There is not much that’s clear about this election cycle. The extreme rhetoric and the circus-like atmosphere, surrounded by a shadow of general disbelief that this is actually real life, have called much into question about our two major parties — and, for some, democracy itself.
But after November 8, one thing will be very clear: The Republican Party will need to change.
There are two major platform issues that the Republican Party used to whole heartedly defend — the principle of lower spending, and the protection of life.
If one considers those as litmus tests for the GOP writ large, it’s evident that the GOP of now reflects very little of the conservative ideology that once defined Republicans. To put it simply, this is a party that has become unmoored.
K Street priorities
When it comes to government spending, consider what GOP majorities in the House and Senate have given us. I’ve written about it here time and time again — instead of defending lower spending, fiscal conservatism, and sound economic principles, Republican majorities have supported agendas that increase spending across the board. In fact, not once has this Republican Congress abided by the Budget Control Act — the most significant spending reduction statute in modern history. Rather, this Congress has allowed it to be weakened to the point of insignificance. The same goes for any sort of meaningful attempts at reforming the main drivers of our debt — particularly Social Security and Medicare, not to mention the fiscal monstrosity that is Obamacare.
Instead, the House and Senate leadership have made excuses. The Democratic president will veto our bills, they say. We need to focus on what’s “achievable,” often uttered from the lips of Republican Senate Leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (F, 40%). We need to put “points on the board,” (whatever that means).
None of these excuses, however, answer this very basic question: How do you know what you can accomplish if you’re not even willing to try?
Rather than fighting for sound conservative — or even Republican — policy, this Congress has limped along to enthusiastic applause from K Street lobbyists, thankful that they can still get their pork-laden tax extenders, infrastructure spending, pipelines and export-import handouts from a Republican majority — even one that’s been effectively out-maneuvered by Harry Reid, D-Nev. (F, 2%). Indeed, even as Congress plans its agenda for the upcoming lame-duck session, press reports suggest that Senator McConnell plans to consider a health care research bill, nutrition standards bill, and maybe a trade bill — all priorities of K street — instead of using what may be the waning days of a GOP Senate majority to push forward conservative policy.
Sanctity of Life
However, the death knell for the GOP tolls the loudest for the total and complete surrender of the party’s decades-old charge to defend the sanctity of life.
The GOP has long stood for the belief that all life, be it in the womb, or disabled, or disfigured with age or disease, is worthy of dignity and protection. And for a long time, they’ve had credibility on this point. Because of that willingness to fight, the GOP served the larger role of keeping the moral compass of the nation intact — or, at the very least, on the front lines of the national debate.
But that credibility was destroyed last month, when the same GOP that has made pro-life policies a core mission for years put up little more than a whimper before allowing Democrats to send more money to Planned Parenthood — the abortion provider that, since its founding, has facilitated the termination of over seven million infant lives.
The Continuing Resolution (CR) — that “must pass” spending bill that Congress rushed through so they could return to the campaign trail — lacked a critical provision that would have blocked Planned Parenthood from accessing funds to treat the Zika virus. Zika, as you may recall, is a disease that causes birth defects in unborn children. Now that Planned Parenthood — which already receives over $500 million in federal funding each year — has access to new funds, we can easily imagine how they’ll treat the disease.
Republicans cared so little about this issue that they allowed the CR to sail through the House on a 342 to 85 vote, and in the Senate by a vote of 72 to 26. But in an even more craven move, they bragged about passing it, with Republican members congratulating themselves for keeping the government open and providing funding for Zika, Flint, and flooding in Louisiana.
The so-called “pro-life” groups were no better. Their silence on the issue resonated the loudest, as Family Research Council, National Right to Life, and even the Susan B Anthony list remained “neutral” on the CR. I guess some things just aren’t worth fighting for, even when 68% of Americans oppose taxpayer funding for abortions.
The sanctity of life used to be a motivating, centralizing issue for the GOP. Given their actions in September, it’s now no higher on their priority list than managing the budget of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The GOP is a shadow of the party it used to be; perhaps no other issue is more anecdotal that the party has lost its way. Republican members could squabble over many issues, but life was always a hard fought ideal within the Republican Party — especially when it came to federal funding. And while the nomination of Donald Trump has led to much angst-ridden searching and questioning of the state of the party, there is deeper soul searching that must be done. If the GOP no longer stands for fiscal conservatism, small government, and the sanctity of life, what does it stand for?
Without question, November will bring big changes to the national political scene. But if the GOP will survive in any form, it must seek changes that will resonate far past November. A new direction is a necessity, but beyond that, the party must seek to again moor itself to a set of principles it will reliably defend. Absent that, the GOP will be nothing but a blaring voice in the wilderness — and no one will answer back. (For more from the author of “What Does It Mean to Be Republican Anymore?” please click HERE)