By Terry McCafferty ’22
This week, the House Democrats unveiled their message for the midterm elections where they will be defending their slim majority: the GOP is the party of QAnon. According to The Hill, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has already launched “an early six-figure ad campaign tying House Republicans to the QAnon conspiracy theory and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene” who lost her two committee assignments on account of her conspiracy theorizing proclivity.
Politically, the message works in the same way that their anti-Trump messaged worked in 2020. It can draw in moderate upper middle-class and suburban voters in places like Georgia and Arizona while not alienating the party’s left-flank, unifying the broad fragile coalition and allowing them to eke out majorities in the House and Senate.
Instead of choosing a message based on their popular policies or recent achievements, they have settled on this. While the strategy has the potential to succeed, the lack of an affirmative message makes passing policy harder because it relies on swaying voters who are much less likely to support the agenda of the Democratic Party. Additionally, spending large sums of money to tie moderate Republicans in swing districts to QAnon could backfire if it lends the conspiracy an aurora of legitimacy and increased attention. Setting aside the potential pitfalls of running an opposition message while in power, this choice reflects the struggles and opportunities of the Republican Party as various internal factions seek to win over its future.
While pundits like to predict the downfall of both our parties from time to time, the collapse of the GOP is nowhere in sight. The last time a major party ceased operations was in 1854 when divisions based on geography and slavery crushed the Whig Party. The divisions causing strife within the GOP have more to do with loyalty to a single person, Donald Trump, than they have to do with any policy or ideological differences. The worst thing Trump could do to the GOP at this point would be to form his own party, but with the entire political system set up to curtail viable third parties, Trump’s party’s biggest impact would be handing several election victories to the Democrats before fading into history as the Progressive Party formed by Theodore Roosevelt did. In other words, Trump’s power over the GOP’s future will not last forever.
Ultimately, a persona-based faction cannot long stand because while ideas are eternal, people only live so long, and enthusiasm around a single person fades even quicker. As the GOP has to determine what ideas it will espouse in the post-Trump years, here are three steps the party should take to set itself up for future long term success:
#1. Tell the truth and govern with facts:
Climate change is a real threat to our security and future, the election was not stolen, and there is not a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking ring. As Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz learned the hard way, it is unwise to spew lies that you do not yourself believe. The tendency of some members within the party to embrace misinformation for short term political gain is not a strong long term political strategy because eventually the truth coming out is inevitable. It is also easier to govern when you accept the reality of the problems you are attempting to solve. Reembracing truth and facts is the first step in winning back college-educated voters who fled the coalition, and it will allow the party to begin rebuilding trust with the American people. You would think being truthful is easy, but when it means admitting past untruthfulness, it will not be easy. Regardless, it would make a world of difference.
#2. Restore compassion and empathy within the party:
There is undoubtedly an audience for the Trumpian style of hurling insults, punching back ten times harder, putting others down, and getting down in the mud. To some people it feels genuine and authentic, to others, it expresses the anger and resentment they themselves feel, and yet, to others, it is necessary in order to shake up the orderly stagnation that they believe plagues our politics. In 2016 it made Trump interesting and entertaining to enough people to fuel his rise. But after four years of name-calling, frivolous fights, and hurtful statements, the vast majority of the country is tired of that style of politics. Without going into detail about all of the uncouth things the GOP let Trump say freely, it is high time for a more compassionate and empathetic Republican Party.
#3. Retain the working-class voters in the coalition that elected Trump in 2016 by catering to their economic interests:
While a move toward a gentler, fact-based GOP might alienate parts of the Trump base, moving to policies that further his base’s economic interests could counter that. Trump was elected, in part, due to his ability to be seen as an advocate for the working-class people of this country. Once he got into office, his promise of economic reforms for regular people largely did not pan out due to his inability to effectively wield power and the hijacking of his administration’s agenda by the GOP establishment in Washington, who made tax-cuts his only major domestic policy achievement. But the charlatan’s rhetoric alone opened the door for other Republican politicians to openly support popular pro-working class policies (like $2000 stimulus checks). This was the best thing that Trump did for his party. If he had been able to use his popularity and power to corral populist and moderate Republican votes and work across the aisle to pass major legislation that would make our economic system work better for ordinary Americans, he not only would have won reelection, he would be incredibly popular. If the GOP is not afraid to be popular, they should consider moving away from their traditional economic orthodoxy, not just in rhetoric, but in action.
If the GOP does these three things, challenging as they would be, and the Democrat’s only message is that one of the Republican representatives in Congress is nuts, the GOP undoubtedly will not only survive but thrive in the post-Trump years. The party that has only won the popular vote once in more than three decades could even start winning that again. Quips aside, at the end of the day, honesty, compassion, and worker-friendly economic policies are the best way for Republicans to reunify their party and win.
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‘At the End of the Day’ is a weekly column written by Terry McCafferty ‘22. Each week focuses on a different topic often related to politics, faith, culture, or society at large.