By David Beilstein
BOXING has for decades been a common metaphor from everything to the vagaries and struggle of life to political commentary. In which case, boxing – though ebbing in popularity – is an apt trope to sightsee into the current Republican Party electoral malaise.
The skill-sets of a championship prizefighter are built decades before winning the title. The blood and sweat forged through long hours in the gym prescribe the future tools required for victory. There is much losing that creates winning. Little is paid attention to the loss – but it is required in order create victory.
The same is true in electoral politics.
From January of 1981 until January 1993; Democrats were sequestered to the wilderness of presidential politics. The big issues – foreign policy and economic freedom and expansion – had successfully been taken from them. Never remove from the mind Democrats lost because progressive policies worsened these American pillars.
Following President Jimmy Carter’s economic incompetence and impotent handling of crisis blooming across the seas, Republicans successfully championed policy that worked.
In eight years Republicans revived a fledgling economy through classical liberal formulations of free markets and de-regulation and rebuilt American strength and dependability abroad. The Reagan revolution laid the groundwork for 25 years of economic expansion. When Republicans lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 – inspiring Reagan policies where they could. They forced President Clinton’s hand. These congressional inroads were built on the foundation laid by Reagan even though the Clinton White House got credit for it.
Just think! Since 1981 tax rates are dramatically lower and Democrats even up to President Barack Obama face a popular revolt in tax increases. When Reagan entered office there seemed little strange about a top marginal rate of 70%.
Bu wait. The entire time Democrats were lost in the wilderness electorally they did not recant their political positions. They doubled down on them and communicated their progressive messages where they could. Local elections and national elections became the all important gym work hardening Democratic Party resolve and preparing and converting growing numbers of citizens sympathetic with their progressive ideals.
It took more than 12 years for Democrats to gain back the trust of American voters on economic and foreign policy. They succeeded, however, not because their policies work in the aggregate but because Republicans abandoned major elements of classical liberalism. George H.W. Bush jumped off the supply-sider train – raising taxes and pushing through further regulation. He was defeated soundly in 1992 because those policy choices had negative consequences on American quality of life and opportunity.
The point of all this seems clear. Republican leadership seems hell bent already to change core elements of their platform in order to win voter’s affections after a debilitating defeat at the hands of failed Obama presidency and his party.
But it took time – decades of time! – for Democrats to win the voting public’s faith. Democrats did not water down their message or jettison their party platform just because in temporal circumstances they suffered three landslide defeats (Carter, Mondale, Dukakis).
Republicans, then, face the same etiolating circumstances. But they are in a more prosperous station politically. The condition of the country is such that environmental factors effecting American’s freedoms – economically especially – will get worse under progressive policy. Unlike the Democratic Party whose electoral defeats left them with minimum large issues to champion, they still brought dispirit groups together building electoral successes in preparation for the future.
While Republicans ran Broadway, Democrats took control of the small off Broadway houses.
Those low rent off Broadway digs paid dividends. Democrats honed their message and built a local and national Democratic machine that is now winning national elections and capturing Republican electoral turf once thought impossible.
Those successes grew and by the end of the 20th century Democrats had their first two-term president since FDR and now find themselves with a second two-term president only 12 years removed from the Clinton era.
Democrats did this by championing progressive convictions even when they seemed unpopular to the electorate. It is true that had Bush I and Bush II championed the kind of classical liberal sentiments of Goldwater-Reagan, they would have prevented much of this Democratic resurgence.
But the resurgence happened and now the question arises what can be done about it?
The governorships of America are the minor leagues of the presidency. Republicans need to focus on state-by-state races – winning the governorships and championing limited government approaches. While working with Republican gains in Congress, this army of GOP governors can forge walls of protection against Federal overreach. And it prepares the field of battle for resurgent presidential victories with wider pathways to the vaunted 270 in the Electoral College.
Competent governance always creates opportunities for higher office.
When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 it was preceded by an unsuccessful presidential run in 1976 and decades of Reagan championing classical liberal solutions in the face of steep American decline.
Reagan created the environment ideologically and culturally for his victory. He did it by sticking to his core convictions and expressing them cogently and coherently.
It is not enough to run on so called conservative policies in a vacuum – in the face of a public that has not been educated in the language and meaning of classical liberal philosophy. Classical liberalism has to be taught and it has to be repeated even when it seems to be losing at first.
When President Jimmy Carter and his Vice-President fell to Reagan landslides, the Democratic Party did not give up on their progressive vision. They did not jettison class warfare or other leftist panegyrics about taxing the rich. They kept at it – plodding forward behind a hammer-like jab in the face of their opposition.
The result, then, was the election of Bill Clinton to two terms. And now Obama.
Republican leadership now seems tempted by grave error. In the face of being a regional party electorally irrelevant the temptation strikes GOP show runners to abandon robust classical liberalism in order to compromise with statist presumptions.
But this is a road map to further Republican electoral ruination – especially since progressive policies if followed consistently by the Democratic Party will create structural break down of those ideals and freedoms Americans still expect.
It requires time to rebuild a party seen by the electorate as detached and incompetent. And it requires guts and fortitude to stay on course even when success seems small and insignificant. But Republicans need to learn the lessons Democrats are now experiencing: big things – including sweeping electoral victory – have small beginnings.
It takes time, folks. Just look at Ronald Reagan – an actor.
An actor who lost many another election and through classical liberalism catapulted into the California governorship and eventually the presidency by landslide.