The Future of the Republican Party: Identity Crisis

Article excerpt

Editor's note: This is the second piece in a four-part series about the future of the Republican Party.

There is not a Democrat in the country, or in Maine, who isn't smirking just a little bit right now.

On the heels of an election they believe vindicated not only their ideological agenda, but also their approach to government, the collective derision of the left is aimed squarely at a Republican Party that they dismissively believe is unresponsive to the needs and wants of the voters.

Smug and rather obnoxious. But not entirely wrong.

Republicans are loathe to admit it, but they currently face an identity crisis, an existential confusion that threatens to resign them to perpetual minority for years.

The current situation is hardly a political death sentence, though, and can actually be reversed quickly.

When the Democratic Party lost in 1988 for the third consecutive election, the Democrats faced a similar soul searching. They had lost touch with blue-collar working Americans and were seemingly incapable of appealing to a majority of Americans.

In 1992 they responded by nominating Bill Clinton, a "third-way" modernizer who sought to fuse traditional Democratic values with elements of the Republican economic agenda.

Overnight the entire character of the Democratic Party changed. He managed to convince those same skeptical blue-collar Americans that he was not hostile to their livelihood, as Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale had been, while building on the remaining foundational strengths of the center-left coalition.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom in political circles, though, this conversion had very little to do with policy or ideology. It was about identity.

Politics is, above all, about the ability of candidates and political parties to connect with and identify with the voters. Ideological bent matters, of course, but only insofar as it plays into connecting with voters.

The Republican Party's problem is less about issues -- though that is certainly part of the equation -- and more about culturally identifying with those whose support they seek.

So what needs to change? Does the party need to moderate itself? Does it need to become more conservative? Attempt its version of third-way hybrid politics?

It is more basic than that. Once again, politics is about identity, not ideology. Republicans no longer identify with the majority of Americans, or Mainers, and that is what they need to fix.

More vital than the solutions being offered to the voters is even understanding the problems that affect them. …