Is the Republican Party Worthwhile ?


Today, an interesting column was published suggesting that, if the Republicans don’t beat Hillary, they should just disband the party.

I think this makes some sense. We have an attractive group of candidates and some valid issues, including the economy and foreign policy. She is a terrible candidate.

Add this to the mounting scandals, polls showing a lack of trust for her, the historical difficulty of political parties winning three presidential elections in a row, and the deep bench of fresh-faced Republican options, and the GOP should be in prime position to win the next election.

But the next election will test whether demographic headwinds are too much for Republicans to overcome.

Maybe the country is just not serious about issues anymore.

She brought up Republican skepticism on climate change and opposition to abortion, saying “they shame and blame women rather than respect our right to make our own reproductive health decisions.”

She blasted Republicans for supporting policies that would increase deportation of immigrants and for “turn[ing] their backs on gay people who love each other.” She lashed out at Republican support for voter ID laws. “I’ll fight back against Republican efforts to disempower and disenfranchise young people, poor people, people with disabilities and people of color,” she said. And she argued that, “Fundamentally, [Republicans] reject what it takes to build an inclusive economy. It takes an inclusive society.”

Some of us read history and can recall that the Whig Party dissolved over the issue of slavery. The history of the Whig Party was of a party devoted to economic progress. It was also a party of opposition. Lincoln, when a Whig, opposed the Mexican War at some cost to himself.

The work of the Whigs was, as (James G.) Blaine admitted, negative and restraining rather than constructive. Still, “if their work cannot be traced in the National statute books as prominently as that of their opponents, they will be credited by the discriminating reader of our political annals as the English of to-day credit Charles James Fox and his Whig associates—for the many evils they prevented.” If that is true, then we have not had very much in the way of “impartial” histories of American politics since Blaine’s day.

Also true. Particularly Coolidge and Harding were slandered by the Progressives of the New Deal and its apologists.

Part of the success of Schlesinger’s casting of antebellum America as Jacksonian lay in Schlesinger’s identification of Andrew Jackson and Jackson’s Democratic party with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. To this day, one comes away from The Age of Jackson with the clear sense that Jackson and the Jacksonians embodied democracy and championed the interests of the “common man,” while the Whigs were the voice of selfish elite interests, and looked like nothing so much as forecasts of Herbert Hoover and Robert Taft.

The Republicans have had hardly better treatment by the news media of today than the Whigs by the Progressives.

[T]he question arose whether the Whig complaint against Jacksonian Democracy might have had more substance to it than it had seemed.

That question rose first in one of the genuinely pathbreaking works of American political history, Daniel Walker Howe’s The Political Culture of the American Whigs (1979).

The Whigs sound more like Republicans today than those of the 19th century.

Howe reintroduced the Whigs, not as Eastern elitists bent upon wickedly obstructing the righteous class-leveling justice of Jackson/Roosevelt, but as the “sober, industrious, thrifty people,” as the party of the American bourgeoisie, attracting the economic loyalty of small businesses and small commercial producers, and enlisting the political loyalty of those who aspired to transformation. Transformation was the key concept. It made the Whigs optimistic and serious all at once, since it embraced both the religious moralists and moral philosophers of the established denominations and colleges who preached personal and moral transformation as well as the upwardly mobile professionals who found in the dynamic world of international commerce the opportunity to escape from rural isolation and agrarian drudgery.

Sound familiar ? The Whigs were the party of railroads and canals that linked commerce across the country. Their fall from power, and from grace, occurred as the culture broke apart in the colossal struggle with slavery.

it was the Whigs who advocated an expansive federal government—but it was a government that would seek to promote a general liberal, middle-class national welfare, promoting norms of Protestant morality and underwriting the expansion of industrial capitalism by means of government-funded transportation projects (to connect people and markets), high protective tariffs for American manufacturing, and a national banking system to regulate and standardize the American economy.

The question today is whether the Republican Party can cope with the rapid debasement of the culture with gay marriage and bizarre aberrations like transexual exhibitionism.

The Democrats seem to be succeeding with their new emphasis on the strange and the bizarre.

Jackson’s Democrats came off as frightened, snarling, and small-mindedly anticapitalist in mentality. Jacksonianism glorified agriculture and defined wealth as landholding, and its interest in the “common man” was limited to building defenses around an agrarian stasis—simple subsistence farming, trade in kind, and no taxes, banks, or corporations—that would never be threatened by the demons of competition or the fluctuations of markets. Linked to this preoccupation with stasis and personal independence was the Jacksonians’ resistance to public declarations of morality.

