Monday’s Mtg, Part II: What Could Force Change on the GOP?

It turned out to be a huge week in the news for our Monday topic.  Everyone, everywhere seems to be talking about the future of the Republican Party.    There was a big GOP confab on the topic at which Bobby Jindal and Reince Priebus (LA governor and the RNC chairman, respectively) spoke.  Gingrich weighed in, as did other Party bigwigs.  And, all the top political blogs focused on it.  But, here I want to stick with what I said I’d do in my first post: Identify where the change within the GOP might come from.

This is  a hard question because, by definition, changing a political party’s raison d’etre is hard.  The people and interests that dominate a party like it the way it is.  The impetus for change has to come from the outside and end up penetrating  the inside at some other insiders’ expense.  Traditionally, this only happens when new groups enter the electorate and/or new national problems emerge that neither existing political party is doing anything about.

Examples?  In the 1980s, the Democrats became more moderate after the 1960s liberal movements fizzled out and to try to attract back the South.  In 1900-1917, both parties grew progressive wings in response to a newly-urbanized electorate.  Immigrants fueled the New Deal realignment.  The Age of Jackson came from newly enfranchized white male voters.  Etc.

So, who both inside and outside of the GOP will be usher in the new Teddy Roosevelt or Bill Clinton?

Forces Acting to Moderate the Republican Party –

Obviously, the biggest impetus for change in the GOP is losing, assuming that efforts to cheat their way back to power (see Part I) prove futile.   I’ll devote my opening remarks to this topic, because, frankly, forces of change are still hard to glimpse because they seem so far away.

  1. Widespread dissatisfaction and unmet needs:   Hey, the Democrats are not exactly breaking the popularity meter, either.  The Republicans are way, way behind in attracting young people, Latinos, Asians ,and most other fast-growing demographic groups, but there’s still opportunity to turn it around.
  2. GOP governors:  Traditionally, new blood and new ideas come from state officials.  For the moment, the new GOP governors are even more extreme than the national party (Rick Scott in FL, Paul LaPage in Maine, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker).  But, governors usually end up being more pragmatic and moderate because they actually have power and the responsibilities it entails.
  3. Big business:  The big, short-term hope for moderation.  Already, the major corporate lobbying groups have gotten the House to back off on the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff.  But, there are two big obstacles to this continuing.  First, since Tom Delay’s K-Street project of the late 1990s, many industry lobbying organization have been run by movement conservatives with closer ties to the GOP establishment than to the industries they represent.  Plus, liberals and Obama want to reregulate some industries, like finance, fossil fuels, and health care.  Second, wildcard right-wing billionaires, like the Koch Bros. and Sheldon Adelson, can keep funding extreme candidate and causes if they really want to.
  4. Other insiders:  Elder statesmen or sitting elected officials.  Even Rove is making reform grunts a little.
  5. Dissident Outsiders:  The GOP may start to listen to various apostate or at least alienated former conservatives, like Richard Lugar or David Frum (former senator from Indiana, prominent pundit).
  6. Events:  Finally, remember that big, disruptive events can compel a party’s evolution very quickly.  The 9/11 attacks brought neoconservativism to the fore, even though these intellectuals had no natural constituency within the GOP.  The Depression caused such a crisis – and also so discredited big business – that FDR had room to push the New Deal through Congress and cement the loyalty of new immigrant groups for a generation.  More gun massacres or hurricanes?



  1. Do Republicans really want to change their policies and program yet?  They still get about 47%-50% or more of the vote.  Have they been beaten enough to force real change?  What if they win again – as they probably will! – in 2014?
  2. Where will the change come from?  From the six groups I mentioned?  From others?
  3. Which voters could the GOP realistically hope to attract?  Non-whites?  Which ones?  Single women?  Where?
  4. How?  What policies and program changes will it take to do this?  Immigration?  Marijuana?  Taxes?  Guns?  Obamacare?  How about (gasp!) raising enough revenue to fund the programs Americans repeatedly insist they want?
    **  Can you name three areas of policy that might change?
  5. How can they solve the chicken-egg problem; i.e., they can’t attract new members unless they change policies, but they can’t change policies until they attract a broader base?
  6. Who inside the party will resist this most fiercely?  WWRD:  What will Roger Ailes do?  Can the conservative media be circumvented, or must it be a part of the solution?




Whew!  I hope you people read these posts.  Tell a friend, or an enemy, and I’ll see you on Monday night.


One response

  1. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    The Republican party does not have to “drift into irrelevance;” it is already irrelevant. The issues about which it is exercised are not the real issues facing the country. They are phony issues, drummed up to attract votes.
    We have had political re-alignment in this country before. However a major crisis is generally required to bring it about. Whether this will happen is anyone’s guess.

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