7. In short: our party differences are between one wing that says there is no crisis, and the other wing that says there is.
To test the proposition that there’s a crisis, I suggest considering what Republicans from the year 1950 would have thought if confronted with the choices we had in October 2013. Would they have seen it as a crisis, that we had to make choices between a government shutdown that would affect so much of the economy – and so many individuals; a decision to raise a debt ceiling that was set in the multiple trillions of dollars, and in fact exceeded our annual GDP; and the implementation of a punishment for an unprecedented purchase mandate, imposed unequally on citizens by the federal government?
I submit that we could ask Democrats from 1950, and get the same answer we would get from Republicans. The whole scenario would look to them like a nightmare crisis from, what? Weimar Germany? Late-imperial Rome? Science fiction? How, they would wonder, did we ever get to such a point of out-of-control absurdity?
8. No part of this “October 2013 crisis” equation is either sustainable or desirable. The good news is that every part of it is artificial. Not a single element of it has arisen naturally from the voluntary, ordinary activities of the people. It’s all created by government policy. Government policy is what dictates government’s size, and its impact on the economy. Government policy is what has generated the colossal federal debt. Government policy is what has created the new insurance-purchase mandate, and the punishment promised to the people if they don’t comply.
9. Republicans disagree profoundly on how long we have to change government policy – how long before things are beyond repair – as well as on how that change should be approached. In matters of state policy, I’m an incrementalist by temperament. But I have reached the point where I am in sympathy with those who see a need for a more abrupt turn.
This doesn’t mean acting outside the constraints of the Constitution. It is a form of libel to accuse the Tea Party/limited-government wing of trying to do so. More than that, it’s a form of hysteria. Such accusations need to stop. America’s limited-government conservatives are the world’s most law-abiding “radicals”: being asked to absorb all the pain of increasingly burdensome government policies, and yet doing little more than staging uniquely well-behaved public demonstrations, and showing support for politicians like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin.
Far from acting outside the Constitution or America’s traditions of government, what the Tea Party and other limited-government conservatives are asking is that their elected representatives represent their wishes – first and foremost by acting within constitutional limits.
10. The viability of the GOP hinges on its ability to address this division and the concerns of the GOP base. There is much talk of a third party these days; apparently, Glenn Beck is doing a lot with the history of the Whigs in 19th-century American politics, and the birth of the Republican Party as an alternative third party in the 1850s. (Someone who follows Beck’s programming can probably tell us more about that.)
Another model is the recent one, in which the more conservative, more libertarian Goldwater-Reagan wing assumed dominance in the GOP in the late 1970s. That process took about 15 years (or about 25, if we date the process to the inception of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s landmark periodical National Review).
Both movements were followed by periods of electoral success. By contrast, “establishment” Republicanism can point to no periods of dominance in the last 100 years in which it produced lasting or coat-tail success for GOP fortunes at the polls.
Can the “establishment” plan gain such electoral support in 2014? I doubt it. Waiting for a complex of vicissitudes to drive the voters your way makes you awfully dependent on how those vicissitudes go. The “left wing” in politics does its main business through shaping vicissitudes, but that has never been the forte of the right wing, and it certainly isn’t something the establishment GOP knows how to do.
What I see is the necessity for a viable “GOP” to have a vision, a plan, and a way ahead. It needs initiative, momentum, lift and thrust against the weight and drag of our past and our problems. It won’t be “more of the same.” It will come under relentless fire from both the left and the establishment right. It will have to be prepared to keep fighting even if it loses battles. It will have to count success in getting its message out and changing minds, before it can change the direction of government.