Wake-Up Calls for the GOP

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Last week I wrote that no matter who won the special election in Alabama to fill the Senate vacancy created by the resignation of Jeff Sessions to become Attorney General, the Republicans would lose.  And indeed, Democrat Doug Jones won the Senate seat in overwhelmingly Republican, ruby-red Alabama.  His victory reduces the number of Senate Republicans to 51, and encourages Democrats to work all the harder to win enough senate and house seats to take back the Congress in next year’s midterm.

But it could have been worse for the GOP.  They could have won the seat, but their victory would probably have proven to be the most expensive, destructive victory in modern electoral politics.  .  If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided to follow through on his promise to have Moore expelled, long, drawn-out, time-consuming proceedings would have been necessary.  If, on the other hand, Roy Moore was able to remain in the Senate, either because McConnell was unable to muster the two-thirds vote needed to expel him, or because the Republicans simply decided it was more expedient to keep Moore and his vote, then The Republican Party would then have been tagged as the “party of Roy Moore,” whose record of homophobia and Islamophobia would have reflected badly on the Republicans even if the charges of sexual misconduct proved to be false.  And Moore himself had made it abundantly clear he would not necessarily cooperate with McConnell, President Trump, and other Republicans anyway.  The Republicans would have had all the costs of being the “party of Roy Moore” without being able to rely on his support for its program anyway. 

So maybe the GOP’s loss last Tuesday isn’t so bad.  Nonetheless, the GOP must learn why it lost and try to reduce its losses next year in the off-year elections.  Understanding what’s going wrong for the GOP is relatively easy; trying to fix the GOP’s problems will prove much more difficult.

Many say that one problem with the GOP is President Trump himself.  He remains wildly popular with his base, but he’s failed to mature in office.  The base doesn’t care; no doubt it thinks Trump’s feuds, tweets, insults, and overall style are a refreshing contrast to the more staid conduct of previous presidents, and Trump himself seems to think that since he won last year’s presidential election despite—or because—of his behavior, he need not change.  But he should consider that he actually lost the popular vote for president, that the Republicans who won special congressional elections this year did so with smaller than normal margins, and that in addition to losing the Alabama Senate seat, the GOP also lost the races for the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia.  President Trump is not solely to blame for the GOP’s dismal record, but as President, he is the traditional leader and symbol of the GOP, and should consider governing his conduct accordingly.  But given his age and mindset, the probability he will do so is small, at best.

The second, and more serious, problem the GOP faces is the civil war within the party itself—a civil war begun several years before Trump decided to run for president.  In essence, the conflict is between the Republican establishment, personified by Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, and insurgents such as the Tea Party and the Christian Right.  Since 2010 the insurgents, motivated by an ideological zeal not shared by the GOP establishment, have been able to turn out in sufficient numbers to dominate GOP primaries and state conventions, and defeat establishment candidates for office with their own choices.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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