Republican Party at a Crossroads
The struggle for the heart soul and the future of the Republican party is real and is divisive. The Republican party is at one of its most difficult crossroads since its founding. Two factions are fighting for control of the party and its future. Some question rather the party has a future based on its present trajectory given the demographic shifts taking place in the US and the radicalization of Trump loyalist that have controlled the direction of the party the last 4 years.
But four years after winning the presidency, Trump and Republicans are now on the outside looking in, having lost control of the House, the Senate, and the White House. A fight to define the future of the Republican Party is playing out among a small, but influential, group of Republicans, even as Trump remains central to the party and to its identity. He keeps trying to assert his influence, but it is waning as time passes from his presidency.
The heart and soul of the party is in conflict by the two competing sets of ideology – Trumpian ideology and true conservatism. Groups and old guard party leaders like the Bushes, Cheney’s, McCains, the Lincoln Group, George Will, and others represent the old guard conservatives. What those on the outside and within are viewing is a war for the go forward path for the party.
That infighting is a war that is very visible to the outside world, and many believe the Trumpian ideologists are winning the war. Are they?
At first peak it would appear they are as they are loud, radicalized, utilizing visuals and demonstrations in radical formats, and gaining media attention. What is being fought is a war of ideology, but the tactics are changed from ideological wars of the past.
To an outsider it would appear the old guard is fighting the war using 19th Century ideals and wanting to fight a gentleman’s war verses the Trump ideologs fighting with guerilla tactics. To an outsider is almost appears and has been compared to the American Revolution.
The old guard British fought at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, using the standard tactics of war used on the battlefields of Europe. This called for large formations of men to be lined up three deep. They engaged the enemy in open fields and exchanged fire. Part of the British strategy required the use of certain battlefield weapons. The most used weapon for a British soldier during the war was consisted of Brown Bess (75 caliber 3/4 of an inch in diameter), cannons, and bayonets.
The tactics of the British were not designed to shoot down the enemy until retreat, but to break up the organized lines so your side could then march forward, in an organized and linear fashion, and charge with the bayonet. A disorganized unit cannot stand against an organized bayonet charge.
The war for the soul of the Republican party by the old guard some would argue is a fight like the British colonial fight. They are using old school tactics and trying to fight a gentlemanly war for the ideology of the Republican party.
On the other hand, we see the Trump ideologs. They are fighting the public relations war verbally, loud and in an obnoxious and rambunctious format some would say they are fighting using guerilla war tactics.
Francis Marion, otherwise known as Swamp Fox, was a Revolutionary officer during the Revolution. He is well known today as the Father of Guerrilla Warfare for introducing and bringing guerrilla fighting tactics into the war.
The British had a much greater advantage in terms of weapons, abilities, and numbers. Militias had no change against them with their lack of supplies and military experience. However, commander Francis Marion changed that by planning secret guerrilla attacks against the British. While the British troops had supplies, strength, and order, the American rebels compensated with their creativity and wits. Compared to large, fully armed armies, guerrilla groups are generally small packs of fighters. They are not equipped with any uniforms, weapons, or other useful resources; instead, they scavenge for whatever weapons they can find. They use the land around them for resources like food and shelter, whereas professional soldiers are provided with all these necessities.
The traditional fighting tactics of the time meant meeting the enemy in open field ready to battle. Marion and his men, however, knew they could not do this because they would not stand a chance against such well trained and equipped soldiers. Marion took a different approach and fought his enemy using stealth and secrecy. The British never expected these attacks because it went against the unwritten rules of war. Secret ambushes were not something anyone during the war could expect. For this reason, guerrillas could do a lot of damage to their enemy. And because the groups were always moving, it was exceedingly difficult for the enemy to catch them.
Some say that Donald Trump and his team are the guerrilla fighters in the war for the ideology of the Republican party. His team and his followers have become the master of disruption and manipulation. They learned to make up facts and to craft and spin a story on social media and if it is repeated loudly and enough then it becomes the storyline and assumed as factual by the masses.
From a romanticization of history and the ideals of the founding of the republic one would think at first glance that the guerilla methodology will win the war, and that the fight they are fighting, is just and noble, but broad public opinion is turning against the cause. The more silent majority is tiring of the hysteria, conspiracies, and lack of intellectual dialog.
An underestimated element, within the ideological fight for the soul, and go forward path of the Republican party is what most political scientists and polished politicians know, that is the party has within it the “silent majority.” What is the silent majority?