Andrew Jackson fought a duel with a man who criticized his wife, Rachel, who had some controversy regarding her previous marriage.

During the presidential election campaign of 1828, supporters of John Quincy Adams, Jackson’s opponent, accused his wife of being a bigamist, among other things.

Here is Holt’s story of the Whigs, in as compressed a fashion as possible: Rather than being a branch out of the root of Federalism, the Whigs evolved like the Jacksonians from the original Jeffersonian Republicans who triumphed in the “Revolution of 1800.” They were originally an opposition faction to Andrew Jackson in the 1820s, but they detached themselves as a separate organization in 1834 under the leadership of Jackson’s nemesis, Henry Clay of Kentucky, and took the name Whig to underscore their opposition to Jackson’s high-handed near-dictatorship in the presidency. They cast themselves first as republican antimilitarists.

The modern Republican Party has adopted national security as a core issue but it was not always so. Democrats dominated military subjects from 1912 until Lyndon Johnson when the party revolted over the Vietnam War. Republicans fought the Civil War over slavery, the basic reason of the party, but the rest of the century was one of peace and only Theodore Roosevelt, a figure of the early Progressive Movement, was interested in war. His career really took wing with the Spanish-American War, which was not a “war of necessity” shall we say.

The 1837 economic panic also set in place the two principal mechanisms for Whig electoral success, which were (a) to concentrate public attention on the failings of Democratic politics and (b) to scoop up the largest percentage of new voters in every presidential cycle. It is a significant point in Holt’s description of antebellum parties that American voters, once recruited to a party, rarely switched allegiances over time. What was critical in each presidential cycle, then, was to energize the existing Whig voter base by throwing their policy distinctives into sharp contrast to the Democrats’ and by organizing new voters.

Can the Republicans, or a succeeding party, interest new voters ? The welfare state did not exist prior to the New Deal and this has warped American politics in new and unprecedented ways.

[W]henever it made the mistake of relying on charming personalities to head tickets or making generous accommodations with the Democrats on major issues [it lost ground]. But keeping such focus steady was an ideological problem for Whigs. They prided themselves on being a coalition of independent thinkers, unlike (in their imagination) the disciplined faithful of the Democrats, and they did not hesitate to turn on each other with divisive and disheartening abandon. Linked to that, the Whigs valorized the image of themselves as statesmen rather than (like their opposite numbers) party hacks who loved politics only for the power political office conferred.

The similarity is striking. There are differences, of course,. The issues of the 1850s were not the same as they are now but there is a theme to be kept in mind.

What finished the Whigs was their failures, not over national policy questions, but in the state and congressional elections in 1854 and 1855, where the new parties could get the most ready purchase on the electorate. No longer did Whig voters, galvanized by Democratic awfulness, take their votes to Whig candidates to express their disgust; they could go to the Know-Nothings, to the Free-Soilers, the Republicans, and so on.

Third parties are no solution to the problem of the Republicans. I think the Tea Party must capture the party mechanisms and oust the representatives of The Ruling Class. If that does not occur peacefully, it may occur with violence.

22 thoughts on “Is the Republican Party Worthwhile ?”

  1. This sounds really good up to the punt in the last paragraph. Why would a party in a stronger position nationally than it has been in almost a century disband?

  2. “Why would a party in a stronger position nationally than it has been in almost a century disband?”

    I think the issue is whether they can win a presidential election, given the electoral college. If Hillary loses, the question is answered. If not, it may be an issue. The last one they won was 1988. Perot killed Bush off in 1992 and 2008 was an odd election because of the black thing.

    I think that piece on the Whigs is pretty good. The book he mentions is just too long for anyone but a PolySci prof to read.

  3. > Why would a party in a stronger position nationally than it has been in almost a century disband?<

    there's no leader. also not disbanding fracturing to the state level.subsidiarity on display:

    -Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.-

  4. I agree that Hillary should be toast – in an ideal world. It’s not an ideal world.

    Sam: It must be about time for tea. At least it is in civilized places.
    Gollum: We’re not in civilized places.

