How to Get Your Daddy’s GOP Back

Ed Kilgore does a great job of summarizing why George Pataki got nowhere in his effort to run for the Republican nomination and decided to drop out before a single vote was cast. He was running for the nomination of a party that no longer exists. But there’s a follow-up question to that. Is there any way to recreate the old Republican Party?

There’s an article in the upcoming issue of the Washington Monthly that suggests that we might get less gridlock in DC and more bipartisan legislation if lawmakers had more access to information and more control over the legislative process. I don’t want to suggest that this solution wouldn’t work. I think it would be quite helpful.

But I also think that it will take more to recreate a space for politicians like George Pataki or Jim Webb or Lincoln Chafee.

If I were a billionaire and I wanted my grandfather’s Republican Party back, I’d start by focusing on the House of Representatives. My first target would be California’s 53 congressional seats. Candidates in the Golden State run in open primaries and without formal party affiliation. I’d try to find as many candidates to run in the primaries as I could who would be willing to make me two promises. The first promise is that they take climate change seriously and that they support reproductive rights. The second promise is that they would not vote on the first ballot for anyone for Speaker of the House who wasn’t on my slate of candidates.

Just as the Freedom Caucus was able to force Speaker Boehner out, a more liberal rump could veto a Republican speaker and insist on a leader of their liking. This rump would also be available to vote sensibly on climate and reproductive choice, but their real mission would be to force the leadership of the House to break with the conservatives.

Once this was accomplished, these sitting lawmakers could make other demands, including on how the RNC and the RNCC allocate funds and other resources. In particular, they might be able to compel the official Republican organs to spend money on their reelections and on the election of like-minded candidates in other parts of the country.

New England doesn’t have the ballot access laws that make it possible to supplant conservative candidates in the primaries, but they have electorates that might support more moderate, independent candidates if enough people could be convinced to take a second look at the Republican Party and participate in their primaries. Short of that, independents like Angus King and Bernie Sanders still exist up there, and politicians like Jim Jeffords, Lincoln Chafee, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe would be more comfortable caucusing with my California slate than with the Tom DeLay-types that dominate the party today. Those are senators or former senators, of course, but I might be able to break through with a small handful of congresspersons who would agree to my conditions.

The basic idea is get enough people in Congress to blackmail the conservatives who run the Republican Party into making concessions about who will run the leadership. Then the new leadership would rely on my group for the votes they need to keep the government running without constant threats of default or shutdown. At first, the governing majority in the House would be made up mostly of Democrats, but that’s already the case. The difference would be that the leadership could do this unapologetically and without fear of being removed in a rightwing coup.

With this little trick, bipartisan consensus would be restored, at least to the degree necessary to operate the government. Bipartisan legislation would follow, and conservative chairmen who were unwilling to compromise would be steamrolled or simply find themselves completely ineffectual.

I can foresee a lot of obstacles in this plan and even more potential for unintended consequences, but it’s the best I can come up with for now.

The Republican Party can’t really represent California or New England anymore, and the people there should have a real choice. If they’re unhappy with their Democratic representatives, they shouldn’t have to overlook the alternative’s climate science denialism or anti-women’s rights stances. And, as it stands now, you can elect a moderate Republican if one happens to show up, but if they go to DC and vote for Paul Ryan as Speaker, you’re not getting moderate representation. The people need a softer right alternative to the modern Republican Party. And the country needs to find a way to break their ability to cause gridlock on the federal level.

As the Freedom Caucus demonstrated, it doesn’t take all that many members to force a change in leadership, and that’s how I think people should proceed if they want to restore the GOP to sanity and get our government working on a reality-based basis again.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.