The headlines in the ideological fight for the party are crafted by those that scream loud, stage rallies, post crazed memes’, proclaiming extremist statements on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.
What is not always recognized is most of the party is made up of centrist, traditional conservatives, and independents.
During the presidential election cycle the mouthpiece of the party was the Trump ideologs.
Now, in the post Trump era that “silent majority” is becoming more and more uncomfortable with the divisive actions and speech and the nonsense of science deniers by this element as the true conservatives are working to claw their way back and save the party.
The Mitt Romney’s and Liz Cheney’s of the party are being portrayed by Trumpian ideologists as out of step with the party and out of step with the populist ideals the party represents. But are they?
The party is a party of with a history of conservative ideology. Few, of the Trump influenced leadership that now controls many of the nations’ central committees and the ideology of the party even understand the roots of the conservative movement or what true conservatism is.
Polling shows that Trump enthusiasts actually only represent fewer than 30% of register Republican voters, but their media presence makes it appear, they are the majority, versus the fact that there is a more silent responsible majority.
A history lesson on conservatism:
Conservatism is an aesthetic, cultural, social, and political philosophy, which seeks to promote and to preserve traditional social institutions. The Republican party has traditionally held the political views that favor free enterprise, private ownership, and socially traditional ideas.
At least that was until the Trump machine took the lead of the party. Now the fight that exists between the Trump ideology and true conservatism. But how did conservatism and its marriage to the Republican party begin?
In 1955, William F. Buckley, Jr., wrote that the purpose of his newly founded magazine National Review was to “stand athwart history yelling stop.” The phrase belongs to modern conservatism, which defies the dark, incoming tide of liberalism. Interestingly, only one of the conservative heroes mentioned in this essay, Edmund Burke (1729-1797), had the self-conscious idea that he was standing athwart the tides of history. That is one reason why he was the first truly modern conservative.
Burke looked at the French Revolution and realized that the tide of the times was flowing in the wrong direction. Before the Revolution, France had a brilliant culture and provided cultural leadership to the West. The Revolution inflicted such profound damage to the culture and social fabric of France that French society and culture never entirely recovered its former glory and brilliance. For those who cared about civilization and high culture, the French Revolution was a catastrophe.
Although Burke pronounced bitter anathemas on the French revolutionaries – who destroyed a culture in the name of abstract theory – he was sympathetic to the American Founding Fathers, who fought to preserve the rights of Englishmen. He used his influence as a member of parliament to promote conciliation with the American colonies.
When William F. Buckley burst onto the national scene in 1955, conservatism was a dead letter in American politics, as some would argue it is dying now, under the ideology of Trumpism trying to suppress it.
“Lots of people thought that it was outdated, anachronistic, prehistoric, foolish, not very intelligent,” Carl Bogus was once quoted on All Things Considered by host Guy Raz.
Bogus is the author of a biography, Buckley: William F. Buckley and the Rise of American Conservatism. He says that back in the 1950s and ’60s, there really was an established liberal elite in America, which controlled both political parties.
Buckley set out to change that. As a Yale graduate, he published a book called God and Man at Yale, which took the university to task for failing to promote Christianity and free market economics.
“He collapsed in that book religion, economics and political ideology,” producing the mix of ideas we recognize today as conservatism: free-market capitalism, support for American military actions, libertarianism, and social conservatism.
“It was Buckley who made that coalition. He held within him all … of those beliefs. He was what today we call a neoconservative, a social conservative and a libertarian.”
Building on the prestige of his first two books, Buckley founded National Review in 1955. He staffed the journal with talented intellectuals. Buckley’s and National Review’s articulation of an intellectually coherent conservatism, as well as its sharp and often witty criticism of the eccentricities and intellectual laziness of the dominant liberalism of the era, soon earned it a large audience on the right as well as massive hostility from the left. By the end of the 1950s, National Review was easily the preeminent journalistic voice of conservatism and one not easily dismissed by liberals.
Buckley and The National Review acted as gatekeepers of conservatism, excluding those ideas and groups they considered extremist, nutty, or dangerous. Among those considered unworthy of inclusion in modern conservatism were anti-Semites, white supremacists, the extremist anti-communists of the John Birch Society, and Ayn Rand and her ideology of hyper-capitalism combined with hyper-atheism. Note each of those groups were embraced into Trumpian ideology of the modern era thus the clash of the old guard Republican Conservativism verses the Trumpian ideologs of today.
