I will be glad when 2020 is over. Between the coronavirus, the stay-at-home orders, and the election chaos, there is every reason to look for a better tomorrow. That said, as a lifelong Republican, tomorrow looks pretty cloudy.
As I served six years in the U.S. House of Representatives, I was frequently confronted by the differences within the Republican party. Those differences almost always centered around the tactics to move legislation forward as opposed to big differences in the policy itself.
Principled policy was the glue that held everything together. It was the common bond of Republicanism. The principles to which we laid claim included things like personal responsibility, limited government, fealty only to the U.S. Constitution and living within our means. Reducing the exploding deficits and debt was job #1. It was a time when principles determined direction.
It seems like a lifetime ago.
Today, the Republican Party has replaced principles with partisanship. To be considered a Republican you must support every Republican candidate no matter what. Be part of Q-Anon? No problem. Be a populist? You bet! Oppose free and fair trade? Fine with me. Support a Republican President of the United States using executive orders to legislate instead of following the Constitution’s mandate for congress to be the only legislative body? Count me in! Expressing alarm for trillion-dollar deficits? That was so last decade.
It is one thing to want a big tent. It is totally another thing when you aren’t allowed to challenge the seemingly crazy views that are being held by the party. These are the storm clouds shading today’s party faithful.
The Republican Party is no longer principled. It is only partially conservative. It often seeks power for power’s sake, not necessarily to advance the principles it once believed in. Turn on C-Span on any given Wednesday and you can hear Republicans in Washington D.C sound more like Sen. Bernie Sanders than a traditional Republican as they spend more, promote bigger government and more executive power.
You can even hear some Republicans denigrate the country’s business owners. These businesses provide the very jobs citizens need as they search for, and strive to achieve, their own version of the American dream. You cannot raise people up by destroying the very machinery of our economy that facilitates that same ascension.
So where do we go from here? It is crystal clear that the party must clarify its purpose, and that purpose must go beyond just power for power’s sake. Republicans must give citizens a reason to support them.
Recently in Wisconsin, Republicans have taken it on the chin in several statewide elections. They lost races for governor, lt. governor, state attorney general, state supreme court, and most recently the election of President-Elect Joe Biden. Warning signs have been flashing for a while. The real question is whether Republicans will heed those warning signs or continue down the path that illuminated them in the first place?
As I see it, the party has three roads that they can choose to follow. The first road is the current one. Continuing its shift toward populism, nativism…Trumpism. This path helped win the White House in 2016 but backfired in other elections. The second road is to return to traditional conservatism which helped turn Wisconsin red in the first place but was unable to gain the presidency in past elections. Finally, the third road is one where a new conservative party emerges separate from the current populist-leaning Republican party, which may simply cause the party to lose by even larger margins in all categories. All of these choices bring risk.
The time for thoughtful, pragmatic, and considerate conversation is here. The Republican Party must begin to have genuine discussions about what direction is best for the country and the state. Answering that question will ultimately lead to a winning coalition of voters. We all need to become better listeners and learners. We need to be honest with each other and most importantly we need to consider each other’s opinions seriously and thoughtfully.
If we continue down the road of demonizing each other for the views we don’t like, the party will go nowhere. Some people I know feel good about that. The “burn it all down” and “fight for fighting sake” crowds will hopefully set that aside long enough to find a better, more productive party going forward. One where the real winning happens for all citizens and not just Republicans. Where the America we live in once again has a unified uplifting purpose.
There is no time to waste. The discussions need to start now. The future is here.
Reid Ribble is a former Republican member of Congress from Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District.