The GOP Needs Ideas, Not Grievance Politics
The party has a golden opportunity over the next several years to realign and attract new voters. Will it squander it?
Voters respond to ideas, and right now, the GOP cupboard is bare.
Over the last several years, it’s become easy to find journalists pontificating about the “identity crisis” within the Republican Party. That assessment is off base; there is no “crisis.” The GOP is not in a period of uncertainty and confusion. For the time being, it has become a party of identity—not one that can’t choose an identity.
It’s even more shortsighted to say, “The GOP is dead.” Both major political parties in the United States have shown resilience and ability to adapt to changing demographics, political landscapes, and cultural shifts. Granted, the parties as a whole are much weaker than they’ve ever been, creating a permission structure for people to operate within the party while elevating themselves above it.
That weakness in the GOP provided a narrow path for Donald Trump, and the party, at least for the time being, has handcuffed itself to the personality of the recent one-term president.
Despite the loss of the House and, ultimately, the Senate, many argue that Trump turned the party more toward one that represents working-class Americans, allowing him to win in 2016 in states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. To a degree, this is a fair point. After all, a Republican hadn’t won any of those states since 1988. One of the more pointed criticisms of the Romney campaign in 2012 was that it focused on high-level economic themes such as GDP growth, entrepreneurship, business ownership, etc. Unfortunately, it failed to reach the blue-collar voters who merely wanted to have a good-paying job to pay the bills, put food on the table, and have enough left over to take the family on vacation once a year.
People credit Trump’s populism and nationalism in creating that opening. But Trump also had the advantage of going up against Hillary Clinton, the weakest Democratic presidential nominee since Mike Dukakis. It’s easy to point to Trump’s gains in overall vote totals in 2020 as evidence of some success, but increased turnout likely had more to do with the ability of both parties and nominees to create a sense of impending doom if the other side won. After all, we live in a time when each election is breathlessly described as the “most important election ever.”
The conundrum for the GOP is that the supposed shift to representing the working class is primarily a mirage. In February, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted, “The Republican Party is no longer the ‘wine and cheese’ party. It’s the beer and blue jeans party.” That would sound good if the GOP put it into practice. As it stands right now, however, the party is much more about grievance politics and retribution—which is Trump’s forte. All one has to do is look at the statements he releases. Here’s a recent one:
The easiest way to defeat Deplorable Liz Cheney is by having only ONE Conservative candidate run and WIN! Wyoming Patriots will no longer stand for Nancy Pelosi and her new lapdog RINO Liz Cheney!
Under the weak leadership of Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans continue to lose. He lost Arizona, he lost Georgia, he ignored Election Fraud, and he doesn’t fight. Now he’s giving Democrats everything they want and getting nothing in return. No deal is better than a bad deal. Fight for America, not for special interests and Radical Democrats. RINOs are ruining America, right alongside Communist Democrats.
It’s why Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refers to Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger as “Pelosi Republicans” and why the House Freedom Caucus is demanding McCarthy punish them for having the audacity to serve on the committee investigating the events of January 6. All of the blustering comes off more like what one would read from high-follower Trumpist Twitter personalities who still call people “cucks.”
Another area of appeal among the current iteration of the GOP is the “fighting.” It’s imperative to fight the dreaded establishment, the press, the Democrats, Hollywood, the university system, and more. Several members of Congress have created high profiles for themselves with their ability to “fight” while not doing much, if anything at all, on the legislative front.
Parties are opposed ideologically for a reason, and parties have an obligation to their constituents to prevent each other from implementing their preferred (often partisan) policies.
It’s not as though Republicans who just want to denounce Democratic legislative priorities have a shortage of content to work with. Take the PRO Act, which would create a strict three-part test (ABC) to determine whether a worker is an employee or a contractor as well as eliminating right-to-work laws that prevent unions from compelling employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. It is nothing more than a gift to labor unions and would have devastating effects on freelancers. Contrary to a created narrative, the For The People Act, nominally a “voting rights bill,” was not passed as a response to state GOP legislation after the 2020 election but in 2019 as a progressive messaging bill. Many of the provisions have nothing to do with voting, including creating a “code of ethics” for the Supreme Court that would serve only to weaken the separation of powers. It also features the DISCLOSE Act, a proposal that would require nonprofits to disclose their donors—a measure so pernicious and dangerous to free speech, it’s opposed by organizations such as the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (which operates independently from the NAACP). Finally, as the Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl noted in The Dispatch, the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” legislation is one giant central-planning boondoggle.
That offers the Republicans plenty of fertile ground for opposition. That said, there’s only so much “fighting” one side can do before people ask, “Okay, what are your ideas?” Republicans have set their sights on Big Tech, and yes, polls show that most Americans support breaking up companies such as Google and Amazon. However, a poll from earlier this year asked people about congressional priorities and breaking up Big Tech ranked at the bottom.
Too many Republicans have fallen into a “very online” mindset in which they believe the latest hot topic on social media is what’s driving conversations in neighborhoods across the country. In an interview with Politico several years ago, Arthur Brooks talked about the fringes controlling the culture where contempt rises above all else. “It’s not like 50 percent of Americans think one thing and 50 percent thinks another thing,” he said. “No, 15 percent on each side are effectively controlling the conversation, and 70 percent of us don’t hate each other.”
Earlier this year, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney introduced the Family Security Act, a piece of legislation that would empower families over government bureaucracy by changing how government provides them aid. The legislation would replace several federal government programs with direct cash assistance, giving families more control over budgets and the freedom to spend money how they want instead of having it targeted to specific areas.
It’s a bold idea, and it’s something Republicans could sell to the public. But as things stand, since Romney is considered a traitor because he voted to impeach Trump, it’s almost impossible to imagine GOP leadership (especially in the House) rallying around the idea.
The Republican Party has a golden opportunity over the next several years to realign and reach enough voters to make the GOP once again a majority party. However, as long as the bulk of Republicans remain tethered to Trump, value grievance, and intraparty vengeance, they’ll continue to bleed support in the suburbs and lose out on the opportunity to bring in new voters who are dissatisfied with the direction of the Democratic Party.
Jay Caruso is managing editor of Washington Examiner Magazine.