to end of life decisions (as in the Terri Schiavo case). Republicans must realize that although they were able to capitalize on homophobia in 2004 with votes to prevent gay marriage, the attitude of the country is rapidly changing on gay marriage and other social issues.

Republicans must realize understand the significance of the decision of the founding fathers to create a secular government characterized by separation of church and state, as opposed to promoting a revisionist history which denies this and falsely claiming that the United States was established as a Christian nation.

Some Republicans would claim that saying Republicans should abandon these views is to say they should not be Republicans as they consider these views to be essential components of conservatism. In actuality there is no contradiction between rejecting the extremism of the religious right and conservatism. Doing this would be a return to the philosophy of Barry Goldwater, which many contemporary conservatives falsely claim to be following.

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  1. 1
    A Giant Slor says:

    Excellent analysis, Ron. However, I don’t think there’s much of a future in Goldwater-esque conservatism, either. Goldwater was an uncompromising ideologue who launched the modern conservative movement. Today’s conservatives, while more religious in nature than Goldwater, think returning to a no-compromise position is the way forward. The Goldwater model is one that will only lead them further into the wilderness.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    They will also need to take into account conditions of the present rather than blindly following someone from the past, but it is significant that earlier conservatives such as Goldwater were strongly opposed to the influence of the religious right.

  3. 3
    cosanostradamus says:

    Why would anyone want them to recover? Recover what? Their dignity? BWAWHAWHAHAHAHAAAA!!!!

  4. 4
    Fritz says:

    I would.  I would like a functional political party that actually strives toward less government.  The LP is not functional (and really has not been since 1980 or so).  The current Republican Party is a disaster.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    Did you consider the LP functional before 1980?

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:


    This is more about speculating on what will happen as opposed to necessarily what I want to happen. I would prefer to maintain the checks and balances of a two party system, but for that to work we need to either have the Republicans recover in a more rational form, or have them replaced by another party.

  7. 7
    Fritz says:

    Ron, — Yeah, the LP was reasonably functional and growing strongly in the 1980 election.  Ed Clark did a great job on the top of the ticket. 

    Growth and energy stagnated by 1984 and went downhill after that.  Part of it, in California, was the growth of awareness of the huge impact of AIDS.  In the cities, about half of Libertarian activists were gay and, well, priorities changed.  Another part was that LP leadership was taken over by people with no social skills and way too much ideology.  So we got continued deranged arguments about the “LP Pledge” and what it meant.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    I didn’t see them as very functional back then, but at least they were trying to run libertarians, as opposed to washed up Republicans as they did this year.

  9. 9
    Fritz says:

    Yeah, the Barr nomination was very upsetting.  And the nausea continues — as the LP condemns the Obama administration for not “controlling the border” to stop swine flu.


    I don’t know whether I should get active again to help vote against these jerks or just write it off as a bad investment.

  10. 10
    Reaganite Republican Resistance says:

    This blog is complete drivel, LOL. The GOP doesn’t have to do much, just sit back and watch Obama drive the country straight into the ground. When all this pork and welfare fails to create any real economic gains, we are humiliated overseas, and/or Rezko and Blago start singing…the Democrats face a bloodbath in 2010.

    By 2012, people will >wince< at the very mention of the name “Obama”- and the GOP could take 40 states running Gilbert Gottfried.

    Enjoy it while it lasts, kiddies.

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:

    This is just the delusional attitude which led to the GOP being thrown out of office and ceasing to be a national political party.

  12. 12
    cosanostradamus says:

    Ron Chusid said: May 3rd, 2009 at 4:49 pm
    This is more about speculating on what will happen as opposed to necessarily what I want to happen. I would prefer to maintain the checks and balances of a two party system, but for that to work we need to either have the Republicans recover in a more rational form, or have them replaced by another party.

    To Hell with the so-called “Two-Party System.” It’s a One-Party Corporatist sham. We’d be better off with the checks & balances of a multi-Party parliamentary system, with no corporate support allowed, no campaign advertising, public-supported campaigns, C-SPAN-only political debates and no suppression of minority Parties. Then maybe we’d have a genuinely democratic system, much further to the Left. As it is, well, just turn on Fuxsnooze… .

  13. 13
    Ron Chusid says:

    We can argue over whether a multi-party system or a two party system is better, but either is better in theory than a one-party system.

  14. 14
    Fritz says:

    Cosonostradamus — how are you proposing to make sure that candidates only debate on CSPAN?  And I assume you don’t want to ban labor union support along with corporate support.

