The GOP: Conflicting imperatives


The polls seem to have gotten it wrong again. The national media yet again whiffed embarrassingly. And it wasn’t just Republican Senator Ted Cruz who predicted that the 2022 elections would be a red wave that would grow into a “red tsunami” for Republican candidates.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy announced triumphantly “This is the year we take market share.” Turns out the “red wave” became a toxic “red tide” for the GOP, with few exceptions like Ohio and Florida where Governors DeWine and DeSantis didn’t disappoint Republican expectations.

Despite high inflation, high gas prices, crime concerns, seemingly low approval ratings for President Biden, and the historical pattern of large interim losses for the party in the White House, something neutralized these historically persuasive factors. Speculation is flooding the shoreline of the tide that never materialized.

Was it the populist political influence of former President Donald Trump? Was it growing fears for the condition of American democracy? Was it a sense that “performance politics” was interfering with serious governance at a time when domestic and international challenges weren’t being seriously addressed? Was it a reflection of the competing divisions within the Republican Party? Are people just sick and tired of schoolyard politics?

The answer is probably some or all of the above, but in my view, the Republican Party is caught between conflicting imperatives and these competing imperatives aren’t easily resolved with promising outcomes. The runoff election in Georgia may be the perfect analog for the case of conflicting imperatives facing the GOP.

In efforts to bolster the Republican position in the U.S. Senate by way of Georgia (despite Catherine Cortez Masto’s win in Nevada which sealed the Democratic majority), should the party encourage Trump loyalists to vote for Trump-endorsed Heisman Trophy winner Hershel Walker or do they use the election to press for a different imperative as expressed by Republican Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, that is, to avoid another indulgence in how Trump has “mucked up” the party’s chances of winning in Georgia?

The push and pull that is emerging within the GOP is reflective in differences manifest between the likes of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, former Vice President Mike Pence, Minority Whip Senator John Thune of South Dakota, Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio on the one hand and on the other hand, Congressional representatives of the House Freedom Caucus such as Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Green, Mark Meadows, Scott Perry, Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert and senators who have been staunch supporters of President Trump like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley.

These conflicting imperatives are also manifest in professed election deniers and those in the party who fully acknowledge the official outcome of the 2020 election. Then there are those who want to exorcise Representative Liz Chaney from the party and those who see her as a putative candidate for the next chapter in JFK’s book, “Profiles in Courage”. There are those Republicans who don’t want Donald Trump to run for president again in 2024 (26%) and those who do want him to run again in 2024 (67%)… according to a September 1, 2022 PBS-Marist Poll… a poll that also showed that 67% of independents did not want him to run again.

Of all of these troubling internecine issues that have become glaringly apparent after the 2022 interim elections, perhaps the most troubling for the party is this. It may be that in a national election, Republicans can’t win with Donald Trump affiliations, and they can’t win without Donald Trump affiliations.

If his imprimatur is such a double-edged sword, what’s the party to do? There are Biblical derivatives to the expression that sometimes it’s necessary to cut off the arm to save the body.

But here’s a more upbeat thought. A headline in the New York Times that had absolutely nothing to do with the recent elections left me with a more hopeful outlook which is perhaps applicable to both parties and to our nation’s electorate.

“We live in an age of destruction, which means, we live in an age of rebuilding.”

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.

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