The Crux of the Problem: The Party’s Over

I’ve never been a particular fan of Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist. Not that I’ve necessarily disagreed with his opinion pieces, I’ve simply found them a bit too self-consciously measured (and occasionally pompous). Among Times columnists, I tend to prefer the wit of Gail Collins or the red meat of Paul Krugman. If I want thoughtful and measured, I choose David Brooks.

But this time, Friedman has hit a home run.

If a party could declare moral bankruptcy, today’s Republican Party would be in Chapter 11.

This party needs to just shut itself down and start over — now. Seriously, someone please start a New Republican Party!

America needs a healthy two-party system. America needs a healthy center-right party to ensure that the Democrats remain a healthy center-left party. America needs a center-right party ready to offer market-based solutions to issues like climate change. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense gun laws. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense fiscal policy. America needs a center-right party to support both free trade and aid to workers impacted by it. America needs a center-right party that appreciates how much more complicated foreign policy is today, when you have to manage weak and collapsing nations, not just muscle strong ones.

But this Republican Party is none of those things. Today’s G.O.P. is to governing what Trump University is to education — an ethically challenged enterprise that enriches and perpetuates itself by shedding all pretense of standing for real principles, or a truly relevant value proposition, and instead plays on the ignorance and fears of the public.

I completely agree that America needs a healthy two-party system.

I leave it to political scientists more informed than I am to debate the relative merits of a parliamentary system and our two-party system. Whatever the conclusion, however, we have what we have. Our two-party system is institutionalized, our civic culture is accustomed to and embedded within it.

Because that is so, the intellectual and moral maturity of the two parties is supremely important. The ability of those parties to conduct adult, responsible arguments about the issues of the day is what allows the American enterprise to advance, to adapt to changing realities and to avoid the excesses that have taken down other dominant regimes. When either party becomes corrupt, or childish, or co-opted by special interests, our system doesn’t work.

I’m not Pollyanna; even when the system is working, both parties provide citizens plenty to criticize. Disfunction is a matter of degrees.

I was an active Republican for 35 years. The party I worked for, the party I belonged to and supported, no longer exists. I left in 2000, and I’ve subsequently watched the deterioration of a once-responsible political party from the sidelines. I’ve watched as the Republican friends I worked with “back in the day” have become discouraged, and then appalled, as a party that had usually nominated thoughtful and substantive candidates devolved into a circus, a party in which Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and their like are embraced by an angry and bigoted base.

The GOP’s devolution may be good for Democrats’ immediate electoral prospects, but in the long run, it isn’t good for either the Democratic party or the country.

Friedman concludes that the existing GOP cannot be salvaged–that America needs a new center-Right party.

This is such a pivotal moment; the world we shaped after W.W. II is going wobbly. This is a time for America to be at its best, defending its best values, which are now under assault in so many places — pluralism, immigration, democracy, trade, the rule of law and the virtue of open societies. Trump will never be a credible messenger, or a messenger at all, for those values. A New Republican Party can be.

Friedman says: if you build it, they will come.

But who will build it, and who are the “they” who will come?


  1. It looks like both you and Friedman are major league hitters. Totally, totally spot on in all respects!!! Thank you!!!

  2. The GOP needs to own their current status and they are the only ones that can fix it.

    (girl cousin, I left you a comment on yesterday’s blog).

    Why not four parties like they have in other countries? Left-left, center left, center right, right-right? I don’t think a choice of one or the other is working any more and many other Democratic nations have more than a two-party system. Maybe we need to rethink the way our Congress is constructed. It’s time to rethink this whole electoral college system.

    Agreed that the GOP is no where near the party you left and they need to fix that sinking ship. I don’t believe for a minute that more than 13 million people will vote for Trump in November! I really don’t. The party leaders of Bush, Ryan etc, will not endorse that buffoon so they will either vote Hillary or sit it out. It could be the lowest voter turnout ever or not.

  3. Hasn’t it occurred to anyone that maybe Trump could start his own political party? Center-woozy-woozy . Not center-right or center-left.

