So, you are a proud Republican. You do have some reason to feel positive. The Republican Party has a majority in both the U.S House of Representative and in the Senate. Hillary Clinton, who most people expected to win the presidency, did not. A Republican is in the White House. So you should be happy. You also may not be. Even with all those numbers on your side, you may sense that all is not quite right with your party. Unfortunately, if you feel that way, you do have some real reasons to worry.

If you are a Republican you are probably a long-time one. Most Republicans have identified with the Republican Party all of their lives. You are probably white. You probably came from a “good home”. Those things help make up the real you. One problem is that the Republicans as a party are not adding very many new people (Which is why it is safe to guess that you are a long time Republican.). Young people and minorities are overwhelmingly Democrats or are simply non-political. It is reasonable to guess that you are white, because most Republicans are white. Non-whites, who are politically active, are overwhelmingly Democrats. And, because traditional Republicans tend to be good hearted and prosperous, it is more likely that you come from a “good home”.

To understand why things have worked out this way, one thing to understand is that many Republicans are what might be called cultural Republicans. They live in neighborhoods and go to churches where everyone around them shares the same basic “good values” and where everyone they know is Republican. However, the truth is that most of them have no actual connection with the Republican Party at all. They are Republicans because they have always thought of themselves that way. They really have very little knowledge of what the leadership of their party or of what the elected members of their party are doing. As you read this, if you think of yourself as a Republican, ask yourself when you last attended a Party meeting. Or, when you last actually met and talked to someone officially representing the Republican Party. So, is it not true that you have very little knowledge of what your Republican Party leadership is actually doing?

Your party has become the captive of conservative true believers. There is a fundamental split between what most good hearted Republicans actually believe and what the Party leadership at both the state and the federal level are forced to believe. Many of Republicans in office have been dragooned into taking positions that ordinary Republicans probably would not support. Republican office holders cannot publicly believe in climate change, at least they can’t publicly believe that human activity contributes to it. Republicans in office must argue that tax cuts for the top one percent of wealth holders will somehow help the poor and the middle class. They must believe that even though studies don’t support it, and it logically makes no sense. They must believe that increasing the minimum wage costs jobs and, therefore, be opposed to it. They can’t believe in any kind of gun control, no matter how reasonable. They must speak favorably of charter schools even though many of them do badly with taxpayers’ money. On the scientific front, they must be opposed to evolution (Even though that has nothing really to do with their jobs in Lansing or in Tallahassee, or in Washington D.C.). And, they must hate Planned Parenthood, because they can connect it with abortion. The reason they must take these positions is, that if they do not, they will be unable to win Republican primaries (party elections.).

Neither of the two major parties actually chooses their own candidates. Instead they are chosen in party elections (primaries). Those are held in early spring for presidential candidates or in the fall for state and county offices. As a Republican, ask yourself if you have been voting in those party elections? If you haven’t, others have, and those people are certainly not typical of all Republicans. They are much more apt to be very conservative true believers. Candidates for state and for federal offices know that to win their primaries, they have to win those people over. The candidates know that once they win their primary, most cultural Republicans will vote for them. So, traditional Republicans end up in general elections voting for candidates who are much more conservative than themselves.

Republicans need to think about holding on to real workers. Think about the people who voted in primaries for President Trump. The people who attended his famous rallies and who cheered the loudest are often described as “working class” voters. The media adopted the word “working class” because they couldn’t think of anything better. In fact, the regular attendees at those rallies were often angry people who enjoyed the dangerous atmospherics, but, they certainly were not all typical of the “working class”. And, they were often not actual Republicans. But, together with conflicted traditional cultural Republicans, they did make Donald Trump the Party’s nominee.

Those angry voters who supported Donald Trump may not respond in the same way to a more typical Republican candidate. They may recede when he is no longer the there. Donald Trump may not last in office for four years. Whether he does or he does not, Republicans need to think carefully about their relationship with the larger population of workers. Until now, their office holders have done almost nothing to win “working class” support. The whole Republican legislative program until now is bound up in lowering taxes for the very wealthy and in weakening the kind of regulations that usually are designed to protect workers. That needs to be rethought. There should actually be something for workers!

Republicans do need to get outside their comfort zone. Individual Republicans often assert that they are not biased against minorities, and they probably are telling the truth. The larger problem, seldom understood, is that the party actives in both parties are really groups of friends. Their whole social life is with other party actives. When they meet at district and at state party conventions they may have name tags, but they really don’t need them. They know each other. They are friends! If they really invite other people into their party, those people will show up at those conventions. That is not so much a problem for Democrats because they have all kinds of ethnic groups in their party already (Democratic conventions often seem like a reenactment of the Civil War.). It is a problem for Republicans; because they are far less diverse (They often look like a convention of small town professionals.). Any substantial group of newcomers will break up the old gang! And they will challenge the shared truisms that help those people at the conventions get along. So, consciously or not, Republicans work to keep new people out. That is not a problem at the county level because Republicans are traditionally dominant there. It is problem at the state and national levels. Republicans are going to have to bite the bullet and learn to live with, what to them, are outsiders.

If they do not, their political future is grim indeed.

So, if you are proud Republican, the “party of Lincoln,” you have your work cut out for you. The whole primary system is not working. Its effect is to leave you with candidates who do not reflect what you and other long time Republicans really believe. Your candidates, if they want to be candidates, have to act on a set of beliefs that almost no intelligent person really takes seriously. Once in office, they seem to live in fear of their own leadership. Do you really think that not one Republican House or Senate member, some from very poor districts, did not think that the Affordable Care Act would help their constituents? Traditional Republicans need to communicate with their leadership that they are aware of what their trapped leadership already knows, that continuing this way guarantees ultimate defeat. Real reform will happen only if traditional Republicans really become involved with their own party. The time to begin is now!

H.J. Rishel





Retired political science professor of 40+ years. Educated at Olivet, UofM, MSU, Northwestern, & Harvard. Hoping to make politics a fun & exciting topic for all

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Hank Rishel

Hank Rishel

Retired political science professor of 40+ years. Educated at Olivet, UofM, MSU, Northwestern, & Harvard. Hoping to make politics a fun & exciting topic for all

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