Many Americans believe the two major parties to be elite-driven and unrepresentative of the broader public. To them, the control parties exert over the process of government is one of the more repellent features of state and national politics.
Rather than advancing candidates who are primarily committed to representing citizens in their districts and states, party brokers tend to seek out and endorse candidates who are faithful to and controllable by the party. The result is a two-tier system of loyalties that often elbows out the people’s interests.
That’s especially true in the bitterly partisan world of Washington today where majorities are slender, battle lines are sharply drawn, combatants keep meticulous score, and the parties endeavor to strictly control their affiliated politicians.
Those rare candidates who can be counted on to simply do the right thing can be kicked to the curb when party elites find the right thing to be contrary to their immediate interests.
Jay Cost of RealClearPolitics.com has defined a political party as “an extra-governmental conspiracy to control the government,” a centralizing force “trying to unite all governmental power under the party banner.” The “shared belief among the conspirators that their interests are linked” is really the only glue that binds a political party together.
Though their instincts and interests remain unchanged, both parties are under pressure this year, including from people who are usually predisposed to favor them – Democrats from left-wing special interests and cultural/racial “wokesters,” and Republicans from other special interests, plus an amorphous set of voters who remember or ideologically mirror the 2010 grassroots “tea party” phenomenon that sought governmental common sense and fiscal responsibility. Today, tea partiers are less-well or unorganized, but the broad sentiment survives.
The GOP needs these people, especially in Pennsylvania where Republicans are at a registration disadvantage.
Clearly, the Republicans’ historical platform is more closely aligned with most of them than the Democrats’, however, common sense voters interested in fiscal responsibility include large numbers of unaffiliated voters and more traditional Democrats, too.
The Republican Party will not get donations from most independents and virtually no Democrats, but the right Republican candidates can get their votes. The problem is that many candidates attractive to these people tend to be too independent for the party.
Back in the day, Republican Party operatives spoke of “capturing” the grassroots. In fact, even though most authentic grassroots organizations didn’t endorse, party officials cynically attempted to form their own “grassroots” groups to endorse machine candidates.
Republican officials miscalculated. Grassroots voters neither wanted to nor could they be captured. They were critical of both parties for what they correctly perceived to be business as usual. They still are.
In 2010, smart candidates didn’t try to “capture” the grassroots, but, understanding that common causes are sufficient to set and satisfy mutual objectives, they channeled the grassroots’ energy. The difference between “capture” and “channel” is a small but important point.
Coincidentally, grassroots groups decided that better organization and greater focus returns better results – the sort of structure and focus the parties already had. Our system doesn’t favor third parties, so unless they were content to field spoilers, selecting a major party made sense. Accordingly, due to Washington Democrats’ excesses and overreach, the grassroots’ interests were more symbiotic with the GOP. That’s still (mostly, but not entirely) true.
Grassroots energy and turnout were instrumental in creating a November, 2010, electoral tsunami in which Republicans picked up 63 House seats to take control of that chamber, and gained six Senate seats.
Frankly, the 2010 results were not attributable to GOP elites’ political brilliance and campaign strategies.
The subliminal lesson of the November, 2010 “not-them” election was that, if fiscally responsible voters come to the GOP, they will more likely be delivered by principled, independent Republican candidates who speak their language and earn their trust.
2024 is shaping up to be another Republican opportunity.
If it’s about winning elections, then it might be a small price to pay to make these active, energized people more trustful of Republicans by relinquishing certain traditional party prerogatives such as candidate endorsements in primary elections.
However, if it’s only about controlling the process, that’s an entirely different conversation.
The Republican Party must decide which is more important. Its long-term success might well depend on the choices it makes.