I think I was a Republican for about fifteen minutes. During the late 1990s, it was easy to be disgusted by Bill Clinton. Even if you liked his policies, the behavior and the lying about the behavior just sat wrong. It should after all. Then, Al Gore ran for president on the slogan that seemed to be, “It’s my turn.” I turned to George W. Bush.
He was running on a platform of compassionate conservatism. That seemed to resonate some. After all, for all my political liberalism, I am personally pretty conservative. I’m a cradle Catholic that went to mass almost every Sunday (until the pandemic). I never did drugs as a kid and barely drank. I was a square and the GOP was the party of squares.
Of course, I came to my senses and pulled the lever for Gore. I simply had to look at what I believed politically and it measured up more with Democrats than it did Republicans. 2000 was as close as I got. We’ve been going in opposite directions ever since. You might wonder how one knows that. Well, it seems that for generations these political parties have these things called platforms. It’s really great. You don’t have to agree with everything the party says to be a member, but you should agree with most of it.
Imagine the surprise when I woke up to find this story. For those that don’t want to go down that particular rabbit hole, it is a link to a Fox News story that the Republican party no longer has a platform. This isn’t CNN, MSNBC, or the Weekly World News reporting this. This is Fox. Other than OANN, you won’t find a news outlet anywhere more favorable to the Republican party and the president.
Remember, the platform essentially is a way of saying, “this is what it means to be a Democrat or this is what it means to be a Republican.” There are intense fights over what will be in the platform at every convention. Other than nominating the top of the ticket, that is the practical purpose of a convention in the first place.
I’m trying to imagine a world where being a member of a party means supporting the agenda of candidate for president. Mind you, we aren’t saying what that agenda is. After all, that’s essentially what a platform is. We are just saying, “I am a Republican therefore I support everything Trump does and says.” This isn’t how America is supposed to work. Hell, it’s not even how political parties are supposed to work.
Watch any group of Democrats and you get that fact immediately. Will Rogers once famously said, “I’m not a member of an organized party. I’m a Democrat.” Your fealty has to be to a set of values. If your fealty is to the person you have taken the first introductory steps to a dictatorship. Yes, we vote for individuals, but we vote for the individual that espouses what we believe.
The practical nature of a platform becomes increasingly obvious when we move down the ticket. Most people aren’t glued into every single race. We don’t have time to attend town hall meetings for local judicial candidates or even our Congressional races. We certainly can’t for all of the state held offices. We need a simple guide that can tell us what the candidate stands for. If they call themselves a Democrat I know what they stand for in most circumstances. I used to be able to say that for Republicans.
I’m not the kind of person that believes the world would be a better place if we were all progressives and we all would just get along. That’s a pipe dream and it isn’t even the kind of fantasy I have. My fantasy still involves a diverse group of people with diverse ideas all having a productive debate over what to do on any issue. Those debates would be based on the same set of facts.
The Republicans officially don’t stand for anything anymore. Sure, you hear the same old talking points that they can blurt out on command, but let’s consider this critically. If they stand for Trump then it’s fair to ask what he stands for. He doesn’t stand for free trade. He’s made that abundantly clear. He doesn’t stand for limited government in a generic sense. He’s deployed storm troopers to cities to clamp down on protesters.
I could go on and on and we could certainly debate the wisdom of these views one by one. Maybe there was good reason to issue a bunch of tariffs. Maybe there was good reason to send unmarked soldiers to Portland. That’s not really the point. The point is that these positions are not conservative. At least they weren’t for the old Republican party.
So, who or what is the new Republican party? How can we define what they are for if they don’t know what they are for? Donald Trump can’t even articulate what he is for in terms of policy points across the board. He is a transactional president. That’s fine under normal circumstances I suppose. A sophisticated person would even call it a pragmatic style of leadership. Call it what you want. If there are no principles that you can articulate then you have no principles. Bad principles are better than no principles at all.