Reset or Rubicon? The Republican Party’s Identity Crisis | Ilija Dokmanovic
America is reeling from Election Night… or week? Month? To be honest I don’t think anyone really knows how long this process is going to go for; Trump’s refusal to concede, citing a plethora of potential cases of electoral fraud and ballot tampering, plus the doubling-down of the DNC and the mainstream media’s claims of an unprecedented Joe Biden victory on the 3rd have sent the country into a tailspin.
Faith in American democracy is the lowest it has ever been since events like the Watergate Scandal. The tensions that have been caused by COVID-19 lockdowns and the riots that have sprung up across America’s most at-risk cities have drawn lines in the sand for many politically engaged Americans. Regardless of who gets sworn in on the 20th of January, there has been a gargantuan problem festering in American politics for the past three and a half decades. And what this election has done overwhelmingly well is highlight the largest problem with American politics in the year 2020: the identity breakdown of the two core parties.
This is a problem which stretches back even before the Obama administration, but he most effectively utilized this tool compared to his predecessors. The cult of personality that emerged around Obama during his 2008 campaign and his Presidency gave rise to the political extremes we see emerging today, especially when this phenomena coexisted alongside substantial global events like the 2008 Financial Crisis, the Arab Spring, the migration crisis, and so on. If we’re being honest with ourselves, President Obama’s charm and charisma swept most of the world up in its wake; after all, he was the physical manifestation of a prototypical progressive strongman.
It’s hardly surprising that Obama, the DNC that propped him up, and ideologically liberal policy makers tapped into this and applied it as a great political weapon: it was easier to brand your opposition as archaic fogeys rather than break down their policies. It was easier to claim that the other side was ignorant of “the science”, rather than address their concerns with a world developing faster than anyone can possibly understand. Instead of reaching over the bench and working in the name of partisanship, it became the tit-for-tat competition that has only further devolved as the years have gone on
Instead of having any actual original policies or vision of his own, Obama succeeded based off of his personality and the way he made voters feel. Anyone with half a wit will tell you that charm isn’t enough, and they’re right. When you don’t have anything else to offer other than the “mic drop” moments for Tumblr users, the tricks run out quite quickly.
Trump and Brexit were the consequence of that: a Newtonian reaction to the precedent that was set all the way back in the latter years of the 2000’s. Unlike Obama, David Cameron and the neoliberal wets that have been the most disappointing leaders in recent memory, conservative figureheads have been far more effective at doing their jobs, responding to the wants of voters, on top of fostering great political movements around them.
The problem they pose is not that they threaten the wellbeing of the people or their rights; “moderates” like Senator Harris with the Democrats and Mitt Romney with the Republicans have proven that you can be “well-spoken” and non divisive and still enact policies that hurt your constituents. Rather, the threat that these new “demagogues” pose is to the old established order of Washington insiders, old boys, movers and shakers.
Frankly, it’s not just Trump. Regardless of what you think about her, Congresswoman AOC represents more of that populist energy conflicting with elitist mentality, albeit from the perspective of an urban liberal-arts student. You don’t have to dig deep to read just how much her and “the squad” consistently butt heads with old establishment figureheads like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. I’ve written previously on the identity issues of the Democrat Party going beyond Trump, but to have the internal stresses emerge this quickly in the seams while Biden hark’s on about rekindling stability in America is hardly a winning combination for the Democrats.
As for the Republicans, this election has shown who in the GOP are careerist politicians more concerned with staying in the good graces of their donors and the press rather than doing their jobs. If Trump did legitimately lose the 2020 election, it has less to do with Trumpism and more to do with the inability or the unwillingness of the GOP to shake their image of being a party for the elitists and corporate America. Pandering to forign and domestic lobbyist groups that corrupt the legitimacy of the American government, and the consistent rolling over when it comes to combating the cancer of identity politics, I sense that many in the GOP have been waiting (and wanting) for Trumpism to fade away so they can continue to hold the reigns of power in Washington by appealing to liberal and socially left-leaning groups, rather than laying out the groundwork for building a fairer America for their constituents in the working class. This will be hard to do, as it’s often difficult to tell who is an elephant and who is a rhino in that mass of grey-area the GOP has enjoyed living in for the past few decades.
This approach seems to be the course to tread for groups like GenZGOP, who have expressed their support for a 2024 ticket with neoconservative Republican Party powerhouses like Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio. The solution for a lot of GOP policy makers echoes their weaknesses from the Party pre-2016: lack of vision. This was a weakness that Trump was able to expose and take advantage of. How else does an outsider overcome 16 firmly entrenched, establishment candidates?
Having a message that resonates with voters, that’s how.
The GOP was successful because of Trump, not in spite of him. The increase in minority voters shows that, although still in its early days, there is a common vision that can be built for more Americans. In fact, most of the criticisms of Trump’s administration by his core voters came from the times he acted more like the typical, hawkish GOP figurehead.
Fox News and the GOP’s pre-emptive congratulations of Joe Biden are going to come back to haunt them. Why? Because whether they realize it or not, voters do not trust or like either party, and despite the fact that the Democrats have made a fool of themselves for the past 4 years chasing red herrings, this alone doesn’t increase the electability of Republicans in the majority of voters eyes.
For most Americans the problems that infest Washington are shared by both parties; lobbyist groups paying-off public servants, disregard for the core tax-paying base of the country in favor of appealing to fringe ideological groups, and the decreasing standard of living and choice in an America that his dominated more and more by unregulated industries and monopolies. Trump, while certainly not perfect, represented a sort of “break” in this endless cycle of abuse voters go through, picking Poison A or Poison B to represent them every 4 years.
These are issues that unite people across the political spectrum, and given enough time, they will unite. If they do not have a viable representation in the government that they trust, working-class Americans of all backgrounds will lash out against both parties violently. This is the country that revolted against the Crown for a *slight* increase on their tea. Mind you, the times are different, but I wouldn’t test how long you can get away with not representing their collective interests, and undercutting them at every step.
The Democrat Party will have its own problems going into the future, with or without a Joe Biden/Kamala Harris Presidency. Namely, they are going to struggle with the far-Left identity they have cozied up to for the last decade. With infighting between “the squad” and the leftover corpses from LBJ’s day, the future isn’t looking bright for their electability on a mass scale. The Republicans ought to not make the same mistake. To realize their fullest potential, the Republican Party must become a party that will represent the best interests of all working-class Americans.
The Republican Party must not aim to reset the clock to before Trump swept the nation with his cocksure energy. Instead, they must work to restore the honesty and integrity of the American political system before it is irreparably tarnished. They must reaffirm their commitment to an honest and transparent Republic where they represent the interests of the voters, not the elite political, financial, and media class that bankroll our representatives in Washington. Failure to do this will not only result in the death of one of America’s oldest political parties, but it will result in a collapse of trust in the concept of a representative democracy.
If the GOP doesn’t restore absolute faith in American democracy, and if the Democrats continue to hand over the nation to big tech, international banks, and foreign interests, the next Donald Trump that comes along will be someone with far less patience for the establishment’s duplicity.