Franke: Whither Now the GOP?

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Mark Franke

“Whither thou goest, I will go.” (Ruth 1:16 KJV)

At risk of placing myself outside Scripture, I must confess I can’t always buy into this sentiment. Sure, Ruth spoke these words around 3,000 years ago to her mother-in-law. My situation pertains to our current political climate, specifically the Republican and Democrat parties. That must serve to assuage my theological conscience.

Where can a classical liberal, one who holds Adam Smith in highest regard, find a home in today’s acerbic and dysfunctional fever swamp that is our public life? Whither shall I go?

Certainly not back to the Democrat Party where I began my political allegiance. Northeast Indiana elected more than a few Democrats to local and statewide office back then. No more. Would the moderate and conservative Hoosier Democrats of the 1950’s and 1960’s even recognize what their party has become?

Democrat leadership is in fear of the radical progressives who somehow have achieved an absolute veto over any sensible proposal which doesn’t march us ever onward to a socialist Armageddon. John Kennedy would be appalled, inspired no doubt to add a chapter to his book “Profiles in Courage” for Sen. Joe Manchin, valorously playing the role of the little Dutch boy trying to hold back the sea with one finger.

I’m unsure about the Republicans. The problem in my view is that the Republican Party can’t reconcile its two wings. The big business wing of the Bushes and Romneys can’t figure out where all their country-club friends went while the populist wing is being led by an egotist who cares only for himself and his crusade to punish anyone and everyone who hasn’t paid proper obeisance. Then on the fringes are the ideological purists who seem bent on self-immolation at the slightest provocation.

Let’s look at each group in turn. The old-style Republicans, caricatured with some accuracy as wealthy businessmen controlling the party from corporate board rooms, hardly exist anymore … at least as recognizable Republicans. Think of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. They are properly woke now, succumbing on nearly every political and cultural issue.

Think also of the Internet economy, where the richest Americans are in charge. Other than Elon Musk, a loose cannon if ever there were one, these business leaders are loyally following the radical progressive dictates regardless how extreme. They and their campaign contributions have left the Republican Party; the party needs to accept that and move on.

Then there is the blue-collar, working-class group which was inspired first by Ronald Reagan but truly energized by Donald Trump. Surely Trump isn’t the only Republican leader who can speak effectively to their desires and needs. They may not be college educated but they intuitively understand that their prosperity requires a maximum of individual liberty and economic freedom. A candidate need only explain that in their words, as Trump did so effectively in 2016.

But they are following a false messiah. Trump got elected president because the Democrats nominated a candidate with a manner as egotistical and character as reprehensible as his. I was not alone in holding my nose when I pulled the lever in the last two elections. His popularity with so many of my friends is hard to fathom intellectually.

Maybe that is it. Trump’s appeal is visceral, as is that of all populists. They speak to the souls of disenfranchised people and in a way they can understand. He certainly connected with Hoosier voters, carrying every county but four in both 2016 and 2020. I get that.

The problem facing the future of the Republican Party is to solidify this huge voting block under a philosophy rather than a man. Can the next Republican candidate pull Trump voters even if his name is not Trump? And make no mistake about it; the 2024 Republican candidate must be someone other than Donald Trump. Or for that matter, other than anyone who thinks like a Bush or Romney.

This can only be accomplished through a carefully thought-out platform written in clear and forceful words understood by every voter demographic. Republicans must unify around a commonly held philosophy of government illustrated with specific legislative proposals which offer hope, both for those who want the chance to succeed and for those who want to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

My fear is that 2024 will be a contest between the two parties to see which one blows itself up first. Given the radicalism and ineptitude of the current administration, it is an election for the Republicans to lose. Unfortunately, they have proved adequately competent to do just that.

I apologize if I seem too much the cynic, but I have observed Republican electoral incompetence for too long at both the national and hometown levels. The pols might lose elections but what the voters lose is hope.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.