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October 20, 2008

Where Will GOP Go Now? To the Center? Or Right . . . to Oblivion?


As we watch the election prospects for the Republican Party grow increasingly grim just two weeks out from the election, the real question is what will become of it if things turn out as bad as it appears they might.


Right now, the GOP has two choices. It can either veer substantially away from the rightward turn the party took during the 1980s, or it can continue on the same path. One is likely to make the GOP relevant again; one has the potential to banish the thing to the dustbin of history.


In figuring out where the Republican Party is going, it’s important to look at how the party got to the point it is today.


As it is configured today, the Republican Party was born in 1980, the child of the Reagan Revolution. Reagan restored America’s confidence in itself by popularizing a deep mistrust in government in general and specially in regulation.


Freedom became synonymous with the idea that government was the problem, not the answer.


It affected basically every plank of the GOP platform, from tax and regulation to the environment. In fact, pursuit of this with regard to the environment helped establish what came to be known as the Republican war on science, where evidence that inconveniently conflicts with ideology must be disregarded or ridiculed.


This continued through the ’80s, with only the mild hiccup of the four years of George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency. It’s probably of no small coincidence that conservatives came to dislike the first Bush, who lost the election after many conservatives fled to independent Ross Perot. The Republican platform was cemented, and ultimately poisoned, in the 1990s when conservative politics became synonymous with a hatred of Democrats.


Reagan’s election to the White House sparked a number of things, not the least of which was the slow and sometimes painful purging of moderates. It continues today through the ultra-conservative Club for Growth, which continues to fund primary challengers to Republicans it deems to be too easily in bed with Democrats.


This came even as conservative thinking offered new and innovative approaches to problems. One of the most obvious is an early-’90s cap-and-trade program designed to lower sulfur dioxide emissions. In fact, it is this market-based approach, which helped ameliorate the worst of acid rain, that today gives us the phrase “clean coal.” Clean coal, today supported by both major candidates but actually defined by neither, actually refers to technology meant to scrub the emissions from coal-fired plants in the early ’90s.


Today, the conservative wing dismisses cap-and-trade programs as socialistic mischief. Their approach to global warming, for which cap-and-trades are most often referenced as a mitigating program, is to pretend the problem doesn’t exist and construct elaborate conspiracies for why the evidence is phony or just plain made up.


While you’d think that the party would acknowledge that a massive rejection at election polls would be a repudiation of their entire single-minded approach to governing, the Republican Party has not shown much inclination to admitting error. It has, this year, concluded that first Bill Clinton and then Barack Obama are almost entirely responsible for the subprime mortgage mess, for instance. There is even loose talk in state circles that the Republicans would be best served by biding their time, holding up Democratic initiatives in hopes that voters would return the GOP to power.


Whether that amounts to an actual indication of how GOP insiders really feel, or just out-loud daydreaming, what it suggests is that one of the most important outcomes of this election might not be who gets picked as our next president, but how the Republican Party reacts to the results.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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