The national Republican party is increasingly in danger of going the way of the moribund New York party I’ve written about previously here, where yet again the party establishment is lining up behind another gruff, inarticulate candidate whose only virtue is money, and who is certain to wind up an embarrassment if nominated. It doesn’t even matter that such candidates aren’t even Republicans, or are recent converts of convenience, as long as they are willing to part with some cash for the party establishment apparatus. When a party starts looking for candidates who can self-finance you know it is in trouble, as it portends nothing more than a lack of a broad-based support network. The party in California is in the same shape, although there at least the last statewide candidates were good.
This pattern just confirms the phony depiction of the Republicans as the “party of the rich,” never mind that the super-rich actually favor Democrats. It is in fact a bona fide middle class party, but it doesn’t help when the last candidate for President, as good and decent a man as he was, only confirms this stereotype. People see this and form their perceptions, often concluding that “he doesn’t represent people like me.” The only way the party can gain strength is to do the nitty gritty work on the ground and build from the bottom up, rather than wait until election season and hope the right candidate comes along. Even if such a person does materialize they can’t magically create a functioning party structure where none exists, which is pretty much the case at the moment on both coasts.
The party establishment often gets the blame from conservative activists, and there is some truth to this, to the extent that they have frequently connived to rent out the party line. No one should be able to buy a nomination for office in either party, but it continues to happen. But that is ultimately where failure commences, when the party ceases to represent the people it is supposed to represent. The usual prescription to correct this is to limit the amount of money in politics. However, it is in fact such restrictions on donations that has handed rich guys the keys to the party since they are willing to spend their own money, making campaign finance rules ludicrous. I’ve argued a number of times here that what we need is electoral reform: first a limit on how long campaigns can go on, and second, that candidates ought to be nominated by the elected officials of the party, who after all, have been chosen for public office by the electorate. However, the prudent way to approach big questions is incrementally, not in a rush to “reform” or correct a situation that often backfires due to unforeseen circumstances. Any change should first be tried out in a few states to see how it works before becoming a national template.
Republicans aren’t losing on ideas as much as organization, or the lack of it. It is increasingly impossible to win an election if you write off large geographic sections of the electorate. The problem isn’t with “minorities” as we hear all the time, but rather with geography. The division into so-called “red” and “blue” states, or tactics to maximize the party’s “own” turnout may occasionally work, as in the past few presidential elections, but it is a terrible long-term strategy. Both parties are guilty of this. The way to start repairing this is to ask the questions “Why aren’t we getting the vote in these states?” and “What can we do to appeal to them?”
A decade ago former Governor Zell Miller wrote a book called A National Party No More about the Democrats. The same could now be said about the Republicans. When a huge block of voters on both coasts are basically written off it is that much harder to win an election.The national party should look at states where they are faltering and resuscitate the local parties. It was not so long ago that California or New York could be successfully contested. They should be again, by doing the necessary work of building a party from the ground up instead of from the top down.