Securing A Future for American Conservatism Part 3: Owning The Mistakes of The Past
Extolling the litany of hypocrisies the Republican Party engaged in over the past years is a cottage industry, and something that everyone reading this should be familiar with. However, taking an honest look at the failure of American conservatives remains necessary so long as a majority of Republicans in power insist nothing is wrong or needs to change. The current state of the party is reflective of a political group that has lost its way, reaping the consequences of disconnecting from issues its voters cared about, and abandoning hope it can win over new voters. With that in mind, there are structural lessons to be learned from the mistakes of the Republican Party.
The paramount mistake of the GOP is giving up on winning over a majority of voters. Theoretically, this did not seem like a major problem to many conservatives. In a democracy, political health is dependent on an informed voter, and if a voter wasn’t “sufficiently informed”, better to stay home than to vote for calamitous candidates and policies. However, this line of thinking was used as an excuse to actively engage in voter suppression tactics, from seemingly innocuous voter ID laws to more insidious voter intimidation tactics. Major conservative groups from the Federalist Society to Fox News clearly argued that “when more people vote, Republicans lose.” Rather than do the hard, necessary work of winning over voters to conservative ideas and beliefs, Republicans became comfortable with winning the electoral college, losing the popular vote, and calling it a mandate for conservative policy. If conservatives can’t convince a majority of Americans of the benefit of their governance, then they don’t deserve to govern in a democratic society.
The second major mistake of The Republican party was deciding the culture war matters more than governance. To be sure, fighting for cultural norms and values that are worth preserving is a key tenet of conservatism as a philosophy, but it is not a substitute for the necessity of governing the body politic. This focus on winning the culture war at all costs is reflected by the dearth of any conservative policy and innovation over the past decade. Instead, the mantra of the current administration and conservative media has been “owning the libs”. Not a single conservative luminary can articulate its meaning other than obstructing liberal objectives. This has resulted in the Republican party defining itself by its opposition to other Americans rather than by it’s promise to fellow Americans. The cruelty being espoused by elected Republicans is reflective of a hostility that views liberal Americans as bigger threats than our foreign rivals, such as the Russians and the Chinese. It’s a strategy that actively does what Republicans constantly accuse Democrats of: dividing the country along political lines.
The third major mistake of the Republican Party was failing to listen to the wants and values of its voters once in power. To be sure, the necessities of governing often make ideological purity impossible. There is a difference, however, in compromising on certain ideological values due to necessity, and completely abandoning them in order to revel in the excesses of power and privilege. The current debasement of the Republican Party to a Caudillo saw the discarding of most traditionally Republican and conservative values. This was only possible if the Republican party in power never cared about said values, but merely used alleged fidelity to them as a means to power itself. This lack of conviction is reflected in the governance of Republican senators, congressmen, and state governments over the modern era, which was largely focused on opposition to Democrats and surviving reelection rather than on solving the issues of their constituencies in a manner in which the voters approved. In the process, Republicans plunged America into two of the three worst economic recessions in our history, failed to manage the two longest wars in American history, failed to meet urgent reforms in healthcare and immigration, and ultimately failed to uphold the rule of law when Republican Leadership was caught violating their constitutional oaths.
Any new conservative party must keep these three mistakes in mind at all times. Building a new political party necessitates leadership that has the integrity to try and win over voters, listen to their needs, and work to follow through on their needs with integrity. It is only through the hard work of governance and discipline that conservatism can prove itself once again in the eyes of the American public. Should the new conservatism do this, it will have done a great service to the public health of the American Experiment.
Christian Thrailkill is a graduate of Southern Methodist University, musician, and columnist. He lives in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @Wolvie616