In a great piece about what TheNewsBlender stands for, Steve Wood recounted that an anonymous visitor raised concerns about the site. While I cannot speak for the site or all who frequent it, I can explain my thoughts concerning today’s Republican Party. That Party does not resemble either the Party of Lincoln or the Party of Reagan. Under President Trump, it has become an entity that, given Lincoln’s and Reagan’s principles and policies, both men would very likely have opposed.
In having been seduced by the desire for political power after having lost the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections, it struck a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump and his ethno-nationalist populist Alt-Right movement. It abandoned free trade for protectionism. It replaced leadership on behalf of free nations and peoples with a selfish abdication from the world stage. It supplanted fiscal prudence with fiscal profligacy.
The Republican Party is now deconstructing itself. It is transitioning from a national political party to a localized entity incapable of national governance. Compromised by a combination of ethno-nationalist populism and cognitive bias, its political leaders have little idea what’s actually taking place.
In market settings, where signals such as prices, market share, and profits provide powerful insight, such a situation would fairly quickly be addressed through retrenchment and refocusing. Jack Welch revived a moribund GE during the 1980s. Steve Jobs rescued a floundering Apple in the late 1990s. Howard Schultz renewed a struggling Starbucks during the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession that followed.
Today’s Republican Party lacks a Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, or Howard Schultz. Lacking genuine leaders, it has been doubling down on policies that put it on a course that invites ruin. It is now in the midst of decay that could, if left unchecked, spiral into an existential crisis.
In economics, the intersection of the supply and demand curves provides the equilibrium price where the quantity of a good supplied to the market is equal to the quantity demanded by customers. If a firm prices a product above the equilibrium price, the company is stuck with inventory that it cannot sell at that price. If a firm prices a product below the equilibrium price, the company is unable to fully meet the market demand its product. The changes in a company’s market share and profitability over time yield insight into the value its products and services provide customers and how well that company fares relative to its competitors. These are powerful signals.
Even as no such market signals exist for political parties, proxies in the form of breadth of support and, later, electoral outcomes can play a similar role. Today’s Republican Party is confronted by a narrowing electorate. It is suffering from an increasing difficulty in appealing to Latino, female, and young voters (Pew Research Center). At the same time, its reliance on 50-year-old and older white male voters is increasing in seeming proportion to its diminishing appeal to Latinos, females, and Millennials.
In the short-term, the Party has been able to compensate for the ongoing erosion of its electoral base. Over the medium- and longer-term, such a situation is unsustainable.
For now, the Republican Party may still enjoy occasional “Battle of the Bulge” electoral moments as it gains support from older white male voters, leverages the benefits of gerrymandered election districts, and harnesses the Electoral College to win Presidential races even when gaining fewer votes than the opposing party. These are temporary victories.
Older voters are gradually being replaced in the electorate by younger voters. The electorate is also growing more diverse. On its current path and absent a crisis that transforms the electorate’s values and thinking, the Republican Party’s failure to replace departing voters will render it nationally uncompetitive.
In markets, product quality and fit for consumer needs are of paramount importance. The loss of Latino, female, and young voters reveals that the contemporary Republican Party is failing to provide the policies and positions that measure up to the needs and expectations of those voters.
This situation is not entirely the fault of Donald Trump. Indeed, Donald Trump’s electoral success was, in part, the result of the atrophy in the Republican Party’s capacity to produce quality policies relevant to an evolving electorate.
Ideas are the raw material of such policies. Idea generation requires a robust intellectual ecosystem.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, a vibrant intellectual ecosystem produced a dazzling array of policy ideas that were relevant both to the nation’s challenges and opportunities and attractive to the hopes and dreams of its people. Rarely, had the nation’s “ideas garden” been more true to the ideals on which the nation was established.
Today, that garden is no more. In its place, the nasty “weeds” of Talk Radio and cable TV punditry have crowded out the blossoms of coherent policy discourse and poisoned the American conservative movement. Where there was once concrete substance, there is only angry, empty noise. Where persuasion on the merits of ideas once drove policy and political choices, there are only hollow demands for tribal loyalty. Where the entire electorate was once seen as the potential base, there is only increasing segmentation based on emotional and often misguided identity-driven cultural claims. Where once truth, facts, and evidence provided the fertile soil in which new policy ideas could germinate and broadly-supported policies could flourish, there is only sterile anti-intellectual sand.
With the Republican Party currently lacking a transformational leader capable of turning it around and the headwinds of vapid Talk Radio and cable TV pundits unlikely to abate anytime soon, the Republican Party faces a moment of challenge. There is now a great and growing slice of the electorate—those who embrace free markets, human liberty, fiscal responsibility, and American engagement on behalf of those principles on the world stage—that is left unserved.
Perhaps the Republican Party’s best opportunity for renewal involves sweeping electoral defeat in 2018 and 2020. Such an outcome would be too great for the Party’s current leaders to ignore. Then, the Party would have little choice but to abandon the failing policies responsible for those defeats and to begin reconnecting with the principled voters it had abandoned. There is no guarantee that such an endeavor would prove successful, as the Republican brand is continuing to depreciate rapidly.
However, even if the Republican Party eventually withers and dies like the Whigs and “Know Nothing” Parties of the 19th century, there will remain a large right-of-center electorate in need of a Party. That vacuum will be addressed. Its existence could trigger a faction of a dying Republican Party to launch its own Party or it could spark the rise of an entirely new Party.
For now, much of what lies ahead for the Republican Party and the nation’s right-of-center movement remains uncertain. What is more evident is that the Republican Party in its current state is on an unsustainable trajectory.