Now that the GOP has taken back the legislature, if they want to change this country for the better they have to wield power effectively while thinking about the future. To do this they need to better understand and apply party politics. By utilizing the party system, the GOP could more efficaciously run the government by filling positions and creating network of policy experts. Republicans need to think beyond this election and even the 2016 presidential election; they must take a long-term strategic view of politics, policy, and power.
Due to the federalist character of the American polity, political parties were historically stronger at the state rather than federal level. There were strong partisan loyalties until the 1970’s when people stopped casting as many straight-ticket ballots, splitting the parties whom they supported for president and Congress. In addition, during the twentieth century American parties became increasingly democratized, like the direct primary for presidential elections, which would weaken the parties’ strength overall. However, one can see the enduring qualities of the Democratic and Republican Parties in that they have lasted some 160 years. It is important to note that although fewer people are officially associated with political parties, it does not mean that they form new ones. Even if split-ticket voting occurs and there are more independents now, people still elect Democrats and Republicans. American political culture has historically limited the power of political parties in comparison to their European counterparts, but this does not mean they must continuously decline in utility.
Most political scientists understand and are committed to the notion that political parties are beneficial to national politics. Parties are especially important in Congress where they have a larger presence and role than in presidential politics, which is more about the particular candidate. Presidentially, parties took a more national outlook because of the nature of the primary elections after 1968. Yet this move to direct primaries also changed the nature of parties at the state level as well. Previously parties were strong in states, and they operated “party machines.” Party machines began to break apart when the electorate had a much larger say in who would get nominated for the party. State organizations are no longer the sine qua non of political involvement.
We have to build on more than popularity and a single election or person; we need to build a lasting coalition. Maintenance and change take time in a large system. Bill Clinton came into office and used his pen to write executive orders to implement environmental regulations, but then George W. Bush came into office and used a different pen to do away with them. It is with political parties that one can build reasonable coalitions for the maintenance of the system. If the party just relies on a single politician, policies will not remain; they will be undone soon after because candidates with charisma come in and then the influence dissipates. A charismatic candidate can raise a lot of money, but he can’t necessarily implement good policy.
To achieve this coalition and preparation for good governance and administration, the GOP will need to focus on ideologically, racially, and economically diverse parts of the electorate. First, and most importantly, the party cannot continue with the delusion of ideological purity. The base makes up only about a fifth of the country. This does not mean abandoning conservative values, but it does mean stopping the removal of moderates and those who sometimes dissent. Second, as the GOP has already started, the party will need to focus on expanding minority membership of the party. Just looking at the percentage of voters in the 2012 election, Republicans need to seek at least 35% of the Hispanic and Asian vote, an 8 and 9 point increase respectively. In addition, they should seek at least 10% of the African-American vote, a 4 point increase, and the White vote to 65% from 59%. This would have given the GOP 52.65% of the vote in 2012, a respectable margin by any standard.
To succeed Republicans also need to focus on how their policies will help each demographic and the country as a whole. For instance, surveys have shown African-Americans support policies like school choice, which would overwhelmingly help the black community. But this also means showing current Democratic constituencies how liberal policies hurt them. For example, radical environmentalist policies, like Obama’s anti-coal and anti-Keystone positions, increase consumer prices and put blue collar workers out of jobs. Blue collar workers typically support the Democrats, but this is a chance to break the left’s coalition by revealing their internal conflicts.
Bringing all of this together and re-establishing a strong party system, the GOP and conservatives have the chance to influence the country and govern efficiently for decades. Republicans have historically lagged behind in registered party members to the Democrats, but now is the opportunity to become the dominant political party.