It’s no secret that Republicans don’t always see eye-to-eye on every issue. From establishment moderates to populist firebrands and from neoconservative hawks to libertarian non-interventionists, the GOP has blossomed in the past decade from a Party on the backbench to one that has the White House, Congress, total control in 25 states, 32 state legislatures (17 with veto-proof majorities), and 33 governors’ mansions. It’s a remarkable turnaround since the dismal electoral prospects of the late-George W. Bush Administration and the 2008 Presidential Election.
Suffice it to say, when you start bringing more cooks into the proverbial kitchen, you’re going to have personalities and thoughts that just don’t seem to mesh. That’s not politics, that’s just human nature. The controversies and raw emotions that permeate certain discussions in the GOP today aren’t the result of a Party in collapse, as many in the media would point out. To the contrary, they are a growing-pains consequence of victory. While it may be tough for some folks to embrace, a GOP with myriad interests isn’t watering down the brand, rather, it is expanding the reach of a powerful message for change.
Jeff Flake: Pressure Valves
Senator Jeff Flake is the junior Senator from Arizona (serving with John McCain). Senator Flake has drawn some intense criticism in recent days from Republicans who feel that his conduct, including op-ed publications and his new book (styled after Barry Goldwater’s book of the same name) “Conscience of a Conservative,” are designed to undermine President Trump and his agenda moving forward. Supporters of the President (and, it’s rumored, individuals in the White House) are looking at Flake’s re-election bid next year as a time to support a primary challenger.
Let’s not beat around the bush here, Senator Flake was never a fan of candidate Trump. Rather, Flake charted his own course away from, what he saw, as a diversion of the conservative cause and a spiraling of the same into populism. Flake’s very public disagreements with President Trump have been red meat for the 24 hour news media who have seized on the dissent as evidence that the President has lost control over his Party.
This sure sounds like a division in the Party that is sure to cause splintering and un-fixable rifts, right? Well, not so much. Rather, when you look at the voting record of Senator Flake since Donald Trump took office, Flake has voted in-line with his Party and the public positions of the President 95.6% of the time. The two votes where Flake has publicly dissented, voting to increase Russian sanctions and opposing an appropriations measure, are both seen as being in-line with the hawkish and fiscal conservative message that is considered middle-of-the-road for the current Republican Party
While we would be foolish to think that there’s going to be a “kumbaya” moment between Trump and Flake, the value that Flake adds to the Party in speaking up for dissenting establishment moderates (i.e. the “Never Trumpers”) actually provides a service to the Party. We need to remember that, despite the fact that dissenting voices sometimes get far more coverage than they deserve, Republicans staying Republicans is crucial to maintain control in state governments and in critically-close House of Representatives races (especially in states with closed primaries where moderates often act as an “electibility” check against ideologues).
In the end, officials like Jeff Flake act as a pressure valve for the GOP. Rather than blowing the Party to pieces in a spectacular split (as some were predicting in the 2016 primaries), the Jeff Flakes of the world act to overwhelmingly advance a positive agenda while providing an outlet for discontent without destruction.
Rand Paul: Standing on Principle
Senator Rand Paul, the junior Senator from Kentucky, is a voice of conscience to the Senate. While some, like war-hawks John McCain and Lindsey Graham, consider Senator Paul to be undermining the Republican Party and promoting radical ideas, the truth is that Senator Paul’s libertarian principles provide a check against big-government Republicans. Paul, who takes strictly Constitutional stands, has maintained ideological consistency since his election. The son of firebrand libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, Senator Paul has clearly learned from criticisms of his father in order to work within the system without compromising his integrity.
Senator Paul’s most notable stands have come against big government positions taken by both Republicans and Democrats. Most recently, Senator Paul refused to support Republican plans to pass a legislative vehicle to reform Obamacare without an up-or-down vote on actually repealing the bill. Senator Paul’s well-founded fear was that Republicans were simply modifying the law that they had all run for office on the promise of repealing. More than this, Paul was concerned that simply passing fixes rather than repealing the law would only lead to the law’s permanence. Paul drew some sharp criticism from Republicans for not playing ball in the legislative process, but like Paul’s previous stands about increased spending and Fourth Amendment protections, his position was unassailable in its philosophical rigor.
Like Senator Flake, above, Senator Paul is also not someone who has actively stood in the way of the Republican legislative agenda. Paul has voted to go along with the President’s legislative agenda 88.9% of the time. Senator Paul, however, unlike his colleague from Arizona, has not been nearly as vocal in his criticism of the President. Rather, he has picked his battles and made stands that are solidly backed with libertarian, small-government principles.
