General Westmoreland once famously said, of a Vietnam Village, that “we destroyed that village in order to save it” or words to that effect. It seems the same process is well in effect in the GOP. And this is not the first time it’s happened. A bit of history is in order.
The first iteration of the GOP was the Federalist Party. That party elected President Washington in 1788 and President Adams in 1796. After Adams failed to win reelection in 1800 the party fizzled. The Whigs organized in the early 1830’s as a counterweight to President Jackson. It also flamed out quickly; in the early 1850’s, after Millard Fillmore was unable to fill even Zachary Taylor’s small shoes. The Republican Party organized in or about 1854 in Ripon, Wisconsin, as an idealistic, antislavery party. It’s first standard-bearer, John Fremont, lost the 1856 election. Abraham Lincoln, nominated on the third ballot of a contested convention. did better. The South didn’t enjoy that surprise and bolted the Union.
The GOP has had other, more recent near-death experiences. In 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression with a charismatic and phony FDR as President, Alf Landon managed to collar only Vermont and one other state. I always forget if that was Kansas or Maine but it makes little difference. That wiped out the truly old, laissez-fair Republicans. The corportatist Republicans that replaced them were more or less non-ideological. They managed to elect only Eisenhower in 1952 (and that one as a war hero) and Nixon in 1968 (in a bitter time of disorders, antiwar ferment, crime and racism). Ford was, of course, never elected. That version of the GOP was seen driving away in the smog over Watergate in 1972, made official by the disastrous 1974 elections.
That paved the way for Ronald Reagan and his neo-conservatives. It is significant that Reagan’s roots were as a liberal Democrat. In hindsight, while Republicans pine for the “next Reagan” he was personally magnetic, and that contributed to the size of his two victories. The corporatist Republicans were back in control for Bush I and Bush II’s elections of 1988, 2000 and 2004, as well as the McCain and Romney candidacies.
Now, Ted Cruz, a quality candidate and one of surprising duration given his lack of favor with the relatively lazy and unimaginative Republicans in the Senate and the House appears to have, at best, a narrow path to the nomination. It is hard to fight a demagogue. Since he and his supporters are principled, many of them will no doubt vote for Hillary or cast a blank ballot. I am waffling between those two options. In any event the GOP is headed to a defeat and implosion on the scale of the Federalist, Whig, Depression and Watergate debacles in this country, and Canada’s recent destruction of the Progressive-Conservative Party. The country needs two parties.
I argue that a new or reconstituted party must arise from the ashes, one shorn of the “get along to go along” philosophy of the likes of Boehner and McConnell. This party will be led by bright, young, aggressive leaders such as Cruz, Rubio, Ryan and Walker.