Republican Party leadership is testing the waters on pushing the party into the radical fringe, in spite of the fact that most voters simply aren’t there.
“The word on the street is that one of your opponents in the primary is running a counter-campaign against you,” I said.
“We’re from the same party. How is that possible?” My client showed how new he was to the game.
“There is no oath of loyalty in party politics,” was my simple reply.
Every politician and political operative out there would be much happier if there was some kind of rule against party disloyalty, and those sentiments are echoing throughout the GOP. Unfortunately, that means people like Reince Priebus and Ann Coulter have been running around suggesting that there could or should be dire consequences for not supporting Donald Trump this election. On a good day, that might be considered bullying, or a more accurate assessment would be tyranny.
The sad part is that the problem with this kind of rhetoric should have been understood before anyone graduated from kindergarten. What’s worse is that there are people like Ramesh Ponnuru who are taking this situation seriously enough to bother pointing out what should be extremely obvious. You do not win friends (or keep them,) by running around making threats of any kind against them. That goes for party leadership and pundits crying that everyone must unite behind Trump, and for politicians who think it might be a good idea to purge the Trump supporters from the party.
If anyone in the GOP was truly concerned about which direction the party needs to go at this point, they wouldn’t be arguing among themselves. Ronald Reagan is rarely mentioned these days, even though remembering his style of governing would help the party immensely. Unlike the firebrands today, he understood the importance of compromise, which is why he managed to accomplish all that he did while in office. When the late Senator Arlen Specter left the Republican Party, there were many who said good riddance. It could be argued that he was the last of the Reagan era senators, and his book on the cannibalistic nature of the GOP was pointing out the early stages of what we are seeing today.
While highly divisive politicking is popular in the fringes on both sides of the aisle, the bottom line is that the majority of Americans really don’t like it. According to a recent Gallup poll, 53% of the people polled want our leaders to compromise. That includes the last minute compromise on the budget that was made to keep the government running until early December. Social media will undoubtedly be littered with comments about Speaker Ryan being a traitor for cutting a deal, even if it is over spending that probably is unavoidable, since fixing the drinking water problems in Michigan will cost far more than any one state could hope to collect in revenue.
Back to the Republican Party, Priebus has walked back his initial threats of political consequences for anyone who doesn’t back Trump, but the damage has been done. He chose to take the fringe route, instead of embracing the big tent philosophy of Reagan. If the people want to find lawmakers within the GOP who are actually getting real work done, the majority of those are the ones who are staying away from the fray. The ones who are introducing bills with bipartisan support are getting things done, not the divisive firebrands. Sadly, much of their work ends up as a footnote in the news, if it is mentioned at all.
Ryan may be berated for making a budget deal, and most of the hatred will undoubtedly come from the ranks of Trump supporters. Ironically enough, Ryan’s move probably helped Trump at least a little, since it removed the possibility of the president blaming all Republicans for a government shutdown before the election. Obama probably would have included a directive to the agency heads to “make it hurt” again, so any shutdown would be noticed by the public, even though it’s possible to make it invisible to the masses. Of course, that would have hurt Trump at the polls, at least a little.
Time will tell if the Republican Party has started catering too much to the fringe. The other side of the aisle started swinging that way, but not as severely, no matter what people on the right might think. Bernie Sanders enjoyed support not only because of his political views, but also because he wasn’t Hillary. If it was all about his politics, Jill Stein would have more support now than she does. The point remains, no matter how vocal the radicals are on both sides of the spectrum, the vast majority of Americans remain in the middle. Any political party that decides to punish either politicians or voters for failing to support radical candidates purely for the sake of party loyalty is most likely going to suffer for it.