Republicans Must Find a New Way Forward

by James A. Bacon

Virginia is a blue state now. Not only do Democrats occupy all statewide elected positions — two U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general — with yesterday’s election, they control both houses of the General Assembly.

Republicans got their booties  kicked. And the butt-stomping is not likely to subside. The Dems will control the next redistricting, which will cement their dominance of the legislature. Auguring well for the blue team in the future, the fastest-growing region of the state, Northern Virginia, now is pure blue with bits  of purple on the exurban fringe. By contrast, Republican strongholds in rural Virginia have shrinking or stagnant populations. Also favoring Democrats in the long run is the increasing percentage of racial/ethnic minorities in the state and the declining percentage of whites.

Republicans need to re-define who they are and what they stand for, or they will become a permanent minority. News reports say that dislike of Donald Trump drove Democratic voter turnout, but the Blue Tide is much broader and deeper than voter animus of one man. Take Trump out of the equation after the 2020 election, and Virginia Republicans still have a huge problem.

Can the Republicans re-calibrate? I certainly hope so, because I’m terrified of the Democratic Party agenda of $15 minimum wage, spiking the right-to-work law, a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead rush to a 100% renewable electric grid, spending and taxing, taxing and spending, and injecting its grievance-and-victimhood agenda into the consideration of every issue. But Republican priorities on culture war issues — guns, abortion, transgenders — are not winning issues statewide. As long as Republicans remain captive to its rural/small-town base, I don’t see how it can reinvent itself.

What does a rejuvenated Republican Party look like? (Or, if the GOP is incapable of reinventing itself, what does a successor party look like?)

First, it would take the culture-war issues off the table. Recognizing that reality is complex and messy and that sound-bite solutions usually have unintended consequences, it would stake out the middle ground against the extremists of both sides. No more trans-vaginal ultrasounds. But no aborting babies who have reached the birth canal. No right to carry semi-automatic weapons in public restaurants. But no free sex-change surgery for seven-year-olds confused about their gender identity. In other words, don’t do crazy.

Then the rejuvenated GOP (or its successor) should position itself as the Opportunity Party, creating economic opportunity for all Virginians of whatever racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic stripe.

In the economic sphere, that means identifying with and promoting job creation, entrepreneurship and small business. It means fighting the credentialism in which an increasing share of all jobs require a four-year college degree. It means improving the effectiveness of our public schools where we can, and creating alternatives (charter schools, vouchers, home schooling) where we can’t. It means shaking up the ossified structure of public colleges and universities to make them more affordable and accessible.

A rejuvenated GOP would articulate win-win approaches to health care, housing, transportation, and the environment.

Health care — Instead of expanding tax-and-spend entitlements, focus on boosting the productivity and quality of Virginia’s health care system. A more productive and efficient system brings down costs for everyone. Better medical outcomes benefits everyone.

Housing — The root cause of the affordability crisis and the eviction crisis is the failure of the home building sector to increase the supply of housing to meet rising demand. Bring supply and demand back into balance by reforming local zoning codes and comprehensive plans.

Transportation — Scrap the idea of free, convenient transportation as an entitlement. Restructure the transportation system along user-pays principles. Acknowledge the intimate link between transportation and land use. And figure out how to take advantage of the Mobility-as-a-Service revolution.

Environment — Move toward a 100% renewable electric grid as expeditiously as possible while balancing the goals of sustainability, cost, and reliability. The globe won’t heat up any faster if, by waiting for new technologies to emerge, we take five or ten years longer to reach our goal.

Size and scope of government — Contest the idea that government is the solution to every perceived societal ill. Embrace the idea that government should focus on a few core responsibilities and do them really well. Keep taxes low. Well, they’re not low — keep them moderate. Don’t become New Jersey. Celebrate new for-profit and non-profit business models for helping the poor.

Obviously, those are high-level themes. Republicans (or their successors) need to do the hard work of filling in the details. It won’t be easy. But do it they must, or Virginia will become New Jersey.

