The Battle for the Soul of the Rs

A lot of discussion recently has focused on what is being called “the battle for the soul of the Republican party.”  By that, “Trump” or “not-Trump” is seen to be the battle line.  That’s not what it looks like to me.

I would like to start with the question of whether the Republicans want to be a party at all.  Some do; some don’t.  A party is a government of sorts.  A party is a candidate to be THE government and if enough people choose it, they will be.  But a party has a CEO of some sort. [1]  It has legislative functions, whose work we see in the party platform.  It elects delegates to the convention where the nominee is chosen and the platform adopted.  It is all very regular and equitable.  The candidate who hopes to be chosen as a convention delegate competes with others with similar hopes; whoever gets the most votes wins.

A party is defined by its procedures, not by its loyalties.  It is, in that respect, like a government.

But a commitment to procedure does not come naturally to us.  The heart of democracy is “fair, frequent, and competitive elections,” but none of those come naturally to us.  “Fair” does not; “frequent” does not; “competitive” does not.  During most of our history as a social species, we lived in small groups bound together by loyalty to a leader, however chosen.  That…is what is “natural.”

Being governed by someone you don’t even know is not natural.  Allowing “good people” and “bad people” equal access to the ballot box is not natural.  Counting their votes equally is not natural.  And, of course, accepting an electoral result you don’t like is not natural.  For the Republicans, it may no longer be possible.  That’s really what the struggle is about these days. [When I first saved this, I believed it was the true Trump coat of arms.  Now they tell me that the banner says “Never Concede,” so it probably is not the true coat of arms.  It is funny, though,]

In a democracy that operates by competition between parties, allowing the winner of the competition to govern is necessary.  Those of us who live in such a political system need to find a way to transcend what is most natural to us and to trust the outcome of the competition.  You can see that struggle and that achievement in the concession speeches of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mitt Romney, and John McCain.  You can see its glaring failure in the failure of Donald Trump to make a concession speech at all.  He was not able to transcend the limitation that is most natural to us—tribalism—and accept democracy.

What do you have when you cannot affirm democracy?  You can’t have a party.  At most, you can have a person-centered organization, something like a clan or like the old mob.  And if the nation has, where its two major parties used to be, one clan and one party, you  cannot have bipartisan competition.

That’a what “the struggle for the soul of the Republican party” is about.  Some Republicans what to return to their former status as a party; others want to continue their recent practice as a clan.  Marjorie Taylor Greene, for instance, the newly elected Congresswoman from Georgia has aid that the presiding officer the the House should be shot in the head.  Speaker Pelosi got her office by overseeing the election of more Democrats than Republicans in the House and then being chosen by the Democrats in the House to be their leader.  Assassination and the threat of assassination played no part in it at all.  The Democrats are a political party.

Today, the Republicans in the House have to decide whether there really are lines you cannot step over and still be a member of the party.  If it were a clan, we know that there would not be any such limits.  In a clan, you owe complete loyalty to the clan leader [2]  You do not owe any duties at all to your opponents (enemies) or the the processes that would define democratic competition.

Think what that means for party platforms.  No recent American party platform has endorsed white supremacy, Christian supremacy, or nativism.  If the Republicans aspire to return to their former status as a political party, they are going to have to draw some limits for the behavior of their members.  As natural as it might be to call for the assassination of a member of the Democratic party, the Republicans cannot allow it.  Free speech, as a right of every American, doesn’t cover it.

When President Trump was asked about the QAnon sympathies of candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene, he said she sounded like a woman who loved her country.  That worked for him as a quip, but consider it as a substitute for democracy.  So…I believe that America truly is a white Christian country and because of my love for my country, I call for the deportation of any non-white or non-Christian citizens?  Really?  In a political party, there are things that “love of country” really does not excuse.  And I haven’t even gotten, yet, to Rep Greene’s allegation that California’s recent wildfires were kindled by a Jewish-controlled laser operated from space.

So I would say that there is not currently a “struggle for the soul of the Republican party.”  I would say that the struggle is about whether the Republicans want to be a party at all.  They were not, under Trump, but there are apparently a lot of Republicans who would like to be a party again and that is what the struggle is about.

[1]  The Chair of the DNC or the RNC is the CEO in the absence of a President (or recent former President) of that party.

[2]  The clan metaphor occurred to me several years ago when I was in Scotland and discovered that there is a Clan Donald.  I said to the guide who told me that, “Yes, in America we are learning more about it every day.”


About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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