  4. Just free associating with your post, thinking about the devolution, my mind came up with this:
    -Nixon’s Southern Strategy
    -Reagan in Philadelphia, Mississippi
    -Willie Horton
    -Gingrich’s contract with America
    -Impeachment of the President
    -War in Iraq
    -Sarah Palin selected as Vice Presidential nominee

    Those things probably don’t all hang together necessarily, and there are probably events along the path of greater significance, but that’s what popped in my head over my first cup of coffee.

  5. Below; I have copied and pasted two quotes from President Abraham Lincoln, our most venerated Republican. Does anyone recognize any of these duties, aims, goals or aspirations he speaks of as part of the foundation of today’s Republican party? President Lincoln would have had Donald Trump imprisoned for insurrection and/or treason long before he reached the upper limits of power within (or aided and abetted by) the GOP. How have they fallen so low in such a brief span of our history? How has Trump risen so fast in only the past year? And, if today’s headlines are true regarding the unraveling of Trump’s campaign managers and financial status; what the hell can or will the GOP do to save itself and, in turn, this country?

    One quote by Abraham Lincoln which I could not find was part of an earlier speech; it involved a joke about a farmer bragging about his strength and prowess, proving his point by swinging a hog by the tail. The punch line was, “…Can somebody please help me let go of this hog’s tail?” Who is there to help the GOP let go of the tail of the hog that is dragging the entire GOP down into the mire?

    “…I do not mean to say that this government is charged with the duty of redressing or preventing all the wrongs in the world; but I do think that it is charged with the duty of preventing and redressing all wrongs which are wrongs to itself.
    –September 17, 1859 Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio”

    “This is essentially a People’s contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men — to lift artificial weights from all shoulders — to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all — to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.
    –July 4, 1861 Message to Congress”

  6. Here’s a concept to think about. If there were no government there would still be marketplace solutions. People would make sell, barter, exchange, get help from others, etc.

    Government adds to what would otherwise be, regulations that insure that the greater good, the needs of all of the people, are not trampled by the few (which is of course the direction that free market economies tend to go; inequitable wealth distribution).

    What would too much government look like? It would be so restrictive that market based solutions that could benefit the greater good would be stymied or stunted or overlooked. I would guess that the physical manifestation of that condition would be an inadequate choice of goods or services.

    Put that way, what the heck are we worried about in America today? We are faced daily with extremes of choice in every market and we are at extremes in wealth distribution. We aren’t in the same zip code as over regulation.

    It seems that balancing right center and left center views are certainly a theoretical consideration, but in practice we are a long way from government economic overreach.

    Let the GOP die. Whenever we get closer to needing protection from overbearing government a replacement will rise from the ashes. At the moment there is no credible market among we the people for the capabilities that they’ve evolved to. They’ve become merely a much too powerful union for big business.

    We’ll get along fine without them.

  7. What if there were no political parties – each candidate assembled her own platform, conducted his own campaign, voted the combination of her conscience and constituent feedback?

    How would democracy be stunted?

  8. My observation is that our two party system continues to function reasonably well in these areas, New England, Mid-Atlantic, upper Midwest and West Coast. It is in those areas where the educational index is low and the evangelical and poverty indexes are high that the two party system functions much as it does now on the nation scene. It becomes the role of the Republican leadership to halt their race to the bottom. Failing that a new party will be needed.

  9. Thank you Doug for pointing out:
    -Nixon’s Southern Strategy
    -Reagan in Philadelphia, Mississippi
    -Willie Horton
    -Gingrich’s contract with America
    -Impeachment of the President
    -War in Iraq
    -Sarah Palin selected as Vice Presidential nominee
    It is clear to me that as a result of their playing to the racist, war hungry nut cases in their base, the big money party is being consumed by their own base. I sure hope they are devastated this time….from top to bottom. Perhaps that will change them. Perhaps not.
    Going back to Doug’s List: I think Gulf Wars are worth looking at….
    Can you remember what the Middle East looked like BEFORE Bush Gulf War I and Bush Gulf War II? All those people were still alive. All of today’s refugees were living in their own homes, in their own towns and cities. The Christian Warriors have brought hell on earth to the Middle East. I fear we will pay a terrible price for what the Republicans have done.
    Sec Powell said we will own what we break. But they just walk away. Trumps only concern is that we did not steal their oil for good measure.
    Sure…. That is what they did wrong. Good Grief.