    We have the world we have, not the world we would like. The demographic is such that enormous number of people are invested in government:
    * Businesses have paid bribes to Hillary, the DNC, probably the RNC. They want a payoff for that investment.
    * There’s an entire dependency class in the cities who get all their income via government checks.
    * Universities are running a tuition-subsidy-bureaucracy racket. The senior admins get rich.
    * Unions are invested in government, either directly as employees or indirectly through labor relations boards.
    * Illegals, who I suspect are going to be encouraged to vote, are invested in government, especially leftist government.
    * Leftist media are invested in government. The more powerful the government, the more influence they wield with powerful people, and the more money they make if they’re effective propagandists.
    * Lots of average people are influenced by leftist media. They would vote to slit their own throats if told to. And often do.

    So the question is, are there enough people left in this country who want to live free lives, are willing to work, and are willing to sacrifice some measure of safety net in return for more control over their own and their children’s lives? That will determine who wins the next election. Things are trending our way though.

    But it’s going to be a fight. And the fight will have only just begun even if the GOP takes the presidency. Then it’s taking on the all those vested interests and the Deep State. I don’t think the Old Guard GOP is up to it. We definitely need some new blood in the congressional leadership.

  5. One can, and I try to, make the argument that to succeed a political party has to have something that distinguishes it fundamentally from its opposition. A party of “the same thing under our oligarchs instead of theirs” is not going to inspire the efforts of a political base to fight. And if the POTSTUOOIOT has existed on lying about being willing to actually fight and instead is totally, completely, blatantly, and now insultingly co-opted by their supposed opposition and works alongside them against their own voters; eventually there is no reason to take either side of the Uni-Party.

    Third parties are no solution to the problem of the Republicans. I think the Tea Party must capture the party mechanisms and oust the representatives of The Ruling Class. If that does not occur peacefully, it may occur with violence.

    I might agree about “Third Parties”. But right now, we need a Second Party, which we do not have. And the assumption seems to be that we have an unlimited number of elections to fix things. Time is not on our side. The Republicans are pushing the Democrat agenda harder than the Democrats are and are attempting to pass a form of Enabling Act for Obama’s benefit. There are neither the time nor the means for a peaceful takeover of the Republican Party. Which severely limits the options for the future.

  6. The only use of the Republicans is to put up some obstacle to the insane policies of the Democrats. The only use of the Democrats is to put some obstacle to the insane policies of the Republicans. Gridlock is the best we can hope for.

  7. Interesting the Howe’s name came up. I read his “What God Hath Wrought” and gave it three stars in my review on Amazon. My biggest criticism was his academic political correctness distorted the content and wasted space. His earlier book on Whigs sounds much more genuine and honest.

    I agree that the GOP has to have the guts to differentiate themselves from the leftist Democrats. We have transitioned from a collaborative political unity to one where harsh division is the key. So lets lay out the options clearly and loudly. Force a clear choice!

    I further agree that third parties offer little hope. The SINGLE vote that I’ve casted in almost 50 years of voting that I wish I could change was for Ross Perot.

  8. “There are neither the time nor the means for a peaceful takeover of the Republican Party. Which severely limits the options for the future.”

    I thought Romney in 2012 could start the process by reorganizing government like a failing company. Remember how Clinton put Gore in charge of “reorganizing?” Even Clinton sensed that things were not going well.

    The Welfare State may not be viable much longer. The dependent class may not have a choice, like the Weimar citizens did not have a choice.

    “the insane policies of the Republicans.” That sounds like a concern troll. What are those policies ? Reduced spending ?

  9. Howe’s Making the American Self is a wonderful book, at least at giving context and analysis of individual selves. He pairs Edwards/Franklin (contemporaries but obviously representing two strains), Lincoln/Douglass. He uses “faculty psychology” to explain more than always seems to me to work, but it does provide a framework for their constant attention to “human nature.”

  10. Jonah Goldberg has some interesting points today.

    There’s a lot of evidence that being too sanitary, i.e. too clean, causes allergies. If you’re not exposed to dog hair, dirt, bugs, nuts, CHUDs early in life, your immune system doesn’t know how to recognize these allergens later on and deal with them in a healthy way. It turns out if you give babies peanut butter, they are much, much less likely to get peanut allergies when they get older.

    I've been writing about this for years. He relates this to what is going on in colleges today.

    “America is the land of opportunity,” “There is only one race, the human race” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” are among a long list of alleged micro aggressions faculty leaders of the University of California system have been instructed not to say.

    We have become allergic to our own culture, so to speak.

    The whole point of a free society is to reduce the number of things that are political, particularly at the national level. When everything is considered political, the totality of life is politicized. And that’s just a clunky way of describing totalitarianism.

    He has important things to say at times. His book, “Liberal Fascism” should be on all reading lists.

