The Republican Party: If There Are Ashes, Is There a Phoenix?

61st House Speaker John Boehner (R). Photo: The Washington Times

On the 25th of September, John Boehner – the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives – announced he would resign from his post and Congress entirely by October. His resignation comes at a time when the Republican Party in the USA is at its worst in terms of cohesion. Calls for his resignation have always existed, but never have they been this loud. His stepping down might not mean much from a Global perspective – this will not affect any of the Presidential Candidates, nor will it influence foreign affairs – but his story is one that must be heard by all Western-style democracies, as his circumstance is one that affects nations like the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Greece, France, Japan and even China to a certain extent. If we are to forge through this time of political change, we should look back at Boehner, for he is a sign of things to come.

John Boehner gave two main reasons for his resignation. The first and most important one was the Pope’s recent visit to Washington D.C. During the speech Il Papa gave before the American Congress, he called for Democrats and Republicans to be more co-operative, and to end the current period of Congressional stagnation (in 2014, the 113th Congress was called the “worst ever” as it had passed the least amount of bills in history, 234). Boehner, a Catholic, was deeply moved by the Pope’s speech, it acting as a catalyst for his resignation.

The Pope addresses Congress. Photo: Business Insider
The Pope addresses Congress. Photo: Business Insider

The other main reason given was the splitting of the Republican party. The Republican party’s radical wing, the so-called “Tea Party” has threatened America with a Government Shutdown (a temporary cancelling of all non-essential government services) if Congress doesn’t cut its funding for Planned Parenthood, a birth control and abortion provider. While Boehner is opposed to abortion, the wounds of the last Government Shutdown a mere two years ago run deep in him. He remembers the damage it did both to the government and the Republican party. He doesn’t want a repeat. Because he couldn’t control his own party, he decided to resign. Some pundits have claimed his decision is like a captain deciding to jump off a sinking ship rather than be pushed.

His last decision begs the question, what has happened to the Republican party? Its nickname is literally “The Grand Old Party” a.k.a, GOP. How can such a “Grand” party be in such a state of disarray that a leading member decided to leave? Many have asked “Why is the party that elected Lincoln and Reagan so fractured?”

Republican Senator Rand Paul at Howard University, appealing to the black vote. Photo: The Atlantic
Republican Senator Rand Paul at Howard University, appealing to the black vote. Photo: The Atlantic

Before we delve into the history of the GOP, it’s important to remember that the Republican party started off as the left-leaning party. For most of its early history, it was concerned with more liberal policies than other parties. This is why its colour is red, the traditional colour of the left. However, this all changed nearly one hundred years after the party’s birth.

In the 1960s, the GOP was humiliated in the polls, losing their first election in 1960 to some young, inexperienced, philandering Irish boy named John F. Kennedy. They then lost the next election in 1964 to his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, by such a large margin he was nicknamed “Landslide Baines Johnson”. The Republican party was losing and losing big. They sought out what would be their most notorious political calculation to gain votes, The Southern Strategy.

The Southern Strategy was a plan to control the American south, which would be half of both Congress and the Senate. The Strategy was created in the late ‘6os, just after the ending of Segregation between Whites and Blacks. Many Southern voters were resentful of this change. The Strategy sought to control them by appealing to them, with lines from it saying “[T]he Republicans are never going to get more than 10 percent to 20 percent of the Negro vote… [Because] the more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are.” It was designed to pander to right wing southerners. This led to a dramatic shift in American politics, one wherein the Republicans would always match voters in the South, rather than the more centrist general right wing.

The Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are.

In the beginning, the Southern Strategy worked. The very next President was Richard Nixon, a Republican. After his successor, Gerald Ford – another Republican – there was the Democrat Jimmy Carter who lasted a mere four years in office. After that, the next twelve years and two Presidents would be Republican. Ever since the Southern Strategy, with the exception of one one-term Democrat, there were twenty consecutive years of Republican Presidents. That is certainly a sign of success for the Southern Strategy.