Within national Republican politics, Buckley supported the 1964 candidacy of Senator Barry Goldwater, first for the Republican Party nomination (successfully) and then in the general election for the presidency (unsuccessfully). Buckley was only mildly enthusiastic about Republican Richard Nixon, initially supporting his presidency in 1969 but breaking with it in 1971, over Nixon’s pursuit of detente with the Soviet Union and Communist China and his attempt to establish a government-funded national minimum income.
(Note a government funded national minimum income is not a new Democratic nor Biden creation of socialism but was first introduced in concept by Republican President Richard Nixon.)
In 1973, Nixon appointed Buckley to the post of American delegate to the United Nations.
Buckley was an early backer of Ronald Reagan for the presidency, first in Reagan’s unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination in 1976 and then in his successful campaign for the nomination and the presidency in 1980. Buckley later wrote a book about his long friendship with Reagan: The Reagan I Knew (2008). Some view the Reagan presidency as the pinnacle of the conservative movement and that there has not been conservative leadership in this nation since and as such the Republican party has lost its way thus opening the door to Trumpian ideology due to it being a party that lost its way.
Regardless of what factions eventually take the leadership of the Republican party as it limps along to the 2022 mid-terms one this is for sure; Americans waiting for the Republican Party to return to “normal” by historical standards, waiting for “traditional” Republicans to be guided by the better angels of their nature, that party of yesterday is NOT going to happen. And if playing a waiting game to sit back watch and remain silent then that wait is going to be lengthy.
In his 2012 book “Coming Apart,” conservative sociologist Charles Murray portrays the white poor in terms he once reserved for African Americans, describing them as a socially disorganized, economically dependent, culturally deficient, and even genetically debased population. It is no coincidence that Trump’s strongest support comes from working-class Republicans who feel their whiteness no longer protects them and that is the honest root to Trumpian ideology.
What now for the GOP?
Per Joseph Lowndes, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Oregon
“In every polarized era, one or two key problems become the lens through which all others are viewed. In this Second Gilded Age, these are perhaps the twinned issues of excessive wealth and economic abandonment. Yet unlike the leaders of past populist revolts however, Trump seems less a champion of working people than a figure who confirms their debased status. Having titled his campaign memoir Crippled America, the then candidate reveled in such terms as “disgust,” “weakness,” “losing,” and “pathetic.” And of course he was the star of a reality show whose tag line was “You’re fired.”
Trump’s followers respond less to appeals to their value as producers, which in a financialized economy seems nostalgic anyway, than to brutal rage against immigrants and Muslims, who along with establishment elites are seen as the authors of their misery.
Delegitimizing elections, authoritarianism, cult of personality, white supremacy, destroying trusted institutions, ignoring the Constitution, flouting the rule of law. That is Trumpism. That is the Republican Party at present but several do hold out hope that the silent majority has about had enough from the 30% that Trump has indoctrinated and that the middle, the true conservatives the real American Patriots that get up every day go to work, raise a diverse and respectful family that those diverse patriots of the silent majority will again rise up and say, enough is enough and reassert their base of power.
Most Americans are now decades into an era of stagnant or declining wages. A Princeton study on rising morbidity and mortality rates among non-college-educated whites is merely one indicator of the physical and psychic costs of this abandonment. Yet these white middle and working-class Americans who are getting left behind are dismissed by conservative elites and thus the divide of the Republican party that allowed the opportunity for Trumpism it exist and thrive. And thrive it does primarily in rural and poor or depressed areas. Alamogordo, Mexico peaked in the 1960s and early 70’s due to the investments and technologies in Space and missile defense. Since then, it has slipped and is just of hundreds of examples of towns that were once centers of innovation, science and technology and now are strongholds of Trumpian ideology despite its progressive history.
Time and circumstance can yet move Republicans in new directions. Demographics could shift the GOP to the wayside. Time and demographic trends favor the Democrats over the next decade. But rejuvenating the party will depend on examples of leadership, vision and a base ready to reembrace conservatism’s highest ideals. There are groups trying to mobilize those conservative ideals of a proud party that represents the big tent of George Bush Jr. and the optimism of Ronald Reagan. Groups such as the Lincoln Group, Retake Republicanism and others are fighting for the soul of a GOP to ensure that demographics and extreme ideology of Trumpism to not move it to irrelevance over the next 2 decades.
In 2016, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild, whose book “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” documented her journey deep into conservative country, Louisiana, and said that a key to understanding the tea party and later Trump voters was that many felt “dishonored” and “disrespected” by those in power. They saw in Trump a warrior to battle on their behalf, someone who would bring a gun to a cultural knife fight.
