Thursday, November 09, 2006

Whither GOP?

After what can only be described as a devastating GOP loss in the 2006 midterms, the question is where the party goes from here. There's a good case to be made that the GOP needs to move to the middle, and I know that some of the main-street Republicans are thinking of that direction. On the flip side, there are those who say the GOP lost because it became "Democratic-lite". So, will the party shift to the center or tack right?

But I don't really think that's the right question. Paradoxically, I think the GOP needs to do both, and that's going to be a big problem. I've been blogging for quite some time on the schism forthcoming in the Republican Party. The problem isn't that the party is too conservative or too moderate. The problem is the coalition it built over the past few years (decades, perhaps) is falling apart at the seams. If they turn to the middle, the GOP will lose some of its base and will not meaningfully be able to distinguish themselves from Democrats. If they run hard to their base, they'll drive any remaining centrists out of their camp and become a purely regional (and, let's face it, sectarian) party. The set of ideological commitments the GOP currently holds cannot support a majority coalition anymore.

That notwithstanding, the party is going to pick the "turn right" option, for no other reason than that the number of elected GOP moderates left to present a case is virtually non-existant (the tally I've heard is that there are 8 remaining bona fide moderate Republicans in the House, out of caucus numbering close to 200). Most of the last of them were swept out in this Democratic wave, and I don't think the GOP is optimistic about regaining seats in Connecticut or suburban Pennsylvania. The biggest GOP names still in office are conservative die-hards, so of course they're going to push the party in that direction.

Over the long term, this is more dangerous for the GOP, because it again will relegate them to a predominantly regional party status. It also will prove ill-suited to stop the emerging Democratic machine in the Mountain West, which is starting to reassert its long dormant libertarian streak (beating back the abortion ban in South Dakota, gay marriage ban winning by only 4 points in the same). There is a feedback loop--it is the marginal Republicans who will get defeated, concentrating power in the conservative strongholds, who will continue to push the party to the right. This will make it very hard for the GOP to regain power, because it won't have a presence or credibility in the states it needs to get back.


Anonymous said...

That feedback loop is distressingly similar to the one which whacked the Democrats in the 1840s and 1850s.

Anonymous said...

I hate to disagree, but the Republicans can and will do both. That part won't matter, because they won't get a shot at control for at least three election cycles. I've heard a lot of talk about why the Republicans got swept away last night, from the war to corruption. But the biggest reason was failure to act. Add troops or withdraw troops, they did neither. Hard immigration or soft immigration, they did neither. In 2004 the President was given his chance to turn things around. It didn't. All we heard about was scandal. It's now time to move forward. Let's see if the Democrats can keep balanced in the middle.

Randomscrub said...

I don't really agree with your assessment of the GOP prospects, but, I didn't really expect to. The GOP didn't lose because they became D-lite, but neither did they lose because of an upsurge in love for the Democratic Party and their ideals. Let's face it: this election was the Republicans' to lose, and they did a bang up job of losing it. The Democrats offered little more for a national agenda than the Not-Bush of 2004 coupled with a (laudable, if sincere) desire to root out corruption. I think most of why the Republican's lost is that they failed to give their nominal supporters a reason to vote for them beyond "The Dems are worse."

I think that the Republicans will tack right on economic issues, hearkening back to the Contract With America. I'd also like to see them tack a bit (though not particularly far) left on social issues, but that's not likely to happen with Evangelicals as a major constituency.

I don't buy your schism logic either, but that's one only time will tell the rightness of. You speak as if the Republicans have a homogenous base to run toward, instead of the twin Evangelical and quasi-Libertarian bases. A run to the Evangelicals would scare many out of the tent; a run to the Libertarians is less likely to do so, particularly since this constituency (myself included) largely sat out this election (or cast punitive votes for Democrats) to show their displeasure with spending and corruption.

The Dems, however, have a bigger tent at the moment, having elected a few gun-toting/Jesus-loving social conservatives of their own. I'm interested to see what kind of effect this has on the Democratic Base. Any predictions on that? Inquiring minds (me!) want to know.

I apologize if I sound a bit too critical here. This is not meant in any way to impugn you and your work, just a polite disagreement.