Based on the divisiveness, dysfunction and deceit of the first nine months of the Trump presidency, my Great Uncle Nelson must be rolling over in his grave on a rotisserie. And as a disillusioned Republican who looks in dismay at the current state of the party, I’ve been roasting right beside him on the spit.
Nevertheless, I’m not going to abandon the GOP because it’s now being held hostage by wealthy donors, the president’s he-can-do no-wrong 30-percent base and a small group of purists who offer no solutions. This serves Republican leaders in the House and Senate who value retaining power over serving the best interests of the American people. We need to look no further for evidence than the heartless health care bill they attempted to railroad through Congress without any debate and a detailed CBO report.
In a speech at the 1964 GOP Convention, then Governor Rockefeller lambasted soon-to-be-presidential nominee, Senator Barry Goldwater, and the extremism and racism he said were ruining the party:
“The Republican party is in real danger of subversion by a radical, well-financed and highly disciplined minority. These extremists feed on fear, hate and terror. They have no program for America - no program for the Republican Party. They have no solution for our problems of chronic unemployment, of education, of agriculture, or racial injustice or strife. These extremists have no plan and no program to keep the peace and bring freedom to the world. On the contrary - they spread distrust. They engender suspicion. They encourage disunity.”
Five decades later, change Goldwater to President Trump and his base and extremists to the Freedom Caucus (and right-wing media) and you would swear he was addressing the nation today.
Over its history, the GOP has stood for important causes--a problem-solving party that was fiscally disciplined, fully accountable, more open-minded on social issues, and willing to compromise in order to get things done. I applauded the president for siding with Senate and House leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Yes, Trump wasn’t protecting the Dreamers for magnanimous reasons, but simply out of self-interest. While he has no moral compass or fiber, one thing is certain; he desperately wants wins and will turn to whomever he feels can get them for him.
Unfortunately, the president’s meandering ship changed course again and the administration is now demanding a crackdown on sanctuary cities and funding for the mythical wall in exchange for DACA. Yet strangely enough, the fact remains that president is more comfortable working with Schumer than the GOP leadership and that has exposed the Achilles heel of the Republican Party. Even though they control both chambers, they are tied to the Freedom Caucus and can’t get anything done. And Trump’s base likes it when he thumbs his nose at House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom they hold in low regard. In an ironic twist, if Trump really wants to get something, anything, done, one of the things that could save the GOP from itself, or at least mitigate the damage, is if the president reaches across the aisle.
If Trump can marginalize the Freedom Caucus, it will be a huge first step to getting back to a functioning government, and the two parties regaining a modicum of trust. Even though his spontaneous détente with Democrats on DACA was a vanishing act, the president can still work with them on issues like infrastructure, which will then entice more of the GOP towards the center and also make forces on the far left less influential. This would be the closest thing to a centrist coalition and governing majority this nation has had in a long, long time. In his clumsy way, President Trump had initially presented a significant opportunity to the party with DACA legislation because it could have also led to the beginnings of a joint effort on tax reform and health care.
The exodus of commonsensible Republicans like Charlie Dent and Dave Reichert of the House’s moderate Tuesday Group can be tied to their frustration over the entrenched gridlock in Washington, a problem faced by both parties, due to pressure from their extreme wings. The country needs more rational, solution-oriented Republicans, and Democrats, such as the 40 plus members of the Congressional Problem Solver Caucus, who released an ambitious health care fix in July, the first and only bipartisan health care reform offered in the current Congress.
It’s a sad commentary on the state of the GOP that it was only when Senator Bob Corker, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced he wasn’t running for re-election, that he felt free to label this administration for what it really is: unfocused, irrational and a threat to our national security. The question is: when will others in the party do more than nod their heads in agreement behind closed doors?
Given the likelihood of more stalemated legislation, Trump may be left with no other choice than to turn to Schumer and Pelosi again. While he does not have the political skills to transform the entrenched feuding of competing factions into a functional GOP, his wild card independence and primal need for approval could incongruously spark the beginnings of across the aisle collaboration. It may only happen incrementally, but that essential art of the deal might actually save the party.
I’m staying in the Republican Party because we need concerned citizens who love their country and want the GOP to be nationally relevant for the long term. This will require challenging the current status quo and more importantly, electing pragmatic lawmakers who respond to public opinion on contentious issues like immigration, health care, climate change and gun control. The harsh truth is that the party will likely need to take a shellacking in the 2018 midterms to wake up. But our nation can’t move forward until we choose ideas over ideology, progress over partisanship.
Some say the GOP is on an irreversible path of self-destruction and this is a lost cause. I prefer to believe it’s a cause that has lost its way. Now is not the time to throw in the towel and cry uncle.