Tuesday, January 12, 2021

What Should Republicans Do Now? Some Thoughts

Republicans were reeling before last week's criminal breach of the US Capitol. But that breach, led by lunatics who deserve serious jail time, tossed Democrats a cudgel with which to drive a wedge between pro- and anti-Trump Republicans.

Pickett's Charge, Battle of Gettysburg, 1863

It reminds me of the infamous "Pickett's charge" during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. General George Pickett led his Confederate troops in an ill-fated charge across an open field in an effort to break the center of the Union line. It failed, but the Democrat's own version of Pickett's charge, with the artillery cover of the Capitol insurrection, has indeed breached the GOP middle. And how has the GOP responded? By shooting at each other. 

I saw evidence of it on my now former Facebook page yesterday. Otherwise intelligent Washingtonians and anti-Trumper Republicans, the same ones who said little to nothing while over 200 cities were pummeled with violence this past summer, expect everyone to clutch their pearls and demand Trump's immediate removal over the illegal breach of the Capitol. And if you don't, you support the insurrectionists and need to learn history (or, more accurately, "reeducation"), or worse. That all sounds familiar, and not in a good way. There is no nuance, no exceptions, and zero appreciation for history or self-awareness. With "friends" like this, who needs enemies?

Smarter, more dispassionate and clear-eyed Republicans with some appreciation for history, understand this. They know the party has been here before. After 1930. After 1958. After 1964. After 1974. After 2008, when Barack Obama and the Democrats had a massive majority in the House and, for a time, a filibuster proof Senate. It is time for some retrospection about events and to reengineer things for 2022 and beyond. 

The path forward is not complicated, but not easy to traverse.

Let's look at what has happened to the GOP over the past four years, from a 30,000 foot perspective.

The Republican Party has become an increasingly personality-driven party. It is the party not known widely for its successful policies and actions over the past four years, but as "The Party of Trump." For all of Trump's undeniable success and record of achievement, that is historically unfamiliar territory for a party that has always been, during its most successful days, an agenda driven party - lower taxes, less government, a strong economy, safe neighborhoods, good schools, and peace through strength. 

But what has America been hearing the past several months? The election is rigged, or stolen. But vote Republican anyway! How did that work out in Georgia's January 5th US Senate runoff elections? They've also seen Republicans shoot at each over the failure, in many minds, to give election law violations and irregularities (if not outright fraud) a fair hearing, especially by the courts. When some in Congress tried to provide such a hearing, consistent with the Electoral Count Act, the Capitol insurrection led by a few QAnon nuts and criminals undermined it and turned some House and Senate members into pariahs and targets for marginalization and outright cancelation. Ultimately, the job of exposing election illegalities fell to state legislatures, and they mostly punted.

That's where we are. What now?

Republicans cannot allow Democrats to succeed in driving a wedge between Republicans. Republicans, for their part, need to focus their sights on two things: rediscovering their agenda (their "brand") and combatting Democratic excesses that are sure to come. They always do.

A forward looking, optimistic agenda that resonates with our new, emerging multi-ethnic working class base should also help bring suburban voters turned off by Trump back into the fold. Restoring our economic strength by smartly ending the badly-implemented lockdowns; reforming and building good schools run by parents and focused on critical thinking, not indoctrination; safe neighborhoods; and military strength to preserve the peace and reign in an emergent communist power in Asia. Add "Big Tech" censorship and election reform (at the state level) to the list as well, but those may not resonate as well with voters we need to attract.

While Trump isn't going way - Democrats hope he doesn't, and fully intend for him to serve as an albatross around GOP necks the next four years - there is no doubt that Republicans had successes at the local, state and US House level in 2020. Republicans need to build on those successes to capture more seats at the local, state, and congressional levels with a focus on capturing a House if not a Senate majority in 2022. 

Part of that will be allowing new spokespeople and leaders to step forward. The RNC should consider naming a new lead spokesman for the party. Someone not running for President who has the respect of House and Senate leaders, as well as GOP governors. Leaders with sharp minds, quick wits, and a pleasant demeanor, who don't clearly and cleanly fall into a "never" or "pro" Trump trap. Leave the party machinery to the estimable current RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.

Who are some of the new spokespeople the GOP should promote? US Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC. US Rep. Elise Stephanik, R-NY. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, R-NC. US Rep. Mike Garcia, R-CA. New US Rep. Tony Gonzalez (R-TX). That's a younger, geographically and racially diverse group of leaders with great personal stories and inclusive messages, most of whom are also serious, articulate legislators. There are others, but those come to mind. And the leaders need not come from the ranks of the elected, but successful community activists, business leaders, educators, and elsewhere.

Lastly, Republicans of all stripes need to show some grace and stop focusing their guns on each others. Never Trumpers should stop disparaging pro-Trump Republicans, curb the arrogance and learn to listen. Pro-Trumpers should focus less on tribalism, accept the reality of the moment, reject lawlessness and work constructively to build on their successes of the past 4+ years. Republicans cannot afford to lose members of either camp. Both sides are guilty of shouting past each other and possessing an "either or" mentality. How is that working out for you? Both wings of the party are needed for successful flight.

The hard part is trying to achieve this in the face of media, cultural and educational headwinds. The questions are, who will lead, and will anyone follow? 

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