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26 responses to “Republicans Must Find a New Way Forward

  1. re: ” Contest the idea that government is the solution to every perceived societal ill. Embrace the idea that government should focus on a few core responsibilities and do them really well. Keep taxes low. Well, they’re not low — keep them moderate. Don’t become New Jersey. Celebrate new for-profit and non-profit business models for helping the poor.”

    That’s how you LOSE!

    That cannot be your core philosophy at the same time you obstruct and bring no real substantial ideas that a majority of people will support.

    I think the fear and loathing of the left is overblown. While some Dems from some urban areas will do their thing – many districts won by Dems – did so in tight races, and they could well lose their seats at the next election if they do not behave.

    Finally, I’d be Vehemently OPPOSED to the Dems doing to redistricting what the GOP did (and Dems before them).

    We have to stop doing this and do it right and fair and then let prospective candidates focus on representing people and not parties.

  2. Once upon a time a man and his son were trying to break a distance record in a hot air balloon. They were nearing the coastline where they could land the balloon and take credit for the new record. But clouds closed in under them and the couldn’t see the ground. If they landed to soon they wouldn’t break the record. If they landed too late they would fall into the sea and possibly drown.

    Just then, the clouds temporarily parted and the duo looked down to see a man mowing his lawn. “Where are we?” asked the father in the balloon. “You’re in a balloon” said the man mowing his lawn. “No, what are we over?” yelled the father. “You’re over my yard” replied the man.

    The clouds closed back in and the son in the balloon asked his Dad, “What do we do now?” The Dad replied, “We keep looking down, hope to see another person and then we hope that person isn’t a Virginia Republican” “Why do you think that man mowing his lawn was a Virginia Republican?” asked the son. “Because everything he said was completely true and completely useless” replied the Dad.

    Jim, everything you wrote is completely true. But is it useful? In a state with off-year elections how much can the electorate absorb? Health care competition, human settlement patterns, transportation and zoning, and so on. The Republicans will never get that much policy into voters’ heads. Those might be the right policies to pursue but they will never get the Republicans back in office. The Republicans need something much simpler. A core issue or two that can be repeated ad nauseam. You know, like “The Republicans are owned by the NRA and want to deny health care to poor people. The Republicans are owned by the NRA and want to deny health care to people …”

    Turnout in off-off year Virginia elections averages 31% as I recall. Simply off year elections garner 45% (again, as I recall). Given that somewhere between two thirds and one half of voters don’t go to the polls how do we distill your good ideas down to something that voters can get their heads around. Something that that will motivate them?

    • DJ, your sudden concern with rebuilding the GOP and its message is just touching. A tear comes to my eye….Hey, it is possible to overthink this and overreact. The Senate R’s lost two seats that they almost lost in 2015, using a map that was (after all) drawn by the Senate D’s. In the Senate, 19 retains leverage. The House R’s have demonstrated deep weakness in those suburbs which used to be their base, but a different turnout and issue mix, or some screw ups by the new majority, and the turn around can begin. As noted somewhere else, 1985 was the last deep trough for the R’s and by the mid 90s they had a governor again and were on their way to legislative majorities. Before 1985, Watergate meant the death of the GOP. Uh, not. Perspective is one blessing of age (one of the damn few….)

      • 1985 was 34 years ago. 34 years prior to 1985 was 1951. How much changed between 1951 and 1985? I’d say at least the same amount of change has happened between 1985 and 2019. In 2017 13.7% of the US population was foreign born. The number hasn’t been that high since 1910. I’m not sure harkening back to the first term of the Reagan Administration will provide constructive guidance for the future. It will never be 1985 or 1992 again.

        I have no structural problem with the national Republican party. I’ve never voted for a Democrat for president. If it comes down to Trump vs Buttigieg in 2020 that may change. But there’s no way I’m voting for Warren or Sanders. I’d have to think about Biden. I also wrote in “James A Bacon” yesterday rather than vote for Barbara Favola (who was running unopposed). I have many structural problems with Republicans in Virginia. They are extremely corrupt. They don’t stand for anything of consequence. They certainly are not fiscally responsible. They consistently undermine democracy with their sub-committee and committee games. Their great claim to fame is that you can buy a whole bag of pistols at one time instead of only one a month. Who cares? What are the bizarre edge cases that make buying only one handgun a month so onerous? You only have two hands. You can get a pistol in each one over 60 days. Was that really the issue on which to make a stand?

