Now that Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the White House have taken their respective vows of office, the job of governing, looming ever on the horizon during the Obama years, now bears upon the party with the full weight of the world’s most powerful and influential government. Yet the task before them seems to have shocked them – perhaps the most memorable part of their majority since 2010 was their insistence that the Affordable Care Act be repealed.
It was such a critical portion of the Republican platform that Republicans sent bills to the President some sixty-odd times. When pressed on the issue, Republican leaders told the public that their plan was to repeal and replace, despite the fact that their repeal efforts sent to the oval office offered neither provisions for a replacement, nor ideas for an improvement. And now, with a new President in office who seems more than happy to repeal the law, Republicans are confronted with an uncomfortable fact: they have no plan, and now must keep to their insistent promise to repeal the law and force the un-insurance of millions of Americans.
Indeed, this dearth of a plan of action would seem to be the case for the entire national platform of the Congressional Republicans. Many, if not most, of these men and women opposed the nomination of our new President - yet there is virtually no resistance to the many controversial acts of his first few weeks in office, whether they be his less-than-qualified cabinet appointees, his executive actions that are legally questionable under the best of circumstances, the unbecoming Twitter messages as President, or his inability to withstand even the mildest criticism. The tragic title they embraced in 2010, the “Party of No”, has devolved into inertia as we enter into 2017. Where they had only opposition to a President, and offered only resistance, they now demonstrate the veracity of the claim made by Democrats that they are not a party capable of leading a government.
Nowhere has this become more evident than in the meteoric rise of Donald Trump. Without a clear and effective ideal to rally behind, other than simple, sheer opposition to Democrats, Donald Trump was able to take a populist message and hijack the ideology, indeed the very soul, of the Grand Old Party. This became clear during the GOP’s national convention, when the party platform was drafted. Many traditional conservative ideas were there, but more than a few were part of Trump’s populist wave, such as the border wall with Mexico, and calling for special screening for people emigrating from terrorism-linked countries.
Ultimately, the issue is that populism is like a bright star – it burns strong, but dies young. Americans have long resisted the siren’s song of populist candidates, but it appears now that global populism has overtaken American national politics, even if for different reasons that Europe. Even if President Trump is re-elected in 2020, his branding and popularity will leave with him, as it has with every populist leader of the 20th century. Lenin, Chávez, Ho Chi Minh – what we see from the end of their populist reigns is that whatever idealism they brought to their country, what popularity and legitimacy they bring to their political parties, simply cannot outlast them. And when Trump is no longer in office, they will once again find themselves without an ideological soul to guide them in the future. They will, once again, be vulnerable to the next demagogue to take a stage. Can the party survive such a rending of its very soul?
We Republicans cannot let this stand. We must demand that our leaders have a cohesive plan for our nation, and indeed our world; a plan that transcends simple slogans and vapid 100-character mantras. We must hold our party to account so that the legacy of the Grand Old Party endures into the future.