Since winning a flukish election against a flawed candidate in 2016, the Republican Party has been on a relentless downward spiral.
In election after election – from the 2018 midterms to the 2020 presidential election to countless one-off special elections and the 2022 “red tsunami” that never made landfall – voters have roundly rejected the GOP.
The much-touted popularity of Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin turned out to be a paper tiger when put up against the prospect of actual unchecked Republican governance.
The current iteration of the GOP is not good for Republican election prospects, sure. What matters, though, is that it is terrible for the country.
Without a credible opposition, the governing party isn’t held accountable for real mistakes. Every legitimate complaint gets lost in loads of pure nonsense. Without a credible conservative party, the country cannot benefit when free market ideas are the best solution, or when conservative leaders have genuinely good ideas. Without two parties that put their country before partisan interest, the U.S. is unable to band together in times of crisis.
For its own sake and for the sake of the country, the GOP needs to claw its way back to being a normal party focused on real issues. It needs a roadmap for the tough road ahead:
Have Plans to Solve Real Problems
The first step should be the easiest: put together a party platform.
The GOP didn’t release one in 2020 (that will never cease to amaze me), but the GOP must show that it has real solutions to problems that people face daily and care about. Why, after all, would someone vote for a candidate when he has no idea what that candidate will actually do in office?
Yet the lack of clear solutions defines the GOP. What, for instance, does the GOP want to do about rising healthcare costs? What does it want to do about the exploding cost of housing? How does it want to decrease the national debt? What does it want to do about education – and not “critical race theory” panics, but the much more critical issue of immense learning loss during the pandemic?
You may disagree with the plans they put forward, but Democrats can clearly and directly answer all of these questions. If the GOP has plans to address these issues, on the other hand, it’s keeping them to itself.
Even GOP staples, like border security, are woefully short of specific plans. A vote for the GOP now is a vote for grandstanding and little else. That’s not a winning formula.
Step Away from the Big Red Button
Second, the GOP needs to prove to voters that it is responsible, and that starts with not threatening to blow up the world over every little thing (or nothing at all).
That the GOP tiptoed to a government shutdown – and defenestrated the Speaker of the House for averting it – with no clear demands for funding the government was telling. It spoke to a party that just wanted to burn things down.
The GOP similarly pushed the government to the brink over the debt ceiling – or, in layman’s terms, whether the U.S. government would become a deadbeat – threatening to send the global economy into a recession. The party has done so many times before and will almost certainly do so again.
And, while the GOP is at it, maybe don’t kneecap American military leadership, especially when we’re dealing with a rising threat in China and one of our most important allies is fighting a war against a sadistic enemy.
Put Down the Swords and Take Off the Tin Foil Hats
The toughest part for the GOP, however, will be purging the ugliness that has grown in the vacuum of any real policy agenda: relentless conspiracy theory and culture war.
Conspiracy theories make the GOP look like it cannot be taken seriously, that it is a party for kooks and people immune to evidence. Claims that the 2020 election was stolen, for instance, are not only untrue and harmful; they are electoral poison. A large majority of the country believes the 2020 election was free and fair, and nearly half of Republicans who believe the election was stolen admit there is no evidence.
Complaints about the “deep state” thwarting efforts come off as whining and an excuse for incompetence.
To state the obvious, Alex Jones, Catturd, and DC Draino are not good faces for the GOP. GOP leadership, then, must do the hard work of telling conspiracy theorists in their midst they are wrong. They must challenge conspiracy theorists’ assertions. They must tell Tucker Carlson that his bad faith questions are answerable with a 30-second Google search. They must do what most Americans do when they hear from Q-Anoners and Marjorie Taylor Greene acolytes: roll their eyes and turn their backs. Indulging them only makes them louder.
The same goes for culture war. Other than abortion – which, as election after election has proven, is a terrible issue for the GOP – Americans, at best, don’t care and at worst disagree with the GOP. Support for gay marriage is over 70%. Nearly 65% favor protections for transgender people against discrimination. And, as Ron DeSantis’ floundering campaign proves, “wokeness” isn’t anybody’s top issue, especially since Republicans can’t seem to define it or do anything about it. Complaining about Disney, Bud Light, and M&Ms makes voters wonder why conservative “leading lights” don’t have better things to do with their time.
Make Republicans Grownups Again
The GOP is in crisis. It is not winning, and it is not learning. It is doubling and tripling down on a formula that plainly isn’t working. The GOP needs to back away from the ledge. It needs to clear the conspiratorial, MAGA-driven toxins from its bloodstream. It needs to insist on evidence-based solutions to real problems and do away with meaningless phrases (“end wokeness,” “close the border,” and the like.)
It needs to become a party of grownups again. It will lose more elections in the transition, but it’s losing elections now anyways. And it will come out the other side a more competitive party. More importantly, it will become a party that is better for the country we all love.
Neal Urwitz is a public relations executive in Washington.
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore.