Commentary Magazine


The GOP

To the Editor:

In his article, “Bush and the Republican Future” [March], Daniel Casse argues that “there is no denying that the GOP has indeed become a party in decline” and that the Reagan coalition has “fallen apart.”

The Republican party and the conservative movement have heard similar predictions of pending division and collapse since 1980, when outsiders first noticed that Ronald Reagan was nominated and elected by a modern Republican party leading a new Center-Right coalition. In the beginning, the Reagan coalition operated only at the presidential level. It was not until 1984 that a majority of the Republican caucus in the House was “Reaganite,” and not until 1994 that a majority of the Senate Republicans looked to Reagan rather than Nixon or Rockefeller as their model.

For twenty years the Reagan coalition has grown and strengthened. Some looked at the Center-Right coalition and saw two or three factions—economic conservatives, social conservatives, and foreign-policy conservatives—that would inevitably fight among themselves and divide. But the Reagan coalition has now won four national congressional elections and defeated a sitting Vice President at a time of peace and prosperity.

Why? Critics of the Reagan coalition misunderstand the nature of it. The modern Republican party and Center-Right coalition comprise individuals who, on the issue that makes them politically active, want one thing from the central government: to be left alone. Think of gun-owners, taxpayers, property-owners, home-schoolers, people of faith who wish to raise their children without the government tossing prophylactics at them, the self-employed, and the growing investor class. They do not want other people’s time, money, or approbation. It is a low-maintenance coalition.

In 2000, Patrick J. Buchanan, Gary Bauer, and John McCain offered to form a different coalition. They were rejected. These would-be leaders looked at the polls—as Mr. Casse does—and found divisions on the Right. But those “divisions” are on secondary and tertiary issues. Many gun-owners, for example, are hostile to trade with China, and Buchanan and Bauer tried to attract their support. But gun-owners vote on gun issues, while Republicans for whom international trade is the primary “leave me alone” issue are pro-free trade—and so is the party. Intensity trumps mere preference.

All parts of the “leave us alone” coalition are growing. Americans who own more than $5,000 in stock are 18 percent more Republican than Democrat, and ownership of shares has grown from 20 percent of Americans in 1980 to more than 50 percent today. Conversely, there are 25 million Americans over the age of 70 who came of age during the period of Roosevelt statism. They voted by a margin of 51 to 43 percent for Gore over Bush. Every year, 2.5 million of them pass away—an annual loss to the Democrats of 200,000 voters.

Daniel Casse should cheer up.

Grover Norquist
President
Americans for Tax Reform
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Daniel Casse’s claim that the GOP has “become a party in decline” is simply false. The Republicans have established themselves as the governing party of the country and have not been in a stronger position since the 1920′s. The GOP not only controls the House, Senate, Presidency, and federal judiciary but also dominates at the state level, a very significant fact in light of the state legislatures’ control of congressional reapportionment in response to the 2000 census.

Consider Florida, where two House seats are to be added. In 1990 Democrats controlled the entire state government, but today Republicans hold both houses of the legislature and the office of the governor. Two more House seats are also to be added for Texas. There too the state government was controlled by Democrats in 1990; now Republicans hold one house of the legislature and the governorship. In other states as well, including New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, and Oklahoma, Republicans have the power to control or to influence reapportionment. As a result, the GOP is likely to make significant gains in the next election. Arguably, we are entering a period of lasting Republican control of the House.

Susan Jordan
Los Angeles, California

_____________

 

Daniel Casse writes:

I have always admired Grover Norquist’s cheerfulness about conservative coalition politics, but I do not share his analysis of the challenges that now face the Republican party. As my article made clear, I am not a critic of the Reagan coalition. I just do not believe that the issues that once held it together are sufficient to ensure large Republican majorities.

This does not require abandoning the Republican base. So long as President Bush and other Republicans do not become apostates on lower taxes, stronger defense, local control, and the other issues that Mr. Norquist mentions, “leave us alone” voters will remain firmly in the Republican camp. But merely maintaining the loyalty of your base is not a viable strategy for a party that won the last election by the smallest of margins.

Since 1994, the GOP has been losing seats in the House, has lost an outright majority in the Senate, and has seen no gain in the number of Republican governors. If Bush is going to reverse this trend (and expand the influence of conservative ideas), he needs to set the national agenda on health care, education, and Social Security—issues that simply were not part of past conservative coalitions.

For that reason, the gains made by the GOP in state elections that Susan Jordan presents do not impress me. It does not mean much if Republicans control state houses but cannot control the ideas that shape policy.

_____________

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