The future of the Republican Party: The elephant in the room

Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series about the future of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party has lost five of the last six national popular votes for president, and the nature of their single win was unique and not likely to ever be repeated again.

In Maine, no Republican presidential candidate has carried the state since George H.W. Bush in 1988, and, with the exception of the 2010 midterm elections, the state has had a generally miserable track record electing candidates at the state level.

Most Republicans bristle at the idea of self-analyzing and speaking unflatteringly about the party. To heap criticism on ourselves breaks Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment, and it gives aid and comfort to the critics in the Democratic Party who are gleefully dancing on the GOP’s prematurely dug grave right now.

However, I have always had a belief that it is impossible to succeed without honest self-assessment and criticism. I believe failure breeds success but only if the underlying reasons for that failure are correctly identified, confronted, addressed and then overcome.

Reflection is not something to be feared but embraced.

Up to this point, the avalanche of prognostication regarding the failure of the Republican Party has been a vapid echo chamber of rhetorical nonsense, superficial in its supposed logic.

I hope to change that. I do not have the political equivalent of The Ninety-Five Theses, nor do I have a door on which to nail it, but I do seek fundamental change in the Republican Party because it needs a reformation of sorts.

As much as reform is needed, though, the reality is that things are not that bad for the Republicans.

Imagine what it was probably like to be a Democrat on Nov. 9, 1988. The Republican Party had just won its third consecutive landslide election in a row. Five of the previous six presidential elections had produced huge Republican wins.

Republicans everywhere were gloating over their unbreakable dominance, and Democrats, depressed and beaten, tried to figure out how they had lost middle America.  The country had fundamentally changed, and they hadn’t changed with it.

The Democrats recovered. So will the Republicans. To do that, though, the Republican Party will have to overcome some enormous challenges.

Let’s start by, if you will forgive the pun, acknowledging the elephant in the room. The most fundamental problem that, by itself, will prevent the Republicans from making positive change.

I’m talking about the increasing tendency of those in my party toward self-deception, allowing tunnel vision and confirmation bias to overwhelm their good sense.

Put another way, Republicans no longer seek conflicting information to challenge their opinions. They seek the very opposite.

One of the best examples of this troubling pattern is the conservative relationship to the mainstream press. So reviled and mistrusted are traditional reporters, that conservatives dismiss their work entirely, searching for alternative sources of information to get the truth they believe they are missing.

While this may, at times, be justified and savvy, the reality is that the sources of information they turn to are more polluted than those they flee from. But if that polluted information confirms one’s own individual bias, that automatically makes it trustworthy.

Over the years, we’ve grown so accustomed to misinformation being used against us by the left and its media allies, that we began to (without realizing it) use our own misinformation against ourselves.

Lately, if it sounds too good to be true about a political opponent, it is automatically assumed to be true, and rather than hunting for information that might contradict that, we hunt for information that will confirm it.

In the Internet age, those seeking to confirm their darkest suspicions have endless outlets to obtain that confirmation, regardless of the truth. There is no need for factual accountability.

If your view of reality is polluted, you base all decisions on self-deception, and you will fail.  Without fixing this, we cannot acknowledge any of our fundamental problems or even begin to find solutions to them.

The tragedy is that at this moment the Republicans have the deepest bench of potential leaders in a generation, particularly at the state level in governors’ mansions and state capitals.

Yet we threaten to waste that talent because we have fallen victim to our inability to confront basic truths about our country, our party or the voters we are asking to vote for us.

Without overcoming that, nothing I will say in the next few weeks will matter.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political operative. He serves as the Director of Digital Strategy for the Republican Governors Association, and has previously worked for Senator Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.