        I don’t see a reversal of social attitudes favoring the Republicans in Virginia. The gay rights thing is over and done. Time to move on. Abortion rights have been a fact of life since 1973. Time to move on.

        Who will be the Republican candidate for governor in 2021? Another Ed Gillespie? Nice guy, smart guy but hardly the kind of dynamic leader who would take back the governor’s mansion. Nick Frietas? Maybe. He just won a write in vote. That was impressive. The Dems might trot out Terry McAuliffe for Round 2. Do the Republicans have anybody who could beat him?

        Yesterday’s election was not a sudden or isolated event. The Republicans have been swerving down the road to ruin for a long time. Crashing into guardrails, breaking a tire off on a curb. Yesterday they finally hit a tree. They don’t have a cold, they have cancer. Waiting for a new day when they will suddenly feel better is futile. They need radical treatment.

  3. What would get me to vote GOP (and I have)? A REAL approach to health insurance that WORKS and is not just some bogus shell-game that harms people.

    Show me a non-public, charter school approach that WORKS and is not just some right-wing fantasy …… it starts in Richmond – and it works and it’s totally open to all and is transparent as public schools on results.

    ADMIT that we have a problem with Climate Change and RESPOND to it in a fiscally responsible way instead of saying any response is irresponsible. SUPPORT Green when it is fiscally responsible. Advocate FOR actual real fiscally-responsible approaches.

    Advocate for a better utility model for Virginia that allows competition and allows people and businesses to adopt green technology without restrictions.

    You have to stand for real things, effective things, not a words-only philosophy. You cannot obstruct and oppose and not present real alternatives.

    • Your concern/advice is even more ironic than DJ’s!

      • Like I said, I wrote in “James A Bacon” rather than vote for Barbara Favola. I don’t like dishonest and corrupt politicians even if their corruption is legal under “The Virginia Way”. There’s no irony in wanting to see the plantation elite who run the Republican Party in Virginia decapitated. Metaphorically, of course. No irony at all. What’s ironic is that you can’t see the forest for the trees. You can’t even see the trees for the bark. I’d love to see a competent Republican Party in Virginia that could find an electable candidate to run against a hack like Barbara Favola. I could stop writing in Jim Bacon!

  4. Steve – Why cannot the Virginia Republican’s craft and deploy an effective message that resonances in a positive way about the future?

    • Yes, Reed! They are all about ‘the sky is falling’ and it hasn’t, in spite of their best efforts to bring it down on their heads.

    • Cannot or will not? Of course they can. Sure, this is a different environment. I’m not suggesting a replay of the post-Watergate era or the heyday of the Reagan 1980s, but my point to DJ was valid. There is a tide in the affairs of men…(I like that one, somebody should put it in a play…maybe about the death of a tyrant or some other political theme….)

      • Steve –

        I agree with you about the shifting tides of human affairs. And I also agree with Acbar to extent that he sees how the Republicans often fail miserably to explain their policies in ways that are persuasive and meaningful to many voters they need, including independents and moderates in both parties. Indeed, I believe Republicans can, if they get their act together, sell their current policies to those now further left within the Democratic Party who will shift to the right as they mature, as always happens, if history be our guide.

        In my view, the central failing of the Republicans is that that they have lost the art of creating a meaningful vision, and lost the art of telling effective stories that constructively illustrate and show in vivid living detail the flaws in Democratic policies and ideologies, in positive ways that change minds beyond their base supporters.

        Contrary to popular belief, I believe that Trump administration has a great story to tell, and aren’t selling it right. It is a record of achievement that the Democrats would love to have and could and would sell if they had it. And that it is one that Ronald would knock out of the park with the bases loaded, changing the political landscape rightward for generations to come. Indeed this is why Democrats are in such hysteria and panic mode at the moment.

