Now that they are waking up with a hangover from their Tea Party binge, the GOP is rife with murmurs about its future. Which power groups will rise to prominence and steer the party in a new direction? It’s a scene reminiscent of Gangs of New York — various neighborhood tribes conglomerated into powerful collectives, who have to be tightly controlled for the big fight ahead. Red Elephants vs. Blue Donkeys competing for political territory.
So are the Republicans simply going to rebrand candidates, or totally rethink their ideological identity? If they want to move away from the unpopular mistakes of their past, drastic new steps may have to be taken.
In the last six general elections, Democratic presidents have been elected four times — usually by over 100 electoral votes. The reform of the Democratic Party in the 1990s under Clinton has strengthened their voter base and numbers; their biggest weakness now lies in having too many competing ideologies under the same party umbrella. This is why it’s so convenient to paint Republicans as an extremist villain — visible in Obama’s message of "Hope" following years of failed Bush neoconservatism.
In that regard, Republicans have done themselves no favors by allowing their leadership to drag their feet on ideological evolution. Looking at the social transformations we’ve endured over the last few decades, it’s clear to see which party has more successfully capitalized on shifting public opinion.
In the 60s, the Democratic Party flourished under Kennedy by promising liberal ideology, uniting people around a message of equality and progress. Violent conflicts, civil unrest, and racial tensions depicted in the media, however, highlighted a bleaker world ... and that world was one that was not changing as quickly as legal reforms would suggest. The neoconservatives emerged as a result of weariness against false hope and disappointment, as well as a general lack of faith in liberalism’s effectiveness. When Nixon resigned in scandal and America lost the Vietnam war, there was a sharp decline in perceived American power. Neocons didn’t want to willingly diminish American standing, and needed to frame an "Us vs. Them" world where American might was heroic and visionary again. Two prominent conservatives in Gerald Ford’s administration rose to power accordingly: Chief of Staff Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
In a 1976 speech, Rumsfeld painted the spectre of Russia’s threat, perhaps the first version of the now familiar "WMDs" speech. When Reagan made his famous "Russia is an evil empire" speech, the Russians responded by taking a stronger defensive stance and becoming the monster they were being painted out to be. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and set in motion the highest peak of cold war tensions since the Cuban missile crisis - feeding an arms race to the top of insanity mountain.
Those political tactics are still present in today’s Republican party. At first, the American people accepted extreme Muslims as representative of the entire religion. After 9/11, we swallowed the "they hate our freedom" mantra, because just like Cold War Russia, there was an actual threat to be considered. Certain Muslim groups do believe America to be a cultural wasteland. They see American citizens as consumer zombies being force-fed a fantasy of freedom and leading materialistic lives. Our manicured suburban squares of green grass and entertaining television looks like a pretty prison to them. Our atheistic, scientific and capitalist society offers an affront to their traditional religious values. We free Americans question everything and value nothing, indulging only in pleasure and profit. The same way some Americans learned to dismiss Muslims as backwards religious fanatics, portions of Islam saw Americans as sheep flocked under a nationalistic myth: that the U.S.A. is singularly destined to fight evil in the world - like some kind of heroic cowboy. 9/11 was designed in its nature to be a display of power and a rallying cry to all Muslims who shared disdain against America.
But since the Arab Spring, we’ve learned that the reality on the ground is far more complex. Our supposed enemy has as much scorn for extremism as we do, and our foreign policy approach greatly influences the world around them. We can’t claim to be fighting for freedom and democracy while supporting violent regimes and telling lies about the dangers we face. The revolutionary youth throughout the Middle East could be a long-term ally to us, if we don’t continue to alienate them by seeking convenient economic partnerships with their oppressors.
This is where the real shift in Republican ideology needs to occur. Visionaries are needed, rather than those who can simply repackage the old formula. Why feed into the competition between Karl Rove militarism and corporate-financed Tea Party 'conservatism'? The splintering-off of libertarian, pragmatic, and economic groups demonstrate an identity crisis emerging in the Republican gang. The rising popularity of leaders like Jon Hunstman, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Susana Martinez shows electoral support for reform exists within the GOP.
The Republicans could be the "nuclear power" party, pushing for actual long-term energy independence and meeting the problems of climate change with entrepreneurial solutions – leaping ahead of the impending fracking bubble. The Republicans could connect with the middle class by ending corporate welfare and breaking up big banks. Rather than build campaigns with a small list of billionaire supporters, the GOP could target a wider collective of industries – looking to support social mobility for Americans willing to learn new skills. Instead of simply taking the opposite approach to Democrats when it comes to immigration and education, Republicans could display their pragmatism and intelligence by offering unique and original solutions. They could move away from religious conservatism and show real support for family values in all its forms, same-sex or otherwise.
Being the anti-liberal party is not enough. Pushing America towards new neocon conflicts will only make the world resent our foreign policy further. The Republicans have never had a better opportunity to re-emerge under a new banner – and they only have three years to figure it out. Rubio was already seen falling into the trap of cycling old agendas: "government bad, capitalism good."
But voters will need more than sound bites and ideology ... they want action. And Republicans they need to move quickly, because Democrats aren’t waiting around. Their strategists have hopes for Senatorial dominance. Elizabeth Warren is already getting her knuckles bloody beating on bankers. The clock is ticking ...