  11. That’s an interesting analogy.

    Rightly or wrongly, I gave my kids lots of freedom growing up, as I had been given. They got in trouble occasionally, hurt themselves occasionally, but explored the world around them and learned.

    When you ride your bike carelessly, smack into a tree or telephone pole and bust your lip and hurt your leg, you learn that careless handling of a fast moving vehicle has consequences. Your mouth and leg hurt for days and have to get your bike fixed. I’d rather they learn that at 10 mph on a bike than 70 mph in a car.

    College is supposed to be more than a book learning experience. It’s a young adult life management experience. You’re supposed to be having your first adult interactions in a relatively benign environment. It’s not supposed to be an environment where you’re hermetically sealed off from ideas and opinions you may agree with. And relationships that run amok can often be emotionally painful afterwards, but does that justify carrying a mattress around with you and imposing that on every male you encounter as an indictment? What adult does that? Why is this encouraged and celebrated? Because people find it politically useful in their accrual of power. Social damage be damned. And the damage they do to young people by denying them an opportunity to grow be damned as well.

  12. Just read this in a comment at Taki:

    What do you have to say about that, Eric Hoffer?

    “The sick in soul insist that it is actually humanity that is sick, and that they are just the surgeons to operate upon it. They want to turn the world into a sickroom.

    And once they get humanity strapped to the operating table, they do operate on it-with an ax.”

  13. We are long overdue for a political re-alignment, and, unfortunately, the climate of hatred and seemingly insoluble divisions is remarkably similar to the periods of re-alignment in the past.

    The mood of the country reminds me of the 1850’s, and the political impotence of the establishment GOP is very Whiggish in its relentless futility.

    The left has already taken over the Dems, and turned it into a prog spoils machine. The level of corruption and malfeasance will be revealed in due time, although not by the current pet media, and some rectification will occur. Meanwhile, the activist small government groups that have won so many legislative and other state and local elections must continue relentlessly in their pursuit of control of the national party and financial resources.

    Money and power, power and money. They’re all that matter in the final analysis. Better for all if they’re in the hands of people who believe in restraining the state, and will act upon that belief.

  14. Mike K wrote “like the Weimar citizens did not have a choice.”

    Just finished “The Downfall of Money” by Frederick Taylor on the Weimar’s hyperinflation. He goes out of his way to avoid his obvious conclusion – that the hyperinflation was part of the “socialist revolution” to ruin their enemies, the German middle class.

    The trade unionists, the Socialist’s constituency, were protected by what were essentially cost-of-living provisions. The industrialists played along as they enjoyed booming international markets as they could undercut competitors.

    Perhaps Obama is playing the same game of economic warfare on his domestic opposition?

  15. I echo Mr. Hiteshew’s comment.

    I recall a Republican organiser of many years – about 1965-2000, I think – explaining to me that there were generally three groups in the Republican Party: the economic conservatives, who supplied the donations; the social conservatives, who made the phone calls, licked the envelopes, put out the signs and did the work; and the Libertarian True Conservatives, who complained that everyone else was doing it wrong, never did a damn thing to help, and were the most likely to stay home in protest. I am so tired of people thinking they’re better conservatives because they are purer and object to more others.

    If you want a third party, go do the work. Try it, see how easy it is.

    Don’t like what the Republican Party is doing? Pick a candidate, pick a cause, pick a region. Pray your prayers or study political advertising, or whatever else you think might help. Do your bit. Your candidate might lose. You might be only holding a rearguard action until the battlefield changes. That’s life.

    And BTW, showing up at meetings to complain is not doing your bit.

  16. Assistant Village Idiot,

    Excuse me, but I think you’re rather way off base here.

    I know someone who was an activist in my state’s GOP, until they drove him out. They still wanted his money and his time, though. I know of someone else, who has posted a comment in this very thread, who described how the party establishment in his state connived to prevent reform elements of the party from actually having any power.

    In any case telling us proles to get busy and do that hard hard work of electing Republicans just sounds silly.

    Know why? Because we have a GOP congress, part of a GOP that hasn’t been stronger nationally in almost a century.

    So I think your plaint against people who are tired of the endless failure of the Republican party to actually accomplish politically needs some significant updating.

    We aren’t living in 2000, after all.

  17. Anyway, as a fan of the Howe/Strauss “Fourth Turning” theory, it seems to me that the comparison of the GOP with the Whigs is quite apt.

    It seems to me such thousand-page extravaganzas as Obamacare and now Obamatrade are efforts by the present day political class to cement its political power in perpetuity, regardless of election results or public opinion.

