The Republican Party Is Truly Lost

October 26, 2023 Topic: GOP Blog Brand: Politics Tags: GOPRepublican PartyNikki HaleyMAGA

The Republican Party Is Truly Lost

“Stand for something,” the saying goes, “or fall for anything.” It is no coincidence that House Republicans spent three weeks falling over themselves. With no clearly-defined problems to address or solutions to offer, with nothing to stand for, they fell into the cutthroat politics of personality. 

Since House Republicans managed to take down one of their own – namely, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) – we saw a painful spectacle of dysfunction. Countless lost votes, anger, public and private recriminations, candidates put forward whose candidacies are measured in hours defined the moment.

Republicans themselves called it “embarrassing.” Other Republicans admitted that one of America’s two major parties is incapable of basic governance. As Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) put it “We’re not a governing body.” The election of a relatively obscure backbencher, namely now-Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) just shows that the only person Republicans could agree upon was someone with so little profile that he hadn’t rubbed anyone the wrong way.  

There were many proximate causes of the chaos, from a narrow majority to uncharismatic leadership to unchecked personal animosities. Yet the real cause is more fundamental and will not end simply because there is a new Speaker.

The fundamental cause of Republican chaos and disunity is a stunning lack of precision in what it is, exactly, that Republicans want to do with any power they amass. There are broad slogans like “end wokeness” or “close the border,” but little depth behind those sentiments. 

The sad fact does not have GOP precise policy objectives, or even precise definitions of the problems America faces. Without common goals and a sense of mission greater than oneself, personal aggrandizement and feuds – with the other party and with members of your own caucus – is all that’s left for most GOP members of Congress. After all, there’s no larger cause that could force them to put aside their differences. 

Take Republican concern about the border. Among Republican politicians, “secure the border” is nearly a mantra, repeated relentlessly at primary debates, on the House floor, and in television appearances. Online, politicians like Nikki Haley and conservative influencers too numerous to name go a step further, arguing we should “close the border.” Yet what do either of those phrases mean? Amb. Haley cannot possibly mean “close the border” literally, i.e., that no people or goods may pass through it; Mexico is America’s second-largest trading partner, and countless supply chains rely on products made in Mexico. Literally closing the border would start a depression in the U.S., and maybe globally. 

“Secure the border” may sound more palatable, but it is similarly vague. Does that mean “reduce migrant crossings?” If so, the answer is comprehensive immigration reform, as the large majority of people in the country illegally are not sneaking across the border, and most migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border do so through legal channels. Is securing the border about stopping the flow of drugs? Roughly 90% of fentanyl, the most dangerous illegal drug  in the U.S. right now, enters the U.S. through legal ports of entry, so again, it’s not about “border security.” Is border security simply about building a wall? Even Ronald Vitiello, the chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, who helped design the plan for a wall, said the wall “in and of itself, is nothing.”

I’m not saying that the situation on the border is a good one, of course, but Republican members of Congress cannot even define what makes our border insecure or what would constitute a secure border, let alone produce a plan to create one.

Somehow, GOP complaints about “wokeism” are even more ill-defined. Famously, Bethany Mandel flubbed the answer when asked to define “woke;” she was unable to provide a definition in a response she herself called “humiliating.” That flub was telling, as if you’re trying to fix a problem, you should understand exactly what the problem is. To her credit, she did eventually produce an answer, namely “a radical belief system suggesting that our institutions are built around discrimination, and claiming that all disparity is a result of that discrimination. It seeks a radical redefinition of society in which equality of group result is the end point, enforced by an angry mob.”

That would indeed be awful and worth addressing; unfortunately, that’s not what the GOP means by “woke,” at least if the things they label as such are any guide. Silicon Valley Bank was not focused on a radical redefinition of society. Disney does not support angry mobs (unless you count the line for Space Mountain). Math textbooks in Florida are not suggesting institutions are based on discrimination. M&Ms are candy. There may or may not be legitimate complaints about all of them, but it’s tough to argue that they’re all afflicted with the same malady.

When something is so poorly defined, it is very difficult to address; indeed, the few policies that have tried to stem “wokeness” have been so broad as to have massive unintended consequences, like the emptying of entire libraries in Florida for fear of breaking an imprecise law. Congressional Republicans, for their part, do little more than rail against “wokeness” without putting forward any plans. After all, they cannot define the problem, let alone put forward a policy solution or provide a clear objective. 

One can see this plague of weak definitions and absent solutions across the Republican Party and the conservative movement writ large. The House GOP claims crime is going up (which is objectively false; the crime rate has dropped the last two years and is far below its peak in the early 1990s) but have no specific solutions for putting more police on the street or training them better, let alone a definition of what crime rate they would consider safe. They claim our enemies see us as weak but, other than having a more bellicose Commander in Chief cannot say what would make us look strong. 

Most tellingly, the GOP did not put forth a party platform in 2020. As such, it is a party without an agenda.  

This crisis of imprecision explains the House GOP implosion. Causes greater than an individual member’s profile and fundraising can unite people who otherwise dislike each other. Former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), before being convicted of money laundering, was a self-described “self-centered jerk.” He was also ruthlessly effective in passing conservative legislation, so his colleagues put up with him. Lyndon Baines Johnson was miserable to be around – loud, manipulative, rude, and relished in making other people uncomfortable – but he was a master strategist, so his ideological allies did as he said. 

Similarly, shared policy goals are the glue that holds Democrats together. Whether or not you agree with the policy, support for programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child’s Health Insurance Program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are why Democrats with beliefs and backgrounds as different as Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) can vote in lockstep. 

“Stand for something,” the saying goes, “or fall for anything.” It is no coincidence that House Republicans spent three weeks falling over themselves. With no clearly-defined problems to address or solutions to offer, with nothing to stand for, they fell into the cutthroat politics of personality. 

They’ve accomplished nothing for the country they serve. Indeed, they cannot until they define how they would like to serve our nation. 

Neal Urwitz is a public relations executive in Washington.

Image: Shutterstock.