Last weekend, I ran into an old acquaintance from my days in Republican politics. When the conversation turned political, this former longtime Republican ward chair said he was now an Independent –and hadn’t voted for a Republican in several years.
Anecdotes, as we all know, aren’t data, but I’ve had numerous, similar discussions with friends I made during my 35 years in Republican politics, including several former Indiana office-holders. All of them echoed my own assertion that “I didn’t leave the party–the party left me.”
The bottom line is that–whatever you want to call today’s GOP–it is absolutely nothing like the party we all worked for those many years ago.
I don’t think “regular” people–those who haven’t followed partisan politics very closely or routinely taken note of the policy positions of candidates over the years–realize just how radically different today’s GOP is from the party of Hoosier Republicans like Richard Lugar, Bill Hudnut, and Bill Ruckleshaus. (Occasionally, when I was teaching, a student would come across my first book–“What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing at the ACLU?”–and express shock that I’d been a Republican. I’d assure them that the GOP they saw –the only GOP they’d experienced–was a dramatically different animal from the one I’d once worked for.)
Catherine Rampell recently remarked on that dramatic about-face in a column for the Washington Post.She noted that the GOP no longer argues that free markets, rather than government, should choose “winners and losers.” Instead, for today’s Republican politicians, the role of the state isn’t to get out of the way. It’s to reward friends and crush political enemies.
Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham expressed the new ethos in a recent monologue threatening companies that advocated for LGBTQ rights, ballot access, racial justice and sundry other political stances that are anathema in today’s GOP.
“When Republicans, they get back into power, Apple and Disney need to understand one thing: Everything will be on the table,” Ingraham warned. “Your copyright, trademark protection. Your special status within certain states. And even your corporate structure itself. The antitrust division at Justice needs to begin the process of considering which American companies need to be broken up once and for all for competition’s sake, and ultimately for the good of the consumers who pay the bills.”
As Rampell notes, this philosophy isn’t limited to Fox News pundits. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis–irate at Disney’s criticism of his “Don’t Say Gay” bill–is threatening to cancel Disney’s status under a Florida law that has enabled the company to effectively govern itself within the bounds of its theme parks for some 50 years.
Similarly, last year, DeSantis signed a (likely unconstitutional) law to punish tech companies for privately determined content-moderation decisions, and another law that fines private companies that attempt to set vaccination requirements in their workplaces.
In other states, such as Georgia, GOP politicians have punished private companies for taking supposedly “woke” stands on issues such as gun violence. Republicans in Congress have likewise tried to use antitrust enforcement and other government levers to punish companies whose public stances on voting rights or internal policies on content moderation they dislike.
Trump, of course, understood the Presidency as a platform for rewarding his friends and punishing his (many) enemies. And the GOP–now the party of Trump– is “attempting to codify these responses into law, using the power and weapons of the state against those who disagree with them.”
Perhaps the most striking departure of today’s GOP from the party that used to bear that name is the nature of those disagreements. Today’s GOP has no discernible economic or social policy agenda–only culture war. What was once a political party is now a White Nationalist cult waging war on non-fundamentalist Christians, non-Whites, LGBTQ people and, of course, those despised “elites” (i.e., educated Americans of any race or religion.)
So–will the sad and pathetic remnants of a once “Grand Old Party” go the way of the Whigs? The Hill recently considered the possibility, giving several reasons for anticipating such an outcome. One was that both pro-Trump and anti-Trump folks are departing, (the former finding the party insufficiently Trumpian). Another was the fact that corporate and major donors are fleeing the party.
And why would average Americans want to identify as Republicans? Soon, they must defend a party that acquitted their president after he incited a deadly insurrection to overturn a certified election based on his “Big Lie.” The Republican identity crisis is defined by its new “membership card slogan” reading, “We stand for shredding the Constitution’s impeachment clause and nullifying lost elections.”
It’s pretty clear that something has to give. The unanswered question is: will that something be America’s constitutional democracy– or today’s GOP?