A lack of policy cohesion plagues the Republican Party and ultimately hinders its productivity and efficiency, Charles C.W. Cooke, editor of conservative National Review Online, argued Oct. 26.
Cooke discussed the trajectory of the Republican Party, the future of federalism in the United States and the anger driving liberal and conservative politics at an event hosted by the Georgetown University Lecture Fund, Georgetown University College Republicans and Georgetown University College Democrats.
Both Democrats and Republicans are misrepresented in the court of public opinion, Cooke said.
“The Republican Party, although it looks strong at the moment, is somewhat flattered to deceive. So if you are a Republican in the audience, you should probably be aware that it looks better for Republicans than it probably is, and if you’re a Democrat, be aware that it probably looks worse for Democrats than it actually is,” Cooke said.
Cooke attributed this disparity between appearance and reality to the Republicans’ electoral dominance in federal and state governments, combined with a “civil war” occurring between moderate establishment Republicans and more populist politicians allied with President Donald Trump. Currently, the GOP controls 34 governorships and holds majorities in 33 state legislatures.
“We have a tendency in the press to look at who won the last election and extrapolate out from there how things will always be. You go back to 2008 when Barack Obama won his first election, you saw all these books published: ‘The End of Conservatism,’ ‘The Republican Party is Dead,’” Cooke said. “His ascendant coalition was forever going to sweep in Obama-style candidates to Congress, to the states, to the White House. And it didn’t happen.”
Cooke said that Trump will join former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as non-transformational presidents because Trump lacks understanding of American politics and presidential behavior.
Trump’s failure to transform American politics is related directly to fragmentation within both major political parties, especially the GOP, according to Cooke.
“The Republican Party is not really the Republican Party at the moment in the way the Democratic Party is not really the Democratic Party. The Republican Party is a number of parties that have united under one banner,” Cooke said.
This party fragmentation inevitably leads to challenges in Congress, where attempts at a moderate agenda alienate more conservative members, and attempts at a conservative agenda alienate moderate members. Cooke said this dynamic hinders Republicans, particularly Trump, from passing any substantive legislation. Trump and the GOP most recently failed to reach agreement on healthcare reform.
Trump’s inability to govern productively has left many matters to other branches of government, as well as state and local governments, according to Cooke. Cooke said this gives him reason for optimism about a return to federalism within American politics.
“He has, whether deliberately or not, set the stage for a reduction in presidential power and a return of some powers to the states and Congress, which is incredibly important,” Cooke said. “If Donald Trump doesn’t usher in a renaissance in what I consider to be the key conservative principle, which is federalism and separation of powers, then nobody will.”
Technology has led to centralization in the United States, Cooke said, bringing the country together through social media and online platforms. For this reason, Americans must try to respect and engage with those who have differing political views.
“The fact is, the hipster in Brooklyn and the Baptist in Mississippi have very little in common, not even the same language in some ways. And if they’re to thrill to the same flag, then we’re going to have to give them some breathing room. The advantage, of course, of this argument is that that’s actually the way the country is set up,” Cooke said.
The absence of federalism is intimately connected to the anger driving American politics, of which Trump is a symptom and not a cause, Cooke said.
Cooke emphasized that he was not excusing Trump’s hyper-partisan behavior, but that the rise of both Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suggests that there is an independent variable at play. Anger and anti-establishment sentiment are driving American elections.
“We are not, I think, in the moment that many people fear, or many people hope. Donald Trump is not going to become Hitler. He’s also not going to become Ronald Reagan,” Cooke said. “He will of course do things that conservatives such as myself like a great deal. When he does, his party will almost certainly stand with him.”
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