Can the GOP reform? A former professor of mine used to say “beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” That is, if someone from the “other team” gave you advice, no matter how sound it seemed, you should be wary. The gift may be a Trojan Horse, and there may be an ulterior motive. And I’m a Democrat, so you’re within your rights to be suspicious of my advice.
That said, it’s time for Republicans to admit that the current approach simply isn’t working.
The facts are staring you in the face; the string of election losses – punctuated by an embarrassing 10-point rout in a supposed swing-state in an off-off year election while out of power in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race – is not a fluke.
It is time for the GOP to back away from culture war and conspiracy. It’s time to stop viewing every government plan as a totalitarian power grab. It’s time to come to the table with concrete solutions to real problems. It’s time to drive the modern-day Birch Society types (like Marjorie Taylor Greene) from the party, as William F. Buckley did generations ago.
Why the GOP Keeps Losing
The GOP ignores the run of bad election results at its own peril. The 2018 election – where, despite gerrymandering, the GOP lost 46 seats in the House – was a rebuke of the President nearly matching the 54-seat drubbing of the 1994 red wave that brought us the “Contract with America.” In 2020, despite running against a 78-year-old, previously-retired Joe Biden, President Trump lost by over seven million votes (completely unfounded election conspiracies aside.) In 2022, the “Red Tsunami” never materialized, with the GOP barely taking the House (and, as Speaker McCarthy can attest, doing so with a tenuous coalition), and losing a seat in the Senate. Since 2020, Republicans have lost four state legislatures without picking up any, and lost governorships to boot. The election in Wisconsin in 2023 is just icing on the cake.
Clearly, voters simply aren’t picking up what the GOP is putting down.
The GOP Has Bigger Problems
Worse yet, if it does not change course, the problems are just getting started. Gen Z (ages 11-29) are overwhelmingly progressive, with eligible Gen Z voters going for Democrats over Republicans by a 63-35 margin. Lest you think age will temper that progressivism, Millennials (age 30-42) are even more progressive, with just 27% of Millenials approving of Trump’s job performance. Human mortality being what it is, Millennials and Gen Z will make up an ever-larger share of the electorate. Indeed, when they turn out in big numbers (as is increasingly the case), they can swamp older generations.
Hard-core GOP partisans may want to blame messaging, blame the media, or blame the ignorance of youth. But a more honest self-reflection says that the GOP has not exactly given young voters a reason to think it’s a serious party with real solutions or even a discernable agenda. In 2020, it didn’t bother to introduce a party platform. Despite railing against Obamacare for a decade, it didn’t have a replacement ready when it had the chance, and, somehow, still doesn’t. Despite clamoring for negotiations over the debt ceiling, congressional Republicans cannot even produce a budget against which President Biden can negotiate.
And yes, young voters could be forgiven for wondering why GOP members of Congress spend so much time talking about anthropomorphized candy. As a Millenial, I wonder why a member of Congress even has the mental bandwidth to give a damn about M&Ms.
Ironically, the GOP’s best hope may lie in duplicity. As Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox News showed, neither Sean Hannity, nor Laura Ingraham, nor Tucker Carlson, nor Rupert Murdoch believed any of the election conspiracy theories they aired. For years, rumors have percolated of the Republicans who just wanted Trump to go away. Some want off this treadmill of whining and a return to seriousness. To his great credit, Kevin Williamson even said as much. As he put it, “maybe Death of a Salesman as presented by Leni Riefenstahl just wasn’t the show Americans were dying to tune into this season.”
What Should Republicans Do Now?
Unfortunately, the GOP base appears addicted to culture war and grievance – how else do you explain the persistent popularity of a former President and proven loser with few accomplishments (The Abraham Accords and a tax reform bill with a mixed record) of whom even Tucker Carlson said “there isn’t really an upside?” Any leader who goes against the tide of culture war and outrage risks being washed away.
And yet, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court race showed, the entire party risks being washed away unless true conservative leaders demonstrate courage, risk sacrificing careers and fortunes, and force a reckoning. Those with a microphone and a moral compass will need to repeat – over and over again – that what the GOP is doing simply isn’t working. Hugh Hewitt needs to tell his two million weekly listeners the truth. Erick Erikson, Marco Rubio, John Thune, Tim Scott, and other leaders must use their platforms to let voters know the current formulation is a road to nowhere. They may lose listeners, viewers, and even primary voters, but the nation they serve will be far better for it.
I’m a Greek bearing a gift, and I do, in fact, have an ulterior motive: I desperately want the Republican Party to become a responsible governing party again. America is better off when both sides provide real ideas and innovations, not endless gripes. America is better off when serious people lead critical government agencies. And at some point, by fluke, by Democratic overreach, or by shifting political winds, Republicans will return to power.
What’s left standing then must be worthy of the mantle of leadership.
About the Author
Neal Urwitz is a public relations executive in Washington.