Reaper of the Southern Strategy Pres. Richard Nixon. Photo: FOX News
Reaper of the Southern Strategy Pres. Richard Nixon. Photo: FOX News

What the Republicans didn’t foresee however was another political factor catalyzing right-wing rhetoric. Gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is when, due to changing and moving populations, political district lines are redrawn. In America, the elected officials have the power to redraw their own district lines. This means that all officials, not just Republicans, drew their district lines so that they would always win, as they included neighbourhoods in their district which would vote for them anyway. This may have seemed like a good idea, but it leads to a problem of radicalization. When  a district ends up voting for a right-wing candidate all the time, the district will become increasingly right-wing. Ditto left. This meant that candidates would have to worry about pandering to more radical, even nonsensical beliefs, or else be thrown out of office and be replaced by another radical, nonsensical candidate. Gerrymandering and forced pandering in the South is what created the extremist wing of the GOP, the Tea Party. Because this process has gone on unchecked, the problem is merely getting exacerbated.

When  a district ends up voting for a right-wing candidate all the time, the district will become increasingly right-wing

The final  and more immediate problem has to do with the current President, Barack Obama. As stated earlier, the current Congress is the most unproductive in history, with only 234 bills passed. One of the reasons for this has to do with Barack Obama. When Obama was elected, the Republican party took a vow which stated that the GOP would never vote for a bill by Obama, for a win for Obama must mean a loss for the Republicans. This rule was created immediately after Obama took office in 2009, when the Democrats had a majority in both Congress and the Senate. By the next election the Republicans had a majority in Congress, and their plan made government less effective. The opposition to Obama within the Republican party has become so strong that one current Republican Presidential Candidate – Governor Chris Christie – has been criticized for shaking Obama’s hand after the President gave his state relief money after Hurricane Sandy.

Barack Obama and Chris Christie sharing condolences after Hurricane Sandy
Barack Obama and Chris Christie sharing condolences after Hurricane Sandy

The end result of these problems is a GOP without aim. The party is split between three factions. The post-Southern Strategy “neocons”, Tea Partiers who hold far-right views (i.e. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and other Southerners). The pre-Southern Strategy “Establishment Republicans” who view their party as distancing itself from a changing America, who hold centre-right views (i.e. John McCain and Boehner himself). The third – and smaller – faction is that of the “Outsiders”, who call for drastic reform and wish for a more principled party (i.e. Rand Paul and Donald Trump). The GOP is so split that as of this writing, there are 15 active candidates in the election for the Republican Presidential Candidacy. This is huge in contrast to the Democrat’s 4 candidates.

The oddest point of Boehner’s resignation was who supports his choice. Before his resignation, a vote was scheduled to remove him. He resigned rather than risk being removed, despite most estimates predicting him staying if the vote were made. Stranger still, most of the people who were expected to remove him are Republicans, and almost all Democrats were planning to keep him. These estimates show the changing dynamics of the Republican party. The Democrats want Boehner to stay, even though Democrats disagree on most issues with Boehner. They want him to stay, because they fear his replacement, who would most likely be a neocon from the Tea Party, rather than a more moderate establishment Republican. In fact, his resignation was cheered by Tea Party poster boy and Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz, a fellow Republican.

Tea Party Poster boy Ted Cruz. Photo: fixthisnation.com
Tea Party Poster boy Ted Cruz. Photo: fixthisnation.com

Boehner’s resignation is a sign of the biggest problem in Western-style democracies. One of changing party dynamics, one where a party becomes more extreme and risks losing votes, where a party loses its principles in trying to solve the problem and merely exacerbates it. The same problem affects the UK, with the Labour Party being fractured in belief. It affects Canada, with the Conservative Party being torn between the leader and the voters. It affects Australia, where the head of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister was removed in a vote of no-confidence for being too extreme. It affects Japan, where the head of the LDP and Prime Minister frequently has to discipline his party’s more radical elements. It affects Greece, where a snap election was recently called after the head of Syriza and Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, lost the support of one third of his party. It affects France, where the French Socialist Party – the party of the working class- is being dominated by the “gauche caviar”, flying in the face of its ideals. The problem the Republican Party faces is one we will all have to face in the coming years. Will we act like Boehner and abandon the ship, or will we look for solutions to our problem, even if it seems hopeless? The West’s so-called liberal democracies were once the envy of the world in terms of representing the people, but little did we realize, the parties aren’t representing us. We’re representing the parties.


Sources include IAC/InterActiveCorp, Politico, Wikipedia, The Daily Show, The New York Times, EC Network, BBC, NPR and the Discovery Network

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