  10. Doug,

    You accurately pointed out the path of “devolution.” However, it was also the path of MASSIVE HATRED. Unfortunately, that path is still”up for grabs.” Consequently, the accuracy of the polls are very questionable as to forecasting the future of the Presidential race as well as the Republican Party.

  11. A new Republican Party? This one could start governing NOW. Mitch McConnell and/ or Paul Ryan could decide to pass responsible fixes to problems with the ACA, prove they’re not owned by the NRA with Brady Bill 2.0 passage, and start approving judicial appointees as well as others. They didn’t shoot themselves in the foot, they went for the heart.

  12. Everyone seems to assume that the Republican Party is as good as dead, but look around you. They control a majority of governorships and a majority of state legislatures. That gives them the power to control the House of Representatives at least through the next census. I know Congresss has historically low approval ratings, but if you ask by district you’ll find they tend to like their own Congressman.

    Democrats take too much for granted. Yes, Donald is a nightmare. Yes, we need action on things the Republicans refuse to deal with. No, we cannot assume that the electorate will respond in a rational way and throw them out of office.

  13. This can be seen as a “hostile takeover” attempt of the Republican Party. That’s really what this amounts to. It will be interesting to see how it resolves.

  14. How did I ever start my day without Sheila’s insights and common sense? And darn, I hate having to agree with Friedman, but I do at least in part, in this case. But I also agree with Peggy Hannon — the Republicans absolutely control 2/3s of the country, including Indiana. IMO, the first problem to correct is Citizens United — to paraphrase Lord Acton, “Money corrupts. Endless money corrupts endlessly.”

  15. A party that allowed the likes of Trump to become its presidential candidate (after taking control of a majority of state legislatures and governorships, as well as both houses of Congress) is not competent to govern. But then, the current GOP is interested only in ruling, not governing. They cynically exploited their ran-and-file faithful while serving only the interests of their elite donor class, and that finally caught up with them. Like the Bourbon kings, they learn nothing and they forget nothing, and so now they have the short-fingered vulgarian to contend with. Yes, we desperately need a functioning two-party system (or multi-party, if you want to leave things open). At this point, though, I think that even the name “Republican” may be too radioactive to use for a new conservative party; that name is now too closely linked to bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, plutocracy, militarism, economic wreckage, extremism, and “hold-my-breath-till-I-turn-blue” obstructionism.

  16. Thank you, Martha and Peggy. Obviously the Republicans in office want power but not to be a political party or to govern. I fear they are nothing more than servants of those who set the messages accepted as truth by those who elected them. Puppets. And we need to elect different representatives, but we also need to think long and hard about those puppet masters and find a way to live outside their grasp and bring more people outside their grasp. I fear I sound like I’ll put on my tinfoil hat next, but the bill of goods so many of us have been sold taints the thinking of nearly all of us in one way or another. We really need to focus on our values as people and a society and in our communities and work toward real results for real people.

  17. The times call for another Abraham Lincoln to launch another new political party. Trump and Palin don’t qualify.

  18. I assume that by center-right you mean a party that does not make openly racist, homophobic, and/or extreme religious views part of its platform. That seems to me to be the only way a new party could hope to compete with the center-left. So if everyone in those two groups is centrist (reasonable and pragmatic), what becomes of all the extremists left behind? They are not an insignificant number. I think starting a new center-right party is a perilous approach to strengthening the two-party system, and more likely to result in the growth of a competitive—and scary—far-right third party. Not to worry, though; the current GOP doesn’t seem capable of centrism anyway.

  19. We have been shown during Obama’s presidency that state elections can make or break this country. The Koch brothers figured out long ago that spending their money on state congressional elections is where they can achieve the most power to get what they want for their own corporate interests.

    Super Pacs have been throwing money at the Republican candidates who agree to prostitute themselves out to the highest corporate bidders, with the knowledge that they must fight in congress to gain ever more power and advantage for their corporate pimps.

    Due to gerrymandering in Indiana the Republicans have taken over our government. There are far too many voting districts that offer no choices at the polls. I happen to live in one of those districts. If I recall correctly, the next redistricting is not until 2021. That leaves our state with little hope for change for at least five more years.

