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Posted by on Nov 7, 2016 in 2016 Elections, 2016 Presidential Election, Politics | 3 comments

What the Hell Happened to the GOP?

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What the Hell Happened to the GOP?
By Bill Shireman

After a historic parade of October surprises, the final week before the election is packed with more uncertainty than ever–meaning Donald Trump’s improbable run for the White House is far from over. What keeps him alive, despite his glaring faults?

First, Trump’s formula has demonstrable staying power. This year, he brought together a conservative base with mainstream voters nervous for their future, and rallied a near-majority of Americans who could still put an authoritarian populist in the White House.

Second, the GOP has consistently made the mistake of dictating their platform to their base, instead of building on voter input. The majority of voters, including right-wing conservatives, vote not just for their representatives, but also for the issues and policies they care about. Top-down governance historically fosters distrust and suppression in the governed. A constituency with no room to contribute other than reactionary outrage will only produce more of the same.

Whatever the election’s outcome, this election has proven that feelings of frustration and victimization motivate a portion of every voter segment, regardless of party affiliation. This fear-based campaign platform will return next cycle, and every cycle following, until our government can address those feelings directly.

That’s the central message behind the Bridge Alliance--a diverse, cross-partisan community devoted to civil discourse and inclusive politics. I, along with corporate and political leaders nationwide, formed the alliance around a simple idea: Political anger and polarization do not reflect the priorities of the average voter–especially in the conservative base.

This election has brought us closer than ever to irreparably damaging our systems of governance. Even now, it isn’t too late to step back, admit where both liberals and conservatives jumped the track, and introduce a little civil discourse in the process.

The GOP Forgot to Listen

To win the Republican nomination, Donald Trump tapped into a whole new class of victims in need of saving: white, working class, older, and religious men and women, millions of Americans preconditioned to topple a system they have no proof of being built for them.

That’s a ready invitation for a demagogue who can unite “victims” on both sides. The totalitarian temptation didn’t die with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. It re-emerges whenever gross economic inequities combine with social instability.

In terms of intuition, Donald Trump is engaging his audience to great effect. Where other GOP hopefuls depleted their own cachet, Trump filled the void. By identifying voters as victims, he accessed the emotions rubbed raw in previous GOP campaigns.

Nobody Likes to Be the Victim

As a rare San Francisco Republican, I often support objectives like environmental protection and equal opportunity, but favor methods like freedom and markets. I’ve found if I want to understand a problem like social injustice, it’s important to look left. If we want to find a solution, like economic opportunity, it’s important to look right. Of course, like we learned in school, it’s best to look both ways. The right understands the importance of standing with tradition, the left is bolder at stepping into the crosswalk. The two together can look both ways, then step forward.

Individual Americans reject being labeled as “dependent” or “victimized”. Our research shows that 55 percent of all voters believe in first empowering people over big corporations, government, or authoritarian leaders.

In the same study, we found that 55 percent of both men and women voters, along with 40-60 percent of minority voters and 6 in 10 millennials lean fiscally right and socially left. It doesn’t take a conservative to distrust big government, just like progressives don’t have a monopoly on distrusting corporations.

So What Do Conservatives Stand For, Anyway?

The College Republican National Committee (CRNC) issued a report, “Grand Old Party for a New Generation.” The Republican brand, the CRNC reported, had been badly damaged by campaigns that defined the party as anti-women, Hispanic, gay, middle-class, and environment.

This consumer base is led by women, young people, and minorities who see themselves as strong, capable individuals who overcome all obstacles to be their best. Democrats currently dominate these demographics. Republicans need them, and they need to learn how to talk to them.

The traditional Republican base equates freedom with self-reliance, a core driver of industrial-age prosperity. Our respondents combine this with a “progressive” sense of individual expression and personal power, reflecting the distinctive individuality of a digital economy.

Responsibility as a conservative pillar comprise the personal discipline to resist impulses and adhere to rules. Most voters go beyond Ayn Rand to apply this principle to community involvement.

Opportunity, to the GOP base, means a fair chance on a level playing field. Most voters are aware that society is not built on level ground. “Opportunity” should include reaching out to those bearing the burden of history or circumstance.

