Discover more from The Freemen News-Letter
The Republican Party Isn't Irredeemable
Calling a political party irredeemable is really no different than saying its members are irredeemable. And I simply don’t believe it.
When I attended the Principles First Summit in February, the most controversial panel and the most heated topic was the question of “should we stay or should we go?” referencing the Republican Party. Joe Walsh, always channeling his inner shock jockey, didn’t quibble on his thoughts right out of the gate: “I don’t know why the hell we’re even asking that question anymore. Stay where?”
Joe Walsh spent the rest of the panel arguing for his belief that a center-right third party is coming sometime in the next few years. He claimed the death of the Republican Party was inevitable and would proceed slowly but surely. His charge was that conservatives who want to see a more principled approach to politics have to “deal in reality.”
I have thoughts on “dealing in reality.”
Joe Walsh contends that the reality we live in is one where the Republican Party is so overwhelmed with nationalists and populists worshipping at the throne of Donald Trump that any effort to reassert traditional conservative values within the GOP is hopelessly doomed to failure.
He asserts that the vast majority of registered Republicans are so beyond reasonable dialogue that any attempts to sway them from the Trumpist path is a waste of effort. The only path forward, according to him, is to allow the Republican Party to die and, from its ashes, a better and more responsible center-right party can emerge.
But is this the reality we’re living in, or is it the Twittersphere hellscape occupied by Joe Walsh and similar infotainment figures who have embraced a narrative counter to reality? I contend it is the latter. I argue, and I have long argued, that the Republican Party, for better or worse, is the only platform through which conservative ideals can enter the halls of government.
This is the reality. And, yes, it’s a sobering reality. But it is the reality discoverable through prudence and deep consideration. It’s a reality only discernable by taking a step back from the passions and emotions of social media activism. It’s a reality rooted in history and the facts of partisan politics throughout America’s existence. And, lastly, it’s a reality undeniable by those who have honestly surveyed how the electorate behaves and where the voters are.
So, for the first real and serious question: has there ever been a successful third-party effort? The answer is both yes and no. Technically, yes, the Republican Party first rose to prominence in a political atmosphere that was previously dominated by two major parties, the Whigs and the Democrats.
But a careful assessment of this period demonstrates that the Republican Party didn’t rise as a third-party option competing with both the Whigs and the Democrats as functioning political parties. The Whig Party had already imploded from irreconcilable differences in their own membership. The slave issue drove a stake into the heart of the Whig Party, and the Republican Party came into existence as both former Whigs and Northern Democrats rallied around the union and abolitionism.
So, from this historical anecdote, I can grant Joe Walsh’s argument this concession: if the Republican Party splinters into non-existence and if significant components of the Republican Party’s voters and leaders can still form a sizable block of influence, then a new center-right party might emerge.
However, while the Republican Party is going through a pretty rough patch in its long history, there are little to no signs of large enough defections from its voters, officeholders, or leaders to result in its displacement as a major party. In fact, despite Donald Trump’s massive unpopularity, more Americans voted for Republicans in 2020 than ever before. And current trends in the post-Trump era suggest that Americans are re-embracing the Republican Party in record numbers.
Every significant electoral factor points to a Republican resurgence in 2022 that is highly likely to retake the House of Representatives and may even reclaim the Senate. To what extent Trump exercises influence over a Republican-controlled Congress remains to be seen, but this hardly looks like a political party on the cusp of a Whig-like implosion.
But moving beyond a historical view of political parties, Joe Walsh’s dual contention makes no sense. He argues that the Republican Party is irredeemable but also asserts that a constituency exists large enough to form a new center-right party that can displace the GOP as one of two sole contenders for major office in the current “first past the post” system. But if the vast majority of votes cast, even with Trump on the ticket, went to the two major parties, where is Walsh’s proposed constituency?
The reply would likely be that a majority of Americans are broadly center-right and that they only vote for the two current major parties because those are the only options on the table. And, yes, I’d generally agree with that statement. But think for a moment how disjointed this reply would be given Walsh’s key assertion: that the Republican Party, and by extension its members, are irredeemable.
