Saving the Republican Party From Itself

What do you do when you find yourself in a long-term relationship that’s left you embittered and estranged? Go into counseling, decide to separate or just break it off altogether?

Dave Spencer - Mar 03, 2021

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What do you do when you find yourself in a long-term relationship that’s left you embittered and estranged? Go into counseling, decide to separate or just break it off altogether?

This is the situation I currently find myself in with the Republican Party and the truth is that we’ve been at odds for decades. Since I haven’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since George H.W. Bush, few people would question it if I formally announced I was leaving the party. And after four years of the GOP kowtowing to Donald Trump, how can you vote your conscience for a party that seemingly has no conscience?

I could never be a Democrat, but some of my friends have asked me that given my political values, why I haven’t at least declared myself an independent, as many disillusioned GOP supporters have done. But to me, being an independent doesn’t really say anything and I think it’s important that those of us who believe in the traditional values of the Republican Party, remain Republicans. As former RNC Chairman, Michael Steele, who’s been as critical as anyone, says, there’s nowhere else to go; it’s our party, and we’ve got to fight to bring it back. It gives one more credibility to criticize and offer differing opinions as a concerned citizen who has remained in the GOP tent, even when there’s barely room for us in the back.

As proven at the CPAC conference, aka Trumpchella, it’s clear Trump still holds power over those who fear his base, but the fact is he’s never going to win another national election and as time goes on, his influence will wane, especially as he’s now facing five criminal investigations and his brand is imploding and businesses are in free fall. And Trump holds the distinction of being the first president since Herbert Hoover who lost the House, Senate and Presidency during his single term in office, and the only one who lost the popular vote twice.

While a majority of Republicans in the House and the Senate were (and still are) complicit in their support of the former president, it doesn’t mean they will remain part of the Cult of Trump. A record seven Senators voted for impeachment and I believe there are others who are capable of working with Democrats. And we need the Mitt Romney’s, Lisa Murkowski’s, Liz Cheney’s and Adam Kinzinger’s to play a larger role in the party and form issue-oriented alliances across the aisle. In the short term, we don’t need a functioning Republican party, we just need a few functioning Republicans.

There’s a political adage that says the most important battles are not between the parties, but within them. You cannot have a pro-Trump party that’s still detached from reality and a Mitch McConnell led faction that wants to move on, while forgetting their own role in enabling Trump. Thus, the party is headed for a civil war, the worst internecine meltdown we can imagine because the two sides are simply irreconcilable. With his conspiracy fantasy land, the former president has created such a huge expectations gap between the GOP base and its elected leaders, that many of them now hate McConnell as much as Nancy Pelosi. And each sees its path to staying in power is via minority rule; for the House that means increased gerrymandering and for both the Senate and House, more restrictive voting laws.

We must get back to a functional Republican Party because if we end up with a one-party system, I believe there’s going to be a revolt in this country. We need idealistic checks and balances, the willingness to agree to disagree and most of all, a commitment to compromise, the only way to get things done and serve the best interests of the American people. Yearning for a return to those fundamental democratic principles might appear to be pure fantasy right now, as nearly three-quarters of Republican voters still think that President Biden was not legitimately elected. Yet, despite this fact-defying statistic and the various conspiracy theories still floated by the former president and right-wing media outlets, the GOP will have to change or it will simply become irrelevant. When you become a party that doesn’t offer new ideas and solutions and simply stands for opposition and obstruction; it really comes down to evolve or dissolve.

In a cruel twist of irony, for those of us who want to see a return to some kind of sanity in the party, the 2022 Senate map looks bad for the GOP. There are 20 Republican seats up versus 14 Democratic. Between changing demographics, the retirement of senators from Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, as well as other competitive races in battleground states, there are three or four seats in serious jeopardy. And while GOP leaders may believe they can regain the House, I don’t believe that old axiom of a president’s party always loses seats in the midterms applies during a pandemic, with a half million Americans dead and our economy still in recovery.

If the Biden administration passes its COVID-relief bill and successfully implements a nationwide vaccination program, there will be a dramatic economic rebound and as always, the economy will be the number one election issue in 2022 and 2024. That’s why you’re seeing Republicans in Congress opposing Biden’s proposed relief bill, even though 60% of their constituents support it. It’s simply not in their self-interest for Democrats to succeed. Donald Trump could not have handed Republicans a worse damned-if-we-do and damned-if-we-don’t scenario.

Thus, if the GOP loses big in ‘22 and ‘24, Democrats might even be able to get a filibuster-proof majority. But in the meantime, they must learn the lesson from President Obama’s prolonged negotiations with Republicans over healthcare–Mitch McConnell never had any intention of meeting them halfway. The best way for Democrats to demonstrate strength is to pass a COVID relief bill through the reconciliation process, then pursue infrastructure, voting rights and immigration reform, all of which have over 65% public approval.

Bipartisanship may sound good as a theory of governing, but the Biden administration must do whatever it takes, including abolishing the filibuster, if it’s required to pass meaningful, popular legislation. Even with a divided, disillusioned nation, Americans will recognize progress and regain at least a small sense that their government is actually working for them again.

I never thought I’d sound like a Democratic strategist, but times call for democracy strategists. To be practical, only after the Republican Party has suffered staggering losses will we begin see party leaders saying that we’ve got to start changing. As the drama and trauma of the Trump presidency gradually fades, I will continue to work towards the goal of reclaiming and renewing the Republican Party, even if that means the GOP first has to suffer a series of ruinous defeats.

This may be one of those decisive moments in American politics where we have to burn down the village in order to save it.