    I would love to have some sort of parliamentary system — I think two political parties is way too few.  I don’t know how to change our system to break the two-party grip on power.

  15. 15
    Fritz says:

    Ron, it’s not necessarily delusional. 

    I believe that the Obama administration’s fiscal policies will have very bad long-term effects.  If those effects start by early 2012 and if the Republicans nominate someone with economic chops (i.e. not Mike Huckabee) then there could be a serious backlash.

    Of course “long term” typically takes more than four years, so Obama is probably safe.  And even if the chickens come quickly to roost, the GOP will probably nominate somebody running around about gays and evolution.

    But the chance is there.

  16. 16
    Eclectic Radical says:


    The only reliable way to get a multi-party system going is massive constitutional and electoral reform. We would have to scrap the current executive and legislative sections and rewrite them to dump the electoral college and create a more parliamentary legislature and executive. We would have to completely rewrite federal election law, which currently mandates an equal number of Republicans and Democrats hold seats on the FEC. We aren’t going to get a third party going successfully as long as the FEC is the chew-toy of the two-party system. It is even doubtful that the Republican Party will die out, for precisely that reason, no matter how much it marginalizes itself.

    There is also an adversarial view of politics in this country, at the grass roots level. Even during less rigidly regulated eras, we have always ended up with two political parties despite periods of instability in the two-party system. This would suggest that there is something in the American mindset that naturally aggregates toward a two-party system. Most likely, it dates back to the Tory/Whig opposition over protest against Britain prior to the Revolutionary War and the Federalist/Anti-Federalist dispute over the Constitution after.

  17. 17
    Ron Chusid says:

    The structure of our government has any factors which promote a two party system even though this was not the original intent.

    One structural change which would be needed is changing the manner in which only the party which has the first place candidate in an area wins representation. Third party candidates would have a better chance if Congressmen were distributed by percentage of the vote for a larger area, so a third party which only gets 20% still has some representation and a chance to grow. Right now the prevalent attitude is that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote (other than as a protest vote).

  18. 18
    Eclectic Radical says:

    “The structure of our government has any factors which promote a two party system even though this was not the original intent.”

    Well, the founding fathers were frightfully naive about a great many things. Washington, John Adams, and others actually believed they could have an electoral system without political parties at all. Even in the absence of organized political parties, it is impossible to avoid the ‘factionalism’ that so irritated them.

    “Right now the prevalent attitude is that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote (other than as a protest vote).”

    Right now, it is. This is why I remain a registered Democrat despite being ideologically closer to Bernie Sanders.

  19. 19
    cosanostradamus says:

    Ron Chusid said:
    May 3rd, 2009 at 7:22 pm
    We can argue over whether a multi-party system or a two party system is better, but either is better in theory than a one-party system.  ‘</i>

    Yeah, except we don’t have a two-Party system, in reality. The Democrats and the Republicans are, effectively, one big corporatist Party. Their fringes may differ on issues already settled, like abortion or gun control, but the “center” is all one big happy corporate family. Change that and maybe you’ll have a two-Party system. But you’ll never change that as long as corporate money rules.

    Just look at the bail-outs, union check-off, universal single-payer national health care, etc, etc, etc. On the issues that really matter to the vast majority of Americans, we have no voice. The corporations run the show. That has to change, or, whatever you call it, our system is not a democracy.

  20. 20
    cosanostradamus says:

    Fritz said:
    May 3rd, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Cosonostradamus — how are you proposing to make sure that candidates only debate on CSPAN?  And I assume you don’t want to ban labor union support along with corporate support.
    I would love to have some sort of parliamentary system — I think two political parties is way too few.  I don’t know how to change our system to break the two-party grip on power.
    Amend the Constitution, if necessary. The current system simply doesn’t work. Once they swept away the Fairness Doctrine, and the Supreme Court declared that money was speech, and that corporations are people, in fact immortal unprosecutable super-people, the average citizen was out of the picture.
    As to labor unions and other citizens’ organizations, of course they have the right to contribute, always: That’s what they are for. The corporate shams the rich hide behind, and the sham organizations that hide the corporations, are not citizens, and only exist to make money at the citizens’ expense. They should be broken up like the Trusts of old. That job was never finished. Our current corporate medieval State is the result.

  21. 21
    Fritz says:

    Labor unions also exist to make money at others’ expense.  They do so by restricting the pool of potential employees and leaving others to unemployment.

