by Bob Barr
As I write this, millions of Americans are still voting. There is no way to predict what the outcome will be election eve, or if Americans will know the outcome of the election days or even weeks from now. It did not have to be this way. The GOP should have won in a blowout, and that they are almost certain not to is a clear sign the Grand Old Party is in desperate need of a Grand Old Rebuild.
The lack of leadership and coordination by the Republican Party’s leadership on Capitol Hill and in “red” States across the country has placed the burden of party messaging squarely on Trump’s shoulders; it is both a benefit and a burden he has borne.
Trump’s strength as President, and indeed what has made him so effective in his first term, is getting things done. Trump is a businessman and political outsider, not a philosopher or erudite pundit; so, expecting that he, and he alone, should be responsible for the incredibly important task of articulating clear and consistent messaging to voters was at best shortsighted. It also explains why the GOP turned what should have been a blowout victory against a weak and extremist candidate into a down-to-the-wire nail-biter.
GOP leaders did a far better job heading into 2020 with messaging about Democrats than about Republicans. Whether voters agreed with Democrats’ radicalism or not, there was no question as to where they stood on the environment, healthcare, gun control, illegal immigration, criminal justice, and more. These positions were repeatedly reinforced not just from the Biden campaign, but with symbolic legislation passed in the House over the last biennium. Democrats knew the bills had no chance in the Senate, but each failed attempt, like their Green New Deal, became a rallying cry for voters and donors alike about the need to retake control in November. No such concerted or articulated effort was taken by Republicans in either the House or Senate (with the important exception of supporting the need for conservative federal judicial nominees submitted by Trump).
Regardless of the election’s outcome, the GOP must come to grips with these deep deficiencies, if it expects to remain a viable national party in a post-Trump world, whether that comes in a few months or a few years. The philosophical underpinning that once clearly defined the Republican Party – individual and economic freedom – still is an easy sell to the American public if they undertake the effort. Over the next four years, Republicans must do the following:
Restore Fiscal Discipline: Rather than offsetting the soaring costs of the President’s key initiatives (like the border wall) with spending cuts elsewhere, congressional Republicans now do just as Democrats have always done — “spend now, pay later.” On a fiscal record, Republicans are now virtually indistinguishable from Democrats.
Reaffirm Gun Rights: Republicans have all but forgotten the true essence of the Second Amendment as a natural right. As a result, they have left it vulnerable to being chipped away, even from within their own party. They must learn again how to properly defend the Second Amendment and do so with more gusto than their limp-wristed approach of late.
Reduce Government Size & Power: Remember when eliminating needless federal departments like the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency were once mainstays of the GOP? Now, Republicans are just as much inclined to increase the size and power of government as Democrats, just for different reasons and different agencies. Trump’s leadership on deregulation – a true mainstay of his first term – is rarely touted by GOP leaders as a leading issue.
Talk Traditional Values: Now more than ever in this soulless environment where social media has replaced true human relationships and where the value of life is marginalized, Republicans must speak to our innate human instinct for family and social bonds. They must remind us of the value of the nuclear family, faith, and human decency with policies and personal conduct that exemplifies these concepts.
If Republicans truly focus on these key areas consistently and uniformly, 2024 may turn into the landslide victory this year should have been. History tells us, however, that is a big “if.”
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He served as an official with the CIA during the 1970s.