Riley Parr: The Republican Party is not dead

Riley ParrSince 2006, various pundits have come along every couple of years to tell us all about how the Republican Party is dead, or at least on life support and in dire need of significant retooling. It happened after the 2006 midterms. It certainly happened after the 2008 presidential election. It happened after the 2012 election.

Even when Republicans had success at the ballot box, those prognosticators always had an explanation: In 2010, it was backlash to Obamacare. In 2014, it was because people were tired of six years of President Obama.

Even 2016, they say, was not as it first appeared. Had it not been for the Electoral College, we would be in the second term of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Of course, the answer then must be that that antiquated system of conducting presidential elections must go.

In short, it cannot be that the Republican Party actually manages to convince people that Republicans are right, or at the least, that the Democrats are wrong. And likely not incidentally, there is substantial overlap between those people who think the Republican Party needs a wholesale overhaul and those who do not believe in the justness of the Republican cause. The Venn diagram is not a perfect circle, but it’s close.

A theory I’ve recently discovered circulating in the editorial sphere proposes that the future of conservative-leaning parties lies in center-right social policies coupled with center-left economic policies.

Here goes the theory: Large swaths of the populace have significant concerns over the purported inequitableness of the current economic system. Into that category can be grouped both Bernie supporters and Trump supporters. From an economic-policy perspective, an increasing share of the public—including Republican voters—wants an active government to rectify alleged inherent unfairness. Or at least, that’s the hypothesis.

At the same time, conservative-leaning voters have not yet abandoned the other two legs of the three-pronged Reagan conservatism. On broadly termed social issues, ranging from lockdowns to critical race theory, and even encompassing theories of judicial interpretation, traditional conservative orthodoxy remains strong. And on the foreign-policy front, a robust national defense is still paramount, even if there is some disagreement as to how that manifests itself in an ever-changing world.

And to support their assertion that the future for Republicans is to effectively embrace a more active federal government, at least in the economic arena, these commentators point to England’s Conservative Party. Indeed, in the last several weeks, several articles have appeared in various mediums arguing that the future of the Republican Party is to follow Boris Johnson’s example of a socially conservative, economically center-left populist agenda.

In some sense, former President Trump began to usher in such a shift with various protectionist trade policies and direct payments to Americans.

On the one hand, temporarily abandoning the economic agenda since Goldwater should come as little surprise: History repeats itself, and the political and societal climate today bears striking resemblance to the climate nearly 100 years ago that led to economically progressive Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Nelson Rockefeller.

And yet, problematic policy considerations of such a course adjustment abound and will hopefully be met head-on by the more economically libertarian contingency of the Republican Party. What, after all, is the point of Leftism-light when you can have the real deal?•

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Parr is a practicing attorney in central Indiana. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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