The constituency that Walsh would need to forge a new center-right party must include a sizable chunk, if not a majority, of current registered Republicans. Sure, you could probably afford to shave off the die-hard Trump supporters and still have a large enough coalition to contend for office, but you would have to win over Trump voters if you want to be anything more than a spoiler.
So, what is the reality of Joe Walsh’s arguments? The reality is that he and others have taken the Never Trump mantra so far as to believe that anything Trump has ever touched must die. Rather than attempting to save the voters and various organizations and institutions that represent the marks in Trump’s con job, they have decided that anything and everything that fell for Trump’s charm (or even dared to conclude that for how much they despised Trump, offerings like Hillary or Biden were beyond the pale) is deplorable, irredeemable, and must be wholly forsaken.
The belief that a single-term President, however horrible, can be the catalyst for the destruction of a major party is to give Donald Trump way too much credit. We’re talking about political institutions that have demonstrated tremendous staying power throughout American history. Neither slavery, the civil war, nor Jim Crow damaged the electoral viability of the Democratic Party for very long. McCarthyism and Watergate far from signaled the end of the GOP. The combined sins of Donald J. Trump do not rise to the pinnacle of these listings, and history is already moving past him.
The post-Trump world may not be the Trumpless world so many hoped it would be. The Republican Party hasn’t repented in sackcloth and ashes for electing and enabling him. The political culture continues to be shot through with concerning populist, reactionary, and regressive trends that damage the efficacy of American values and threaten the foundations of American institutions. But the true reality is that setting aside all the arguments over personalities, passions, and emotions, there are only two forces in American politics: builders and wreckers.
Some endeavor to build new institutions and reinforce the foundations and values of our existing institutions. Others no longer have the eyes to see the good that remains in our institutions and in the American people. They think that only from the ashes of what currently exists can better things arise.
The difficulty in finding one’s place in this dichotomy is that, sometimes, we get confused. When our desire to build something better gets blocked by what currently exists, it’s easy to fall prey to the voices that tell us to steamroll our new path. But political maturity, and indeed political conservatism, suggests that no matter how good our intentions, it’s unlikely that ashes can ever provide a foundation for something better than what’s been destroyed. We would discover, too late, that when so much of our efforts go towards destruction, we are too spent and changed by the time the path is clear for our former intentions to bear any fruit.
As I have long tried to argue, I remain convinced that far too many of the anti-Trump efforts have been too clever by half. This isn’t about electoral or partisan politics. It’s not about tricking or counter-tricking Americans into voting certain ways or convincing them to abandon established parties. It’s about hearts and minds.
It’s about believing in our fellow Americans. It’s about embracing the proper combination of gratitude and humility in our political dealings. It’s about empathy and recognizing the underlying conditions that could allow someone like Trump to rise to prominence. It’s about meeting people where they are, treating them with respect and compassion, and crafting a persuasive message for the renewal of the values and principles they still hold to at their core.
The problem I have when figures like Joe Walsh contend that the Republican Party is irredeemable is that political parties are not monolithic entities. They’re little more than vast and largely decentralized organizations defined, mostly, by their members. The processes through which party leaders and candidates rise to power have become highly democratized and decentralized. Calling a political party irredeemable is really no different than saying its members are irredeemable. And I simply don’t believe it.
Like Joe Walsh, I believe that America remains a center-right country. Unlike Joe Walsh, I believe the vast majority of Republicans remain committed to center-right values and principles and if the Republican Party has abandoned them it is to the extent that con artists like Trump have created confusion on their definitions and what it means to stand for them.
I remain committed to working for conservative values within the GOP because I don’t look at the party and see only the Twitterverse bogeyman that people like Joe Walsh have contrived. I see a political institution whose membership includes many Americans I love and who I continue to believe in.
I see an institution that represents the largest bloc of voters open to embracing the conservative vision I believe in. I see the only path towards that conservative vision entering the halls of government without having to take Joe Walsh’s proposed course of passing through a gauntlet of progressive insanity while waiting for the GOP to collapse and hope for something better in its stead.
I’m trying to be a builder and not a wrecker.