    Regarding the Presidential race, I am hopeful that the younger generation that has come out to support Bernie will stay actively involved after this election and don’t lose hope. They are a kinder and more compassionate generation and they are the ones that will be able to bring about positive change to our government. Until most of the older white male powerful corporate leaders are gone I am not able to imagine much improvement in how this country is run. Hopefully, they will not be able to create clones of themselves within their corporations who would vow to carry on their selfish and self-serving demands of government representatives.

  20. On the streets of America and around dinner tables where one in five children still faces an empty plate, it is the left that is MIA.

    The Grand Ole Party has fallen far-right, while the once great Dems have followed the money to center-right. Stop kidding ourselves.

    The vast majority of Americans are left with two broken arms they can’t afford to have set at the local clinic, paychecks that won’t pay basic bills and lost hope in a now repossessed dream. They won’t wait for the parties, both of them, to sort through this identity crisis. Their empty wallets don’t allow them the luxury.

    The Dems point to the obvious lunacy of Trump, while deflecting the untenable choice they too have given. People are not going to support a criminal or a crook. Clinton and Trump, with a little help from hackers, the FBI and New York attorneys, are exposing both parties for the patsies they have become for the already haves.

    Two wrongs still don’t make a right (or a left.)

    The information age has indeed caught up with Presidential politics. And people have figured out they aren’t sheep, they are sacrificial lambs.

    It is those without who find themselves without representation by either party.

    The bugle plays it’s sad, mournful notes for a left that once was, while the right now enjoys a full piece orchestra. The gig is up.

  21. I agree with Doug and at least two others who detailed the long, predictable trail to today’s Republican Party. Expressing shock in Donald Trump’s themes is akin to expressing shock that gambling is occurring at Rick’s Place.

    However, the elephant in the room is, in my estimation, race.

    Sure, we can toss in xenophobia, but what may well be the trail of crumbs leading back to the beginning of the GOP’s inexorable path to its present condition is, again, in my view, the dramatic realignment of party coalitions following the 1964 general election and passage of that year’s Civil Rights Act.

    Populist fevers run high during periods of great economic change, and with the browning of America and the election of an African-American president, it’s hard to minimize the role racial hatred has played in shaping the Republican Party.

  22. I dunno,call me a cynic but….If you left the Republican Party in 2000 after 35 years, that would suggest you supported them since 1965. Since when was the Republican Party of “responsibility”? Especially during the years of your support. David Brookszzzzz has no credibility among the left. If this forum proves anything,it is proof that a certain segment of the Republican supporters have taken over the Democratic Party. This would explain the non-support of Sanders and most assuredly of his policies. Thus why the Democrats have been co-opted by the phenomenon known as Vichy Democrats. It would also make sense as to why this segment is giving their unwavering support to a former Goldwater Girl.

    Btw,What’s the point of having two parties if all they’re going to do is sit on the fence at the center?

    As far as the opinion piece from Friedman,it’s not just the Republicans that have developed a schism/chasm within their ranks.

  23. There are multiple cultures that need to be taken into account in the future of political parties. The first is the group that manages the party apparatus. The second group are the voters who maintain the party’s relevance by keeping them in office. One could also define a third group of those who fund the party and buy the media fuel that keeps the voters voting for Republicans .

    It seems to me that whatever success the whole thing has is attributable to the cohesiveness between those three significantly different cultures.

    The party culture will morph towards success measured by the political influence that organizing the voters leads to. They like all businesses merely serve the market. The customer is always right.

    The voter culture I don’t think can be created as much as played to.

    The money culture is investing in the biggest surest return in terms of influence.

    The closest other business that I can think of is the women, pimps and Johns of prostitution.

    Our society choses probably not wisely to regulate prostitution by focusing on the women. I suppose that they’re the easiest to prosecute. There’s no indication that that works. Or maybe anything works.

    I can’t see any progress being made in the political party game either and really don’t expect any until we can pull off what Bernie has been selling from the beginning of his campaign.

    We need to disconnect the money from the campaign process.

    Legislation to do that really seems pretty straightforward to me, government only funded campaigns. What we’re short of is political will.

    In the best case scenario the temporary collapse of the Republican Party may be the only opportunity in sight to do what needs to be done for the long term.