But Trump’s most profound imprint on the Republican Party is in effect, in disposition, in temperament. Republicans, time and again, accommodated themselves to Trump’s corruptions; as a result, they became complicit in them. By the end of the Trump administration much of the Republican Party was animated by cultural and class resentments, gripped by fear and implicated in Trump’s brand of politics.
In some cases, Republicans have been led down strange and dark paths. For example, nearly 30% of Republicans believe the fantastical claims by QAnon that “Donald Trump has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites.” It is no surprise that with the help of powerful Republicans like Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right conspiracy theorist, was elected to the House of Representatives.
“They just legitimized a person that used tactics I would say 10 years ago, even five years ago, would have been abhorrent to the Republican Party,” Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration, observed. “But … they know they can’t condemn that behavior because they know the base loves it.”
The danger for the GOP is that those who hope to succeed Trump could lead the party into even more appalling places, since there are indications from focus groups that post-2020 election, a sizable group of Trump voters are more inclined to embrace conspiracy theories and they are becoming more, not less, extreme.
Importantly, there are several influential figures within the Republican Party who are determined to see the GOP move beyond Trump, and they have this argument on their side: The Republican Party at the national level has been shut out of power after a single Trump term. Today Democrats enjoy a rare double-digit lead over Republicans in party favorable ratings, and a recent Gallup poll found the largest Democratic lead in party affiliation over Republicans in nearly a decade (49% compared to 40%).
Alamogordo New Mexico and Every Depressed Community in America…
The road forward for the GOP starts with leaders and voters who show integrity, act courageously, and speak words of truth in the face of political mediocrity. Guerilla Warfare does not win political wars, it just causes dissention in the hive. Old school debate, and local activism changes the hearts and minds of neighbors with responsible dialog. It starts with us holding local political leaders accountable. Does Couy Griffin serve the best interest as a commissioner for Otero County or is there someone who has leadership, vision, and courage. Is Evette Herrell effective or will she grow into the position beyond Trumpian ideology and represent the diversity that is New Mexico? Do local commissioners have vision to build a diverse economy and expand upon local tourism and cultural opportunities within Alamogordo and Southern New Mexico? Is the Republican Party in rural America capable of embracing a solutions-based platform and lead the people or does it want to rest on its laurels and play victim? The answers to what is next for the Republican party will NOT begin in Washington, nor in a think tank in New York or at Harvard or Princeton. What is next for the Republican party begins here and now with you, me, and every concerned citizen at the local and state level and with that participation and leadership then the national party will fall in line.
The GOP was once a great party of great ideals. It still can be again, if it turns away from the ideology of white victimhood and accepts its role as a leader of a diverse multi-cultural country where every person is valued regardless of skin color, nation of origin, education level, sexual orientation and the party embraces its responsibility to plan, lead and not always do what is easy for now but what is right for future generations.
The party must turn away from the corruption of money and greed and join the effort to lead on term limits, responsible investment in infrastructure, jobs and education and turn away from social issues and yet again engage on issues of strength and fiscal power.
As a citizen are you up to the challenge of sacrifice today to show leadership for tomorrow? Republican conservatism calls for you to place the good of those around you above your personal comfort. The greatest generation did it during WWII now can you step up to the plate? Its on you to turn away ideology of ignorance and embrace the ideology of diversity, economic prosperity, and strength.
Sources: Bill of Rights Institute, Wikipedia, The National Review Archives, The Biography of Willam F Buckley, American Conservatism, Time, People, NPR, Firing Line, Duluth Tribune, The Conversation, The Desert News, Peter Wehner Ethics and Public Policy Center, The Washington Post, The Congressional Review, The White House Archives, Retake Republicanism.
Commentary by Author, Political Activist, Business Leader and Registered Republican Chris Edwards.
Chris Edwards New Mexico Bestselling Author and Executive Coach. Fitness, Sports History, Healthy Life Balance make up our core values. We focus on physical, mental, and spiritual fitness for a healthy lifestyle. We provide tips an offer A Social Perspective, Philosophy and participate in Political Activism for societal change as a Writer, Businessman, Lover of Life Experiences, Ambassador and Proponent of the Cultural Arts, Advocate in Exploring The Best In Humanity and the Celebration of Life Experience.
Author of the Coach Robert Sepulveda Book Series and the 90 Days to a Glass Half Full Lifestyle 2 Hours Unplugged series offered at fine independent book sellers and on amazon.com.