Many of the moderate Republicans I know are in the middle of a political existential crisis; they’ve become refugees trying to decide if it’s better to stay in their political party and rebuild it, change their party affiliation to the Democratic Party, or accept a weak middle compromise of registering as independent and support candidates for local and state offices they agree with. I’ve talked to people who question how they ended up sharing a political party with so many people who don’t adhere to their sense of pragmatism. Moderate Republicans have had to find middle ground with the hyper 2nd Amendment crowd, Evangelical culture warriors, and even the more “nationalist” elements inside their party. These factions haven’t always agreed with each other, but their disagreements have been much more civil than the banter I read in the comments sections of political websites. During the heyday of the culture wars the far-right and Evangelicals directed their animus towards the media or the liberals. That hasn’t been the case since the formation of the TEA Party and their spinoff organizations. The almost decade old fissures inside the Republican party aren’t going anywhere. Centrists want to push the Alt-right forces back underground while maintaining their electoral support, and the insurgents who have taken over the GOP want the moderates out; many of the ideological purists don’t view moderate Republicans as political allies.
The fissures we see in the Republican Party were exasperated by the misdiagnosis of the 2008 and 2012 Presidential Election losses. These losses were incorrectly attributed to a lack of political purity; John McCain and Mitt Romney were seen as too wishy washy on issues that mattered most to the forces who took control of the GOP. The far reaches of the conservative movement have never accepted the fact that two generations of Americans have become more centrist: if not outright leftist. Instead of softening their positions on some of the social issues that have alienated large groups of Americans, they recommitted themselves to fighting culture wars that a majority of Americans have conceded are over. Republicans aren’t losing because of their positions on domestic or foreign economic policies. When you look at polling that specifically questions if the economy is on the right track you don’t find a gap that supports the electoral head start Democratic candidates start Presidential elections with. Trade is an area where Republicans have an advantage- even though the nuances of our trade agreements are usually dumbed down to make them more digestible. If the Republicans want to win the Presidency again they need to accept the fact that they can’t make America into some fantasy land from Country and Western song.
The Donald Trump and Ted Cruz wing of the GOP isn’t a viable future for the Republican party; the John Kasich and Paul Ryan side of this battle has to win the Republican Civil War if the GOP plans on winning the Whitehouse in the near future. The 2012 Republican primaries were the canary in the coal mine. I told anyone who would listen to me that Jon Huntsman was going to make Barack Obama a one term president: I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was shocked by his inability to mount a legitimate run for the nomination. Mitt Romney benefited from the fact that none of the 2012 contenders fit the Donald Trump or Ted Cruz mold. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum may very well run again, but they are just as despised by the Alt-right as moderate conservatives are. I assume Allen West or Sheriff David Clarke will compete for the role of Alan Keyes, Herman Cain, or Dr. Ben Carson, but neither of them are a threat to lead the party. Rand Paul might throw his hat back in the ring, but his brand of libertarianism doesn’t play well with large portions of the Republican electorate. Mike Pence has tried to be all things to all people: this, in my opinion, has already done him in. He wants to be the straight man to Trump’s mad man. He goes on the political shows and tries to assure moderates that he can have some influence in a Trump Whitehouse, while not pushing back too hard against the often incoherent and unconstitutional arguments that make up the Trump platform. He is going to have to choose what kind of candidate he will be for 2020 and any decision he makes will leave him worse off. He won’t be able to pivot to the middle and keep Trump’s most loyal supporters, nor will he be able to be Trump-lite and draw the big crowds. He might have ended his political career by accepting the VP offer.
Moderation and decorum aren’t virtues in a party run by conservative radio personalities and Alt-right bloggers. Decency and civility have died a slow, painful, and public death. The GOP will solve its Alt-right problem or succumb to it. Terms like “pukes” and “cuckservatives” have no place in a substantive policy discussion, but they’ve become part of the Conservative zeitgeist. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz did a better job of harnessing Republican anger outside of the beltway than the other 15 Republicans who competed against them for their party’s nomination. Bloggers and internet trolls succeeded in hijacking the Republican party the question is can the moderates reclaim their party or do they wander the political wastelands looking for a home?