Dear Republicans—It seems like just yesterday we sat watching the presidential election returns, but that was two long years ago. We know you enjoyed winning, and we’re sure your schadenfreude was as delicious as your victory. But after you win, you have to govern. That’s a lot harder. You were lucky last election because Democrats developed a habit of making Republican wins easy. But you won’t be lucky next time, because Democrats also have a habit of making Republican governing difficult. As they take control of the House of Representatives, they will make it very difficult for you, harder than you made it for yourselves, which is tough to fathom.
Your inclination will be to dismiss them as “snowflakes,” “commies,” or worse, but that would be doubling down on behavior the American people rejected in the midterms.
You think that Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was a repudiation of the Democrats. It was. But you have concluded, incorrectly, that it was a validation of your own party. The midterms should have made that clear. In most voters’ eyes you were merely the lesser of two evils. Mistake that for love or support at your own peril, because if you do, whoever runs against you in the next presidential election will win handily.
No, the midterm election was not a blue wave. But it was a drubbing, a drubbing you earned because people don’t trust you. Your standard bearer is a classless tweeting lunatic with no fixed ideas and even less loyalty. He comes off as a narcissist, mostly because he is, and the American people are rightly wondering what you see in him. You can start to address this by finding some congressional backbone. He has his job, and you have yours. If you took that seriously, things would likely be a lot better, both for you and for the country.
It has become painfully clear over the last two years that the GOP is a party without a purpose. Winning is not a purpose; it is a means to an end. When you decided that winning was the end, you forfeited your ability to do anything worthwhile. What has emerged? A Republican party that has no identifiable goals, and no reason whatsoever to claim success in governing. In every meaningful respect, Trump has simply carried forward his predecessor’s policies to disastrous effect. We are still at war with a good part of the globe, and our debt has become so large as to be incomprehensible. Trillion dollar deficits have become the norm. All the worst parts of Obamacare remain. Millions of Americans continue to rot in prison for victimless crimes. And “regular Americans” treat each other with less respect than ever.
In just about every way, you have managed to alienate the American people, who now simply don’t like you. But it wasn’t always so. Republicans used to promote national strength and unity. They used to talk about the ideas that bound Americans together. Now you only talk about the things that divide us.
Once upon a time Republicans were the party of economic growth and fiscal sanity. You encouraged us to be proud of our country, but not to be blindly nationalistic. You held America up to the world as an example of freedom; you didn’t lock out the huddled masses who sought that freedom. You gave us conservative candidates who offered a clear vision for realizing the full potential of human freedom, not authoritarian hacks who drum up votes by promising to punish political opponents. You used to offer candidates who cared more about serving than ruling.
Republicans, your two-year journey begins now. Most Americans are not interested in buying more of what you have been selling, and they will take a pig in a poke over you if that’s the choice they are given in 2020. Bet on it.
Democrats share with you the blame for what has become of our government. But your time for blaming is over. When half of America chants, “not my President” regardless of which candidate wins, both parties have failed. You and the Democrats have a long walk back to respectability. Start that walk now, while there’s still time to repair the damage you both have done. If you hurry, you’ll find us, the American people, waiting to listen. If not, well...look back to the Federalist, Whig, and Democratic-Republican parties. Where did they go? Exactly.
Antony Davies is associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. James R. Harrigan teaches in the department of Political Economy and Moral Science at the University of Arizona. They host the weekly podcast, Words & Numbers.