Impressed by the Republican Party’s 2014 election victories? Not so fast!
At best their wins are opportunities to offer a positive agenda. But this might not be possible because the GOP is still engaged in a three-way civil war that could doom the party’s prospects for future victories and the country’s prospects for freedom and prosperity.
For the GOP the election was the easy part. The Republicans beat the party of Barack Obama, whose policies have been abject failures, whose incompetence has been appalling, and whose lust for arbitrary power has been unbounded. Now comes the tough part.
Obama remains arrogant and unapologetic in the face of his party’s defeats. He’ll disingenuously deign to consider GOP proposals only if they’re the sort of measures that most voters rejected in the election.
So the Republicans will be offering proposals that they expect Obama will often veto. The Republicans will probably use those proposals to rebrand their party’s tarnished image and to highlight their governing principles and policies for the 2016 elections.
But there’s a problem. There is not a strong consensus on those principles and policies. This is because three factions are battling for the soul of the Republican Party.
First, establishment Republicans want to tweak the welfare state to make it work a little more efficiently. These are the McCains and Romneys who want to “save” Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the like.
Second, extreme social conservatives would give priority to a liberty-limiting, religious-based agenda. These are the Santorums and Huckabees, the latter of whom threatens to leave the GOP if, for example, it doesn’t oppose same-sex marriage.
Third, there are the libertarian-leaning and traditional limited-government Republicans with a number of Tea Party folks thrown in. This coalition of freedom-lovers actually wants to repeal oppressive programs and roll back the government’s scope and power. Rand Paul and a few others are leaning in this direction while trying to keep a foot in the social conservative camp as well.
So what does the GOP’s internal conflict mean for its external offerings? There are some proposals upon which the factions can agree, that enjoy widespread public support, and could even garner votes from some Congressional Democrats. For instance, approving the Keystone pipeline from Canada is popular with labor unions and free marketers alike.
The Republicans will certainly take a stab at repealing Obamacare in its entirety. Obama would certainly veto the bill, but the Republicans who campaigned on repeal will have honored their commitment.
But here’s where the situation gets dicey. Republicans could then try to repeal specific parts of Obamacare, for example, the tax on medical devices, which punishes production of life-enhancing technologies, or now-the delayed Obamacare employer mandate. They might even pick up some Democrat votes for such measures.
But would libertarian Republicans see this as a move by the establishment GOP to merely tweak the law? After all, it would keep major parts of Obamacare in place. Worse, it could enshrine the principle that subsidized healthcare is a right that we owe one another, with the government as the wealth redistributor.
Remember that a number of Republicans at the state level have worked to expand Medicaid coverage in keeping with provisions of Obamacare, much to the chagrin of the libertarians, sparking primary challenges to establishment Republicans.
And could we see in Congress social conservatives pushing for gay marriage bans? Will they push for so-called family-favoring rather than neutral tax or welfare programs, the kind of discrimination favored by Mike Huckabee when he was Arkansas governor?
If the GOP in the next two years offers a contradictory hash of limited government and paternalistic, interventionist programs, they might not only lose the elections in 2016. They might also lose their party. Millennial generation voters tend to like economic opportunity but they are socially liberal and thus tend to lean against the GOP. They will be the majority of voters in the future.
Hispanic citizens, who make up 17 percent of the population today will make up 50 percent by 2030. They are heavily pro-Democrat.
White evangelicals are the largest voting bloc in the GOP but a declining portion of the population.
The Republican Party’s death spiral might have slowed in the 2014 election. Or perhaps the low voter turnout simply gave more weight to the party’s shrinking base. But if its internal conflicts continue, if it does not adopt a consistent pro-freedom, limited government agenda, the GOP could slip into the dustbin of history.
The pro-freedom faction has an opportunity in the next two years to educate the public on their vision of a free society with a culture that celebrates achievers and wealth-creating entrepreneurs. But they will also have to convince their fellow Republicans to join them or else the victories of 2014 will simply be blips as the party declines along with the country.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.