  22. 22
    Eclectic Radical says:

    By the pure laws of economics applied strictly, everyone who gets a job takes that job away from someone else. No one can work without theoretically leaving someone else to unemployment. The law of scarcity dictates that the more anyone has, the less everyone else has. That’s just the way it is. Claiming that labor unions are inherently evil is silly, they operate according to the laws of economics just as business does.

    Labor unions came into being because industrial capitalism has the potential to be a truly hideous thing. Corruption in unions is despicable, as is corruption in business, but neither labor unions nor business are inherently corrupt.

    Business has too much power in our current society, certainly, but this is not because business is evil. Is the current American business model too feudal? Certainly, and that needs to be addressed. I bash corporate corruption with the best of them and I genuinely believe corporatism is hostile, in many senses, to free markets. However, business is necessary to provide the economic needs of civil society. Nor is there a better system of political economy than allowing those who meet those needs to benefit from doing so.

    However, it is important to say that the reason class warfare is so prevalent in modern society is that capitalism does inherently pit the interests of the working and capitalist classes against each other in many ways. Being flawed humans, both sides frequently do not see that their true best interests are served by finding the best balance between the interests of both sides. If every job in the US is outsourced, no one in the US can buy anything US business sells. On the other hand, there does reach a point where high wages diminish profits beyond the capacity of business to sustain them.

    America is an adversarial society in many ways, and in our adversarial system, labor unions are necessary.

  23. 23
    Fritz says:

    I’m not saying that labor unions are unnecessary, but it is delusional to consider them to be some sort of altruistic citizens’ organizations.  They are groups of people who increase their own money by forcing others out of the market.  Perhaps that is justified, but that is how it works.  And then, if they are successful, they add corruption on top if it.

    And, of course, I never said business was any saintlier than that.

  24. 24
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Fritz, I was trying to address you and cosanostradamus all at once. I agree labor unions are not saintly, though I disagree with your characterization of their reason for existing. Labor unions exist to represent the interests of their members in the same way that any other activist organization exists to represent the interests of its members. Have unions engaged in activities not commensurate with their necessary purpose? Yes. However, I am not sure success and corruption can be automatically assumed to be complimentary. I’m willing to agree success increases the likelihood of corruption in most areas of human interaction. This why I am so hard on business. 😉

  25. 25
    Fritz says:

    Unions exist to assist their members.  They do so by making sure that people who are not members of the union are shut out of a chance to apply for employment.  That’s not a characterization or a slam — that’s what they do.

    The corruption is secondary.

    My first jobs were in Cleveland.  At my first engineering job, if we wanted to move our personal stuff from one desk to another we had to do so at night so that union members would not see engineers carrying things.

    Grocery stores were not open in the evening or on Sunday because the unions would not allow it — damn great for families with two workers.

    I will grant that my experiences in Cleveland have colored my attitude.

  26. 26
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I have had experiences from both angles of consideration. I have been a non-union security guard on two different union worksites, and I have worked for an industrial employer in a right-to-work state. Working as a security guard in a fright yard gave me plenty of experience of union corruption, firsthand. On the other hand, my other turn at being a ‘scab’ on a union site was entirely different. We were made to feel very welcome and there was no friction or harassment.

    Yet I believe that my most recent employer here in Tennessee desperately needs unionization. Skilled technical workers are treated as if they were kids in kindergarten and given less respect than fast food workers. Employees there are underpaid for their field, overworked to meet moronic quotas set by incompetent management personnel with no notion of incoming resources with which to meet those quotas, and corporate policy changes arbitrarily on a monthly, sometimes weekly basis.

    I will grant my experiences there, and the manner in which I lost that job, have colored my attitude as well. 😉

  27. 27
    Fritz says:

    Sure.  I’m not saying that unions are evil, horrible people or whatever.  I am just saying they are a special interest looking out for their members at the expense of well, anyone else who might get in the way.  Which is fine. 

    But cosanostradamus seems to think unions are groups of altruistic concerned citizens and should be able to fund elections while business interests would be banned from doing so because they aren’t groups of altruistic concerned citizens.

  28. 28
    Ron Chusid says:

    Plus it is not necessary for business groups, or any other group, to be a group of altruistic concerned citizens in order to have a say in a democracy.

  29. 29
    Fritz says:

    Ron, cosanostradamus stated that labor unions and other citizen groups could fund political activities, but not corporations or the “sham” groups they might set up.

  30. 30
    Ron Chusid says:


    Right. I believe I was agreeing with you in disagreeing with his view that labor unions but not corporations should have a say in a democracy.

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