    We have to fertilize that garden of possibility by making the collapse thorough.

  24. In order to change, you have to create a new habit. Most experts recommend a plan in writing & doing it w/others. Tell significant people in your life so you are accountable. This isn’t rocket science. There either is no desire to change within the GOP, or the ones that would like to change do not have the power to move the party in a positive direction of change. A bunch of people in non-decision making positions bitching about it is so old. Let it go bankrupt! Hopefully a new party emerges & plays the role of a sensible 2 party government. Even after Hillary kicks Donald’s ass, our senate will be filled w/ultra conservative far right wing, no compromising tea baggers. Not to mention at the state level w/crappy governors like Pence & legislators that don’t give a crap what their constituents are saying & plow forward with/ their ass backward conservative agenda.

  25. Great topic today, especially as a jumping off point for all the commenters. I beg to differ with Peggy; in most of the states that have a solid Republican majority, it had nothing to do with the electorate; see all of Sheila’s past posts with the subject line: Gerrymandering.

    I was never a Republican; at age 10 I can remember my parents arguing Eisenhower (my mom) vs. Stevenson (my dad), I agreed with my Dad. When I could vote, I registered as independent as my misguided and only attempt to be open to all sides.

    I read an interesting statistic from Atul Gawande in his speech to CalTech this year: in 1974 the highest percentage of the population that was solidly behind the scientific community were conservatives(!) How this has changed. If the second party of our two party system must represent anti-science, pro-racist, anti-regulatory groups I am glad that it is dying and I don’t want it resurrected.

    If a second party could put some restraint on us “tax and spend, bleeding heart liberals,” that might make for better government but I can’t picture where that would come from given what we currently have looking at us from across the aisle.

  26. Watching Trainwrecks,

    Your summation is on-target, hits the bull’s eye. “The Grand Ole Party has fallen far-right, while the once great Dems have followed the money to center-right. Stop kidding ourselves.”

    No, I’m not a voter who’s a born-again Democrat or a voter who came to the Democrat party during adulthood or middle age, but rather I’m an indigenous Democrat for lack of a better description as per my growing-up years in a small rural community in the South where my first and most lasting political memories are dated to 7th grade when I and my female classmates traveled as ‘Kennedy Cuties’ wearing white faux straw boater hats (don’t laugh) to every JFK rally and parade within a 75 mile radius of our hometown. We were smitten, absolutely captured by JFK’s message that clearly referenced the rights of the ‘plain people’ of all colors. As an aside, I’m still scratching my head that Hillary Clinton, same age as I, proudly self-identified as a ‘Goldwater Girl’. And as another aside, what was the allure, the political fascination with the Republican party and especially with uber conservative Goldwater held by so many voters living north of the Ohio River?

    Occasionally I think our current Democrat party leaders, shaped largely now by born-again Democrats drawn from former Republicans, have indirectly imported their previous Republican culture of being the highly educated, the most intellectual, and definitely not the plain people but as the elite thinkers. As a result, the plain people feel a natural attraction to Trump and/or to any politician who speaks in plain words and who speaks to their most basic needs as does Bernie Sanders.

    We should never forget we are a nation of plain people.

  27. I have the “power” of one vote and I’m going to use it in November to vote “anything BUT Republican” up and down the ballot. I don’t care if it’s a mistake. For me, the greater mistake would be to help the GOP by giving them a mandate to keep doing what they have been doing. Others, I think, will do more or less what I’m doing.

  28. It’s been noted by this writer that DC Dems are beginning to grow a pair. It took a lot of horse s – – – from that other guy to make them get busy, but it’s finally happening. ‘Bout time!

  29. BSH, something to think about. Campaign financing is an arms race. The only way to get an advantage is to raise and spend more than the competition. Until we find the political will to adopt another system we have what we have.

    Both Hillary and Bernie know this and used it in their primary battle.

    There’s some indication now that not raising more will be Trump’s downfall. Good.

    You assume that raising money always leads to influence peddling. I’m not sure what the evidence for that is given that the only beneficiary of more is the media market and the size of the candidate’s staff.