    They remind me of another effort by an earlier political class, the Dredd Scott decision. That infamous ruling by the Supreme Court would have had the practical effect of preventing states from banning slavery, because the states could not prevent individuals from bringing their property with them as they traveled. I imagine enterprising Southerners would have later won for themselves vast fortunes by bringing their slaves- excuse me, their property- to the North to provide a cheap labor force for the labor-intensive industry that grew later in the 19th century. Surely workers who didn’t need to be paid with anything more than food and perhaps shelter would have out-competed the lazy, shiftless Northerners who demanded scarce capital in the form of gold and sliver coinage. Alas, the Civil War derailed this sweet sweet future for the Slavocracy, as the wage slaves of the North rejected it by electing Abraham Lincoln.

    Parenthetically, I’m not just conjuring that up out of my protectionist imagination. Historian Kenneth M. Stampp concluded that Roger B. Taney and James Buchanan engineered the decision to settle the slavery question. (!)

    Forgive my lengthy rambling, but that reminds me of present day efforts. We have Obamacare, which will eventually become a huge tax increase on the wage slaves of America, as we will get to pay vastly higher taxes to subsidize the indigent voting base of the leftist-dominated political class. We seem bound to get Obamatrade, which will reportedly include labor mobility provisions allowing foreigners to come to the US and work, for obviously much less than the lazy and shiftless American people.

    So what does this have to do with the GOP? As the Whig party failed miserably to provide effective resistance to the Slavocracy, leading to that parties demise, today we have a GOP that has similarly failed to provide effective resistance to the left’s vile goal to “fundamentally transform” into something socially similar to the Antebellum United States, ruled by globalist worthies such as Jeb Bush and George Soros. Even now the party is writing a bill to continue Obamacare subsidies should the Supreme Court rule against them, and the party has worked hard for Obamatrade.

    Believing that, I obviously am not a fan of the GOP establishment.

    Yet so far I vote straight GOP ticket.

    So far. I’ll stop with that, as this was too long already.

  18. The Whigs had something serious in common with today’s GOP. They were inept at convincing people that they were not elites.

    the Jacksonians embodied democracy and championed the interests of the “common man,” while the Whigs were the voice of selfish elite interests, and looked like nothing so much as forecasts of Herbert Hoover and Robert Taft.

    Much of this is latter day revisionism but I can see the typical ineptitude of the Bourgeoise who just want to enjoy a middle class life while the radicals are out to save the world if it kills us all. I’m almost finished with Fred Siegel’s Revolt Against the Masses, which is as good as Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism.”

    The French Revolution should be a warning to everyone about how revolutions can go very wrong.

  19. If it really has to be all about power and wealth from economic rents protected by political power, then it is only a choice of which ideological mask you want to wear. Restraint in power gathering and use is not primarily ideological, it is moral. The establishments in both parties use ideology as a cover for their battles over power and economic rent seeking. They have no moral commitment to virtue as traditionally understood. It is all tactical employment of means to a very self-centered objective. Modernism/ post-modernism provides precious little basis for commitment to rejecting the incentives to acquire and use power for narrow interest at the cost of violation of concepts like limited government, equal protection of the law, solutions at the lowest (even individual) level or accountability for individual choices (consequences). Narrative, emotions and rhetoric trumps objective truth.

    Even if it were possible for those who would sacrifice the opportunity for such political rent seeking to rise to political power, how long could they keep it before they are either displaced or co-opted? How long would it take to effectively dismantle the institutional structures that provide such vast opportunity for accumulation and abuse of political power, at all levels and across the breadth of our institutions?

    So will it be a violent collapse? If it is, what historical examples do we have that it will be less totalitarian than where we are trending? As the saying goes, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken fecal matter.” At least not anytime soon.


  20. I find it interesting that the last truly great PotUS we had was not in this century, not in the last one, but in the late 1800s, and a Democrat — Grover Cleveland:

    In 1887, Cleveland issued his most well-known veto, that of the Texas Seed Bill. After a drought had ruined crops in several Texas counties, Congress appropriated $10,000 to purchase seed grain for farmers there. Cleveland vetoed the expenditure. In his veto message, he espoused a theory of limited government:

    I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.


    There are similar comments in his 3rd SOTU.

    Contrast this with Teddy, a remarkable president in many ways, but many of our current issues are direct outgrowths of his failure to grasp the limits of the proper sphere of government. Teddy set this nation onto the wrong path in many ways.

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