    • Either party is going to take your stuff and give it to thier friends. The democrats at least admit it.

    • Sic semper tyrannis.

  5. Colorado voters yesterday rejected a proposal that would avoid the cap on taxes imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, refusing to send the extra money to the schools and road projects.

    The GOP should reject crony capitalism, even for real estate developers and chamber of commerce hangers-on; point out waste in government and special deals; and point out the lies about spending and taxes foisted on the public by the media. Don’t attack green energy but the special deals going to Dominion and the alternative energy producers. Point out the refusal of our colleges and universities funded by taxpayers to reduce duplication of major expensive programs and cut administrative staff. Propose a fair way to tax electronic vehicles.

  6. Slavery was thought a “done deal” years ago. There is no reason to think that abortion and gay rights are done deals.

    • I just don’t see it that way. Liberalising civil rights (in the case of gay rights) almost never reverse. Abortion might someday change. However, that is now a Federal constitutional issue. Trying to regulate around a valid Supreme Court decision seems futile to me. However, if the ERA is passed the issue will really be moot. Since only women can have abortions I’m not sure how a law that restricts something that only applies to women will pass the ERA standards.

  7. Jim says, “Recognizing that reality is complex and messy and that sound-bite solutions usually have unintended consequences, it [a rejuvenated GOP] would stake out the middle ground against the extremists of both sides.” I know it’s wishful thinking to expect either party to move to the center these days — but any movement in that direction would be well received.

    And extremely unlikely. IMHO it’s gerrymandering into “safe” partisan districts and the necessity for our elected reps to pander to extremely partisan donors and their equally extreme PACs and ‘independent’ foundations in order to run outrageously expensive political campaigns, that have brought us to this polarized state of affairs. We haven’t tamed those forces and can’t expect a better result until we do. In the name of free speech for extremists, we have made it so the center cannot be heard.

  8. This ‘radical lefty old green lady will not crow! … but here’s a thought…
    Larry said … “let prospective candidates focus on representing people and not parties.”
    I couldn’t agree more but I want to add … and not corporations. In Virginia the primary culprit is Dominion BUT their inability to do both what is right for the state’s future and what is right for their bottom line is a conflict that plays out across the country.

    Acbar’s prescription for the future of the Dominion issue can be applied equally to both parties, right and left. He said … “The message has got to be, ‘let the State Corporation Commission do its job: oversight, public hearings, cost-benefit evaluation, a determination of what’s really in the public interest.’” That is the way to find what really is the ‘center’, a center that has been lost and I think can really no longer be politically defined.

    So, let find some situations that we agree need to be fixed: de-carbonizing, an education that educates all the state’s children, health care that actually works and reaches everyone, a clean environment including our foods that is not fouled by toxic coal ash, mercury and now lots of stuff like microscopic plastics that makes us sick.

    Then, let’s deal with each problem in the way we want to see the SCC deal with our very politically powerful utility. The political center is gone … this could be one way to find a center for each problem separately.

    • Today the Democratic Party is overwhelmingly the party of Big Business. This happened decisively when Barack Obama threw the doors open wide to crony capitalism in a wide variety of different and highly aggressive ways, starting with healthcare, and the phony stimulus package that also corrupted public education, and the green energy industry.

      One great open question is whether or not Elizabeth Warren will drive all big business that Obama captured back to Republicans. Is she that ideologically blind?

      • Elizabeth Warren doesn’t care what happens to the Democratic Party (or the United States for that matter) as long as she gets elected president.

        “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
        ― Alexis de Tocqueville

        Lieawatha basically says she will take legally earned money and possessions (which have been taxed) from one group of people and give that property to a different group of people. All you have to do to get “free stuff” is vote for her.

  9. And after you’re done big business might take a few lumps in the media, but walk away with competitive advantage while smaller businesses get the shaft

  10. Where is the Bull Moose party when we need it? I am ready to throw out the old parties. Bull Elks if we need an actual Virginia animal.

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