The future of the Republican Party: Phoenix rises

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

I’ve spent three weeks now being somewhat hard on my own party.

In so doing, I have attempted to diagnose the fundamental problems that are holding back the Republicans from forging a winning coalition that has the capability to dominate electoral politics.

Part of the problem are the simple idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of the last couple presidential elections. Each candidate, on both sides of the aisle, brings unique strengths and weaknesses, which couple with national mood and the dynamics of the race, to produce a unique circumstance that will not again be reproduced.

That was certainly true in 2008 and 2012, as a uniquely talented Democrat with a world-class campaign organization took on weaker Republican candidates and a favorable electoral environment.

Yet to assign Republican losses to that alone would be a disservice.

The first thing a football team does after a loss is review the tape from the preceding game, to see what went wrong. Sober evaluations are conducted to find out why the team lost, and solutions are dreamed up.

There are fundamental problems the party faces that must be confronted if it wants to win again. That is why, despite my own strong partisanship, I’ve spent three weeks telling you what was wrong.

My party has suffered from self delusion that has prevented it from being aware enough to identify its problems. It has lost its ability to connect with voters because it has forgotten that politics is about identity and not ideology. On top of it all, Republicans have put themselves at a tactical disadvantage in the science of campaigning, which has cost them dearly.

So what now?

This may have been a bad election for the GOP, but it was hardly devastating. Both parties have faced much steeper challenges than the Republicans presently face.

Think, for instance, about the immediate aftermath of Watergate. In 1976, the Democrats had an overwhelming win in the Electoral College, together with fewer than 300 seats in the House of Representatives and 61 senators. The Republican brand was badly tarnished, and if there was ever a time one of the major parties would evaporate, that was it.

Yet only four years later, Ronald Reagan won 44 states in the presidential election, and the Senate changed hands.

The point is, the party will rise again, like a Phoenix from its own ashes. The process has already begun.

A new, pragmatic, results- and ideas-oriented style of Republicanism has already taken hold in dozens of state houses around the country, where laboratories of policy and experimentation are underway from leaders who have the boldness to try.

In addition, there is a new brand of optimistic, serious conservatism in pockets of Washington, where a handful of senators and congressional representatives are offering a counterbalance to the liberal agenda.

These leaders make up the strongest bench of potential presidential candidates that either party has seen in the last 100 years.

They understand that to lead again, the party must offer its own vision for why a voter should vote for them, based on realities faced by real people. Jack Kemp once said, “You don’t beat a thesis with an antithesis; you beat it with a better thesis.” This is something they understand.

When the Republican Party wins again (and it will), people will look back at this period and argue that the GOP identified its problems in 2012 and made a conscious effort to respond to them.

Yet, the writing for change was already on the wall and would have happened with or without an electoral defeat in 2012. Indeed, the march toward a modernized Republican Party was always going to happen, once the generation of Republicans currently 35 and younger took the reins.

This is a generation of people that has understood the party’s fundamental problems for years and has been trying to change them but haven’t had the ability to. Yet. Now, they are beginning to.

More importantly, for the past six years, a variety of next-generation leaders have been developing their identity, ideology and records, and their stamp on the party was always going to be the one that changed it.

In politics, sometimes electoral trends materialize years after they emerge, just as the 2008 Democratic landslide began to manifest itself in 2003.

No self-immolation was necessary to make this transition, and the soul-searching that my party is currently going through is more a psychological exhaust vent of frustration than a real driver of change.

That real change began years ago, and the fruits of that change will soon be apparent. The Phoenix will rise again.

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.