The Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, & Ronald Reagan, has entered the proverbial wilderness. It moves from the box seats to the cheap seats, or better - to mix the metaphor a bit – the backbenches.
How Republicans handle this exile, and just how long the era lasts, will depend largely on what is done with and in the wilderness.
The idea of a wilderness period as a picture of exile is actually much older than American politics or even anything from our ancestors across the pond. It is a concept dating back to Biblical history and the frustrations and wanderings of the ancient children of Israel. Poised to enter the “Promised Land” of abundance and fulfillment following centuries of bondage and privation, and in the wake of the clearly providential exodus led by Moses, that generation fell tragically short.
They missed their rendezvous with destiny.
Entering the wilderness – a place, but also a process – they lived out a forty-year reminder of what had been left behind, while also grieving the loss of a compelling future. They had allowed short-term frustration to short-circuit long-held principles and dreams.
And the Lord told them in the book of Deuteronomy that the reason for the wilderness was, “to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart.” In other words, the wilderness for them was a divinely ordained “time out” – the kind of thing my dad would do when he sent me to my room to “think about” what I had done (when it was really all my brother’s fault).
The wilderness was a time for purging and preparing. Attitudes, habits, and ambitions had to be dealt with, and priorities revisited and clarified. The duration of the wilderness depended on how well the lessons were learned. In that ancient case, a journey that should have taken no more than a year became a forty-year generational failure.
And something that was lost, forgotten, or just misplaced, desperately needed to be found.
As the Republican Party moves into its own desert of exile for a while, it is time for reflection. It needs to figure out what it really stands for and what it can offer the nation the next time it is called upon to lead. How it manages in the wilderness will determine whether it will come back in four years, or forty - if at all.