Innovation to the current Republican base suggests linear progress. As the Internet has shown, the market favors discontinuous and even disruptive change. When yesterday’s industries are allowed to make way for new solutions, static, material standards are exchanged for experiential ones.

Enterprise to the Republican base means hard work and perseverance. In the CRNC’s vision, productivity includes the ability to work smart and foster creativity.

Where Can the GOP Go From Here?

Donald Trump has doubled-down on yesterday’s Republican base, portraying a rigged system designed to benefit anyone but the working class. This kind of self-consuming circular negotiation could either lead to the end of the Republican party as we know it, or a fundamental change.

Either way, the success of the Trump campaign is an early sign of a coming partisan realignment. It could turn Democrats sharply left and Republicans sharply right. It could unite fiscal conservatives with social libertarians. It could bring an authoritarian with bipartisan support to power, or reawaken the historical mission of both progressives and conservatives to empower people.

The outcome of the realignment depends in part on chance, but significantly on bridging gaps–between aisles, to be certain, but also between the representatives and those being represented. Both parties can still win elections by perpetuating a sense of powerlessness that keeps half our purported victims voting for Democrats, and the other half voting for Republicans. But that would ignore the voices of millions of constituents on both sides looking to cast their vote for something better.

Bill Shireman ([email protected]) is CEO of Future 500, a non-profit that resolves conflicts between corporate, environmental, conservative, and progressive groups. www.future500.org

photo credit: DonkeyHotey Donald Trump – Caricature via photopin (license)

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Copyright 2016 The Moderate Voice
  • JSpencer

    “What the hell happened to the GOP?”

    I don’t have a great deal of faith in their ability to figure it out, but if and when they do, it will involve finally seeing what others have been telling them for quite a few years now. The truth is out there, just as it always has been.

    “Even now, it isn’t too late to step back, admit where both liberals and conservatives jumped the track, and introduce a little civil discourse in the process.”

    That statement doesn’t bode well for the aforementioned ability to figure it out. If you are serious about understanding what has been going on, I suggest starting with Ornstein and Mann’s book, “It’s Even Worse Than it Looks”.

  • Markus1

    The institutional structure of the USA favors a two party system. There are 330 million Americans with diverse needs and wants. Any political party must cover a diversity of interests to get anywhere close to meaningful adherents. The GOP has chosen to emphasize certain issues and has ostensibly taken no compromise as its bargaining position. I my view this has led to a divorce with reality. Here are some examples:
    The party claims to be for a balanced budget. Ron Reagan produced a highly unbalanced budget to overcome the slowdown of the late 1970’s. Whether this was right or wrong is immaterial; it is never mentioned. When Bill Clinton produced an actual balanced budget, Bush immediately broke the bank by tax cuts and even sending out “rebate” checks of $300-600 to households. How can I be expected to consider them the fiscally cautious party?
    Forty million people were without insurance. The GOP had no plan. The ACA did not lead to a constructive debate. We got forty or so abolishment votes. How can I take them seriously on this topic?
    They claim to be antiabortion. Roe v Wade was passed in 1973 and has been a source of vituperation since. Our current social programs have led to real declines in teenage pregnancy and abortion rates. Why don’t Republicans proclaim these successes and support sex education?
    The last five years have seen extremely unusual warmth. What is the GOP program?
    Our foreign adventures get people killed. Four people were killed in Libya. How many “investigations” into Benghazi am I expected to take seriously?
    Trump said that Tom Brady supports him; Giselle Bündschen says no. Who do you expect me to believe?

  • Slamfu

    If we want to find a solution, like economic opportunity, it’s important to look right.

    Citation needed. Seriously. Can you please point to me one single economic plan put forth by today’s GOP that will do that. Theirs is a track record of massive deficits, ballooning income inequality, and recession. The closest you can come to economic success is Reagan, but he had an interest rate he could drop 20 points and spent more money than we’d ever seen spent outside of WWII, both of which grow the economy way more than income tax reductions, and we still had a few on his watch.

    I do appreciate your tone and overall style which is moderate, but if I want the economy to run well, I’m voting Democrat.

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