National GOP faces long-term threats

December 3, 2018

It is ironic that just as the Republican Party is resurgent in West Virginia after more than seven decades of Democratic dominance and nearly two years into the tenure of President Donald J. Trump, serious questions can be raised about the future of the national Republican Party.

Almost two centuries after emerging from the collapse of the Whigs and the failure of the 19th century Democratic Party over the shame and trauma of slavery, national Republicans are confronted by two immense challenges — one demographic and the other a mixture of values and policies.

Geographic and demographic trends mean that Republican support is declining sharply in those segments of the population that are growing most substantially. Geographically, the greatest population increases are in urban and suburban areas, precisely the areas that rejected most Republican candidates for the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, even eliminating Republican representation entirely in such traditional conservative strongholds as Orange County, California. Demographically, most population growth is projected in ethnic and racial groups, such as Latino, African American and others that are less likely to prefer Republicans.

As for values and policies, since Lincoln, the Republican party, with only a few exceptions, notably the Nixon years, has claimed to stand strongly for moral rectitude, national unity, constitutional democracy, free markets, free trade, a balanced budget and a strong national defense.

Now, however, our incumbent Republican president pursues a strategy of national division as racial and religious bigots openly flaunt that at last they have a friend in the White House. Constitutional democracy has become little more than a shibboleth instead of a guide as the president berates the judicial and legislative branches (as well as a free press) with disdain and insults.

Free markets are corrupted by a system where the rich are rewarded inequitably while specific industries and companies are threatened or targeted for favors or penalties. Free trade is replaced by tariffs and trade wars as we pursue a policy of virtual economic isolationism.

A balanced budget is not even promised as deficits and red ink rise into the future and total government debt growing nearly 10 percent over the last two years. Even a strong national defense is in question as traditional allies are disparaged and international alliances that have been instrumental in maintaining our security for more than six decades are weakened. Major policy decisions become transactional, never strategic, seeking only short term, if not immediate, results, successful only to the extent they achieve partisan or public relations goals.

We cannot, of course, ignore the damage done to our customary, basic standards of morality and rectitude. The simple truth is that, nationally, Republicans are now led by someone who demonstrates no regard for basic standards of truth and honesty. His pronouncements cannot be trusted or relied upon by friend or foe. The deceptions and prevarications have become too numerous to count with more occurring every day. Indeed, It may now be questioned whether, in view of all this, many mothers will want their boys and girls to grow up to be Republicans. All this might still be overcome if elected national leaders in the party would speak truth to power by constructively addressing this collapse in values and correcting these policy failures, but at this time there is little indication this will happen.

While constitutional and political gerrymandering may delay Republican decline, they will not prevent it in the long term. Another countervailing reality is that in politics, as in sports and life overall, you cannot beat something with nothing and the Democrats remain a fractured party that has a hard time agreeing on strategy or critical policy positions. Yet in the final analysis, however, can anyone say what Republican values are anymore? For what does this party stand?

Aubrey King, a graduate of Marshall University, recently retired to Huntington after a career as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and a lecturer at the University of Maryland and George Washington University.

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