Over the next several months many people will be mourning what they believe to be the death of the Republican Party. Wakes will be held, funerals attended, and eulogies delivered. At long last the GOP will be laid to rest in the family graveyard next to its father, the Whig Party, with the following epitaph (probably written by Reince Preibus) engraved on its headstone: “Here lies the Republican Party. Born 1854. Killed in action 2016 while defending its members against insurgent enemy forces. Leaves behind millions of faithful donors.”
So we will be made to think that the party of Lincoln, Coolidge, and Reagan that abolished slavery, cut the federal debt in half, and collapsed the Soviet Union was single-handedly destroyed by a womanizing reality television star who donated to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and considers not contracting an STD in the 1980s to be his “personal Vietnam.” The chances of this being true are about as great as that of Beyoncé’s latest album de-radicalizing the Islamic State.
Political parties in democratic societies are much like great empires in that they typically perish from internal corruption rather than from external force. Rome was not destroyed by illiterate barbarians who painted their faces blue. They only exposed and exploited Rome’s rampant decay. In the same way, Donald Trump and his supporters did not kill the Republican Party. The Republican Party killed itself and used Trump to do it.
Perhaps this would be a more fitting epitaph: “Here lies the Republican Party. Born 1854. Went missing in action in 2006 with sightings in 2010 and 2012. Committed assisted suicide 2016. Leaves behind millions of abandoned Americans.”
Why Did We Vote Republican, Anyway?
No party can abuse its voters by showing so much fecklessness and violating so many of its principles as the GOP has done over the past decade and still expect its members to remain faithful. Republican leadership promised to cut spending, fight corruption, and combat President Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders. Instead, spending has increased (except for defense, of course), former House Speaker John Boehner tried to exempt Congress from the Affordable Care Act, and President Obama granted amnesty through — you guessed it — an unconstitutional executive order.
Even so, like obedient serfs we voted for Republicans time and time again because the establishment warned us that if we did not, then the Democrats would win, and Democrat policies are bad for America. The only two problems with this argument are that it is entirely deceiving and categorically false. Democrat policies are not limited to Democrats, nor did some of them even originate in the Democrat Party.
The bank, auto, and housing bailouts, Medicare expansion, National Security Agency spying, the Federal Reserve quantitative easing program, — these “Democrat policies” — were enacted under President George W. Bush, and GOP leadership like Speaker Boehner and senators Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain voted for the 2012 fiscal cliff deal, continued the Export-Import Bank, and blindly — or worse, knowingly — approved every 1,000-page omnibus spending bill that reached the floor.
In many respects the Republican narrative became just another scene from the National Politics League, where the GOP elephants struggle against the Democrat donkeys in the biannual Election Bowl, with vote-by-vote commentary from election pundits. “Are you not entertained?” cries Maximus Republicus. “Trump! Trump!” is the chanting reply of millions of watching Americans. The GOP now displeases them, and they have found a new source of entertainment, one that is funny, fresh, and brash. The establishment’s game has backfired because now someone plays it better, and they are jealous.
Republican Politicians Betrayed the Platform We Voted For
A political party is not a sports team, and its representatives are not doing battle on the congressional gridiron. A party is a set of principles that its members, in theory, support. If you lose those principles, you lose your party’s base. Certainly, a party may still hold conventions, appear on the ballot — and maybe, if it spends enough, receive some votes — yet offer people no better reasons to vote for it than to not vote at all. This is a dead party.
In this way, the Republican Party has been dead for nearly ten years. It died once it abandoned free-market principles, limited government, and the primacy of the Constitution, just as Democrats ceased to be Democrats when they embraced abortion, gay marriage, and gun control. A party is dead once its members cannot define it anymore. Just ask the Whigs — except they’re not around. Rather than a funeral, perhaps we ought to have a long-overdue graveside visit. Like Edward Gibbon wondered with respect to Rome, we ask not why the GOP was destroyed but rather how it lasted so long.
It must be remembered that not every defeat is glorious, for not every defeat is an Alamo, a Texan last-stand for freedom. Many times it is a Napoleon last stand for personal power. For this reason, the battle cry “Remember Waterloo” has a somewhat hollow ring to it. The GOP was presented with two clear choices: Ted Cruz and his constitutional principles or Trump and his promise of power. They chose the latter. The Alamo was not the end for Texas, but Waterloo was for Napoleon.
Many are concerned that the demise of the Republican Party foretells the demise of conservatism. We ought not to conflate the two terms so quickly. Just as what we call “Western civilization” is not confined to geographically western countries, so conservatism transcends political parties and therefore can survive the fall of the Republican Party.
In his book “How The Irish Saved Civilization,” author and historian Thomas Cahill details how Western civilization survived despite the fall of Rome. To adapt his closing remarks: “If the Republican Party is to be saved — forget about party politics, which, as George Washington would say, ‘is itself a frightful despotism’ — if America is to be saved, it will not be by Republicans but by conservatives.”