Craig Dunn: The pith and the pendulum
Thursday, December 01, 2016 9:49 AM
KOKOMO – These are heady days for the Republican Party. A new Republican president will take office with a Republican-controlled House and Senate. In addition, Republicans control 31 governorships and have a piece of governmental leadership in all but six states.
Indiana is no exception. Republicans now control every statewide office with the exception of Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly. Republicans hold seven of the nine congressional seats. The GOP also has super majorities in both houses of the Indiana Legislature.
This is all pretty amazing stuff for a political party that was written off back in July and August. You remember the headlines don’t you?
“The End of a Republican Party: FiveThirtyEight.”
“Are You Ready for the End of the Republican Party: Esquire.”
“Fareed Zakaria: The End of the Republican Party.”
“GOP Faces Agonizing End of Life Decisions as 2016 Hopes Die: Vanity Fair.”
“Even After Trump Loses, the GOP Is Still Toast: Washington Post.”
To paraphrase the novelist and humorist Mark Twain, “Reports of the death of the Republican Party have been greatly exaggerated.”
Yes, to the casual political observer, everything in the GOP world appears to be roses and sunshine. However, anyone who does strategic planning for an organization will always do a SWOT analysis: Strengths; weaknesses; opportunities; threats. As a political operative, I spend little time basking in the warm glow of victory. That same warm feeling can be achieved by urinating in your own pants. Looking down the road is what many of us are tasked with doing.
I won’t spend much time commenting on the current strengths of the Republican Party. I’ve cited the numbers and they speak for themselves. Governmental and legislative power flows from those numbers and it is significant.
There are weaknesses that exist on a national level within the party that will need to be sorted out over the next few months. First, there are Republicans who never stepped on board the Trump train and some of those folks hold some key positions in the United States House and Senate.
Potential trouble in the House of Representatives will be minimal from those who were either in the “Never Trump” camp or from those who avoided “The Donald” like the plague. The democratic nature of the House will bring all of its stray cattle back into the corral. The U.S. Senate is another animal all together. Arcane rules meant to slow the pace of change and genuflect to the rights of individual senators can readily trip up our new president’s legislative program.
Forget the Democrats for a moment; let us worry more about Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. One would hope that they could put country above self and act with their fellow Republican senators to provide a unified approach to addressing our nation’s problems, but any U.S. representative in private will tell you that the Senate has failed to move much of the legislation sent to it by the House. Add in some ruffled political and personal feathers to the individual powers of a stubborn senator and you could get a nasty roadblock along the way.
Another large weakness of the Republican Party is that the primary source of information delivered to the average voter in the United States will still be firmly in the hands of the Democrat Party and their left-leaning supporters in the mainstream media and the socialist entertainment industry. When your opponent controls most of the avenues of commentary on the success of your presidency or on the progress of your legislative program, you know you have a weakness. Doubt this, please see previous headlines in quotes.
Of course, the best news for the Republican Party is in the category of opportunities. Take a look at the cornucopia of messes that our nation is facing and you won’t have to go far to find something that needs fixing.
The national debt, the indecipherable tax code, the counterproductive corporate tax rate, the burdensome morass of federal regulations, crumbling infrastructure, failed inner-cities, toxic race relations, porous southern border, out-of-control entitlement programs, weakened defense capabilities, declined manufacturing base, disastrous public education system, financially crippled healthcare system, terrorism, ISIS, North Korea, Iran, Syria and Russia. Fix any one of these and you might be hailed a hero in the history books. I think it is pretty safe to say that opportunities abound for progress.
That brings us to an analysis of threats. The biggest threat to the success of the Republican Party on a national level is the ill-defined nature of Donald Trump’s presidential victory. By the same token that Barack Obama rode an ill-defined message of hope and change to victory in 2008, Donald Trump was carried to victory on the strength of a message of “Make America Great Again.” The problem with catch phrases and slogans is that by not clearly defining the core programs of how one will “Make America Great Again,” you run the risk of disappointing those who didn’t define the method in the same way as the new president and Congress will.
Many Trump voters that I have spoken with consider the incoming president to be a giant dry wipe white board where they can write down everything that they personally want to see done. They see things that they believe makes America not so great and want their changes to be made. Personally, I expect a dramatic reduction of federal regulations to remove barriers to small business success, a reduction of corporate income tax rates to enable repatriation of vast sums of overseas profits and the establishment of a plan for long-term federal debt reduction. But hey, that’s just me.
I have friends who fully expect the construction of a massive wall along our southern border to keep all illegal immigrants out. I know voters who think they will see new manufacturing plants being built in this country by firms who previously exported jobs overseas. There are people who think that Obamacare will be repealed and then replaced with a magical solution that all will find effective. There are those who believe that with enough Supreme Court vacancies and Trump appointments that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Many feel that the government handouts and giveaways will stop. A few believe that the first dictator, terrorist or incontinent potentate that steps out of line will get their own personal bunker buster.
The real Donald Trump who will serve as our president will undoubtedly disappoint some of his supporters. He will either be too tough or not tough enough. He will either move too fast and too bold or not fast or bold enough. We all know that the reality of governance is far removed from the fantasy of political rhetoric. The degree of that divergence will ultimately spell success or failure for President Trump, the Republican Congress and the Republican Party.
There once was a political party that believed it had an overwhelming mandate. It forced unpopular programs through Congress and delivered nasty executive orders to get changes that could not be made through legislation. And then there was a day of reckoning. In two short years, the mandate of 2008 was destroyed by the 2010 elections. Again, in 2014, Democrats took it on the chin in off year elections for failing to live up to the promise of hope and change.
Politics and governance is an ever changing pendulum. The length of time between periods of left swings and right swings varies and the amplitude of the swing will influence the period of a pendulum swing. The larger the mass of satisfied voters, the longer the swing. Republican voters expect large amounts of change and effective, mold-shattering leadership. They expect creative legislation and dynamic programs to address our nation’s many problems.
This is the pith demanded on Nov. 8! Republican Party destiny is in its own hands now. For the Grand Old Party it will either be the pith or the pendulum.
Dunn is chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.