    As I’ve said I’m all in favor of campaign finance reform because it’s the democratic solution. One man one vote not one dollar one vote. But until we can pull that off I’m afraid that winners will have to join the arms race.

  30. Turn on C-Span; Democrats are staging a sit-in led by John Lewis. The Republican speaker pro-tem recessed when they refused to leave the well at 12:30. They shut down all cameras and microphones but a Representative from California is using his phone, something called periscope to show it live. The security guards have tried to make people leave but they refuse. Watch history, led by a survivor and leader of the Civil Rights movement and his many supporters – including a few Republicans.

  31. Betty, from your comment “It’s been noted by this writer that DC Dems are beginning to grow a pair”, I trust the DC Dems empowered by their recently enhanced ‘pairs’ will halt, forever more, Ms Clinton’s use of affected, artificial, and poorly executed attempts to speak with a southern accent. Not only is her faux southern accent a total fail, but it’s also received by folks from the South including African-Americans, from both the South and the North, as condescending and pandering. Surely, at her age and with her broad experience as a politician, she must know that, or perhaps it’s simply a manifestation of her low Emotional Intelligence, her apparent lack of social skills in reading a situation, an audience. The girl needs serious help.

  32. “will halt, forever more, Ms Clinton’s use of affected, artificial, and poorly executed attempts to speak with a southern accent.”

    I’ve never heard this before of her or from her.

  33. Pete,

    Your comment addressed to me at 3:15 pm today perhaps was intended for another poster as I’ve mentioned nothing about campaign funds, raising money, or making an assumption about influence peddling as you mentioned “You assume that raising money always leads to influence peddling.”

    Your post was good, but it was directed to the wrong person.

  34. Ken, I Googled “Hillary southern accent” and see what you mean. Slow news day entertainment. A couple of decades in Arkansas perhaps.

    I hope that the need to make up news about her continues.

    She’s certainly no Donald Trump when it comes to headline utterings.

  35. BSH: Right about the faux Southern accent. Pete’s right, too. Not enough time in Arkansas to make it a genuine Southern accent. Still miles ahead of the blowhard empty, yet pricey, suit! He is an embarrassment to the human race and completely unfit to hold ANY office, let alone POTUS. That just cannot…must not…happen.

  36. BSH: Love Jon Stewart, too! Surely do miss his show. Are you in East, Middle, or West Tennessee?

  37. Great post and great comments as usual.

    Doug – I couldn’t agree more with your list – I have been making a similar argument that Trump is the nominee because the Republicans (and most other people) ignored that devolution as it was happening.

    AgingLGrl – back when I studied political science (one of my revolving majors), a comparative government class left me with this lasting impression – even in parliamentary systems, successful governments have either one or two parties or blocks – even in Israel, it has been a rolling list of parties splitting and merging, but they always form into a governing block and an opposition, sometimes forming alliances before the election.

    Many comments by Peggy Hannon, Pete, BSH and William 1 – the GOP could fall apart and be replaced – the two parties have had different incarnations during our country’s history – More likely, though, is that a group of less reactionary Republicans will retake the party and perhaps additional people will join and try to bring it back towards the center – the Democrats are starting to discover the importance of local races and this may slowly bring about the change of pushing the Republicans back — and increasing Democratic power

    The “Vichy Democrats” (nice term, William) may have had control of the Party, but as I have argued in my support of Sanders post on my blog (temporarily only on Facebook), Bill Clinton marginalized the Liberal/Progressive wing as bad while Obama said that they were naïve, but basically good — and could be ignored – With Bernie, the Party is starting to realize that there is a strong Progressive base that should not be ignored – if you take Bernie’s supporters, add those who prefer him, but didn’t think he was electable and then add the women who said that they preferred Bernie’s ideas, but “it is about time for a woman” (the No Y-chromosome vote), then you might find that a New Deal 2.0 coalition would form the majority of the Democratic Party – As Bernie is encouraging his supporters to run for local office, the future looks brighter for a Progressive Democratic Party

    Just as Reagan’s victory and the continued rightward slide of the GOP pulled the Democrats to the Right, so too might the revitalized Democratic Party pull the Republicans back from the brink (although they probably crossed the “brink” with Trump)

  38. Sheila, what are you complaining about? You have two Republican parties–thanks to the Clintons.

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