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GOP Identity Crisis: Who Are These Guys?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

There was a time when the Republican Party stood for platforms that were very distinct, easy to understand, and easy to rally behind electorally and ideologically. However, the establishment wing of the party, the big donors, political elites and lobbyists in Washington D.C. are undergoing an identity crisis.

How times have changed. I remember when messages were transparent. Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan conservatives stood for small government through less spending and lower taxes, individual liberty and military superiority. Clear, concise, and easy to understand. Today they don’t stand for less spending as it continues to increase and the deficit exploded under a GOP controlled House.

I have talked to base voters all across the country in the year leading up to the 2016 election of Donald Trump, after his ascendency to the White House, and through the 2018 midterm elections. From the local GOP members, I’ve noticed a commonality: they feel the elites in Washington D.C. and at the national level aren’t listening to them. They often spoke of a total disconnect between what they want and what Party big wigs want for the country. 

As a former elected official, having won four terms in a very liberal county as a hard down conservative, I have experience with voters. It is crucial in elected politics to keep your finger on the pulse of the electorate. What voters want matters. You are elected to represent them first, not special interests or political insiders. When you stray too far from voter sentiment, they will show you the door. Ask Eric Cantor.

The GOP establishment dismissed the warning signs from the electorate during the Republican primary for president. Their ship was headed toward the proverbial iceberg. As Trump surged, the party dismissed him as a fad. The base wanted a new Republican, one who would listen to their desires, bring a new way to bust-up the D.C. stranglehold on our republic and show a will to fight. That criteria was anathema to the other 16 candidates, who became infected with Potomac fever the longer they were in Washington. Status quo was the mantra for establishment Republicans.

I predicted the result of the 2016 GOP primary in the early stages. It wasn’t hard. As I toured the country, I sense that Donald Trump’s messaging had resonated with a large segment of voters who had given up on voting as a way to change things. They became energized as Trump clearly created a vision for America. They knew what he stood for. America First. Is that simple or what? There wasn’t another Republican candidate who could boil their stump speech down to a couple words. Trump articulated what the GOP should stand for. 

Trump simply defined a set of principles that the GOP should rally around. He was a capitalist with a free market mindset based on low corporate and individual tax rates, better trade deals that favored America, a military build-up and an adherence to the Constitution through the rule of law and border protection that protects U.S. sovereignty. Yes, a return to a sense of American nationalism. Most of these ideals are not new to the Republican Party, but the establishment rarely speaks to these values. Their behavior exhibits the opposite. It’s Trump’s GOP now. Some, however, refuse to accept it.

Two years into his administration, the GOP establishment in Congress continues to communicate their disdain for Trump’s Republican Party when 12 GOP Senators voted with every Democrat against the president declaring the humanitarian crisis at the southern border as a national emergency. In the House 13 Republicans voted with every Democrat to stop Trump’s national emergency declaration. The vote didn’t matter, as it would not survive a presidential veto. That was more reason for the GOP on the Hill to back Trump. Their reasoning for voting against the president didn’t pass the smell test. Some wrongly cited it as constitutional separation of powers issue. 

There was a news column story before the Senate vote that a few GOP senators were trying to get Trump to back off his national emergency declaration or promise not to use it again. I was floored that it was establishment Republicans who wanted the president to cave on border security.

What GOP elites fail to understand is that there are Trump voters and then there are Republican voters. The midterm elections ferreted this out. Where Trump got involved, most of those candidates survived. Those that distanced themselves from him lost. Trump voters will walk through fire for him. They do not care about the Republican Party in its current identity crisis state. This effect reverberated down to the state and local level as Democrats captured seats in areas won by Trump in 2016. Trump wasn’t on the ballot and interest went down for GOP candidates. Trump doesn’t have to bridge the divide within the GOP, the Republican National Committee does. Trump won in 2016 with little substantive support from the Republican Party. Remember that Speaker Paul Ryan told voters in the last week before the election after the Access Hollywood tape was revealed to “vote your conscience.” They did. 

The Republican Party is in trouble with the base voter, the grassroots. They can put on all the happy faces they want with their soft support for President Trump, but the base isn’t stupid. In 2020 they will turn out for Trump. I know. I meet with them and I listen. The base GOP voters are passionate Trump people who know what they want. So does President Trump.

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