Despite the howls of the hawks and interventionist Republicans, Senator Paul’s value to the Republican Party is obvious. Paul, along with libertarians in the House, have created a welcome, though not always cozy, home in the GOP. In doing this, Paul and his allies have cut the knees out from under the allure of the Libertarian Party. The fact that libertarians can find support with Republicans has made the Libertarian Party, which would otherwise threaten to swallow disaffected small-government-minded Republicans, into a national laughingstock filled with drug pushers, Russia apologists, cryptocurrency zealots, and anti-police radicals.
Larry Hogan: Pragmatic Governing
Larry Hogan is the first term Republican Governor of Maryland and, through his entire first term, has enjoyed approval ratings in deep-blue, socially-liberal Maryland in excess of 60%. Hogan’s early success, and continued popularity, is proving to be a blueprint for successful Republican penetration into traditionally Democratic strongholds. As the Democratic Party drifts further into identity politics and myopia around President Trump, Governor Hogan has charted a course in his stewardship of the Maryland that has steered clear of radioactive issues and focused on compromise and economics.
While there has been the inevitable screeching from the far-left (likely only to amplify in the lead-up to next year’s gubernatorial election), Hogan has also been the subject of withering criticism from those on the right who feel that his refusal to support Donald Trump, and his unwillingness to re-litigate culture war issues, is “not Republican.” At the outset, the obvious response to the critics from the right is: would you have preferred a liberal Democrat?
What the critics of Hogan from the right fail to realize is that Governor Hogan is building exactly what the Republican Party, especially in a blue state, needs: relevance. In Maryland, decades of unappealing candidates for statewide and federal offices have registered as Republicans. For those who think Hogan’s moderate social policies and strong economic message are diluting the Party, they clearly have whistled past the graveyard of decades of failed ideologues that took Maryland from having two Republican Senators, a Republican Governor, and four Republicans in Congress in the 1970s, to having thirty years of Democratic Senators, Democratic Governors, and Republicans being chiseled down to one seat in the House of Representatives by legislative gerrymandering.
The Hogan Strategy and Why It Wins
Obviously, the problems of the Republican Party in Maryland are not the fault of any one individual, but it’s astonishing how much one individual has dug in his heels and reversed the decline. Governor Hogan, thusfar, has shown how to govern when you have to deal with a veto-proof legislature and a state where the voting statistics say you should lose every time. The hallmarks of the Hogan strategy have been: 1) business acumen, 2) honesty, and 3) picking the right fights.
Hogan’s business background separates him immediately from the crowd of activists and organizers who have seemingly crawled out of the woodwork to occupy legislative seats in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. With that background, Hogan has leveraged financial acumen and has surrounded himself with successful business leaders who understand that the path to growth is nonpartisan and based in economic advancement.
One of the biggest bipartisan criticisms of the General Assembly in Maryland has been the miasma of corruption that has infected Annapolis for decades. In 2017 alone, it seemed like a week didn’t go by during the the legislative session that another Democrat wasn’t facing charges or accusations of bribery, corruption, or malfeasance. Hogan has spearheaded an initiative of driving corruption out of state government. This initiative, alone, should be justification in the minds of civic-minded individuals to support a Republican governor in Maryland. Hogan has shown he will not be beholden to the status quo and should be commended for efforts to make government accountable.
Governor Hogan’s decision not to fight on every single possible issue is sometimes difficult to understand in a time when tweets and the 24 hour news cycle have prepared us for rapid-response and conflict. However, there’s a definite strategy to not watering down opposition with being constantly opposed. What this means is that, when you pick the battle, you have a greater likelihood of success. Sure, Governor Hogan could wage a scorched-earth campaign against his detractors, but the only value in that is catharsis.
Republicans need to understand that there is an intrinsic value to what Governor Hogan brings to the table, even in the era of Trump. Supporting the President and the Governor are not antithetical to one another. Rather, looking deeper into the prospect of good government and retaking the narrative in places it has been left for dead, there’s clearly a positive outcome when a synthetic approach to Trump and Hogan. Again, this synthesis is not without its chaffing on both sides, but the GOP is stronger when it is “both/ and” rather than “either/or.”
The Growing Pains of a Thriving GOP
An unsophisticated glance at Senators Jeff Flake and Rand Paul along with Governor Larry Hogan would tend to make someone think that the GOP is spiraling out of control. Leaderless and rudderless with dissent in every corner, how can the GOP survive? We’d posit that the exact opposite is actually true. The Party is growing and the internal divisions are rather the effect of victory rather than the foreshadowing of decline.
The Democrats. who have attempted to impose an ever-more-leftward lockstep ideology on their voters (e.g. intersectionality and identity politics), found themselves routed out of traditional strongholds. Republicans, meanwhile, have been picking up momentum in the same areas. To expect someone who has been cold to your politics for decades to immediately become hot simply defies the laws of thermodynamics. Rather, a broad and diverse set of governing practices, open debate, and a set of core principles founded in economic growth and personal liberty are the kindling that has sparked a Republican renaissance. Let’s not put out the flame right as it’s starting to burn.