The Republican Party, of which I have been a member for over 30 years, has lost its way. At a time when most Americans believe the country has serious domestic and natural security problems, many of our party’s leaders have become calcified and have focused on catering to special interest groups and maintaining control of legislative bodies at the state and federal levels at the expense of encouraging the emergence of imaginative and useful ideas. We look to support party loyalists over those with integrity, character, drive and imagination. To rejuvenate our Party and to improve the lives of all Americans we should look to our Party’s history for inspiration and to rethink our priorities.
From the time that it was founded in the 1850s, the Republican Party was most successful when it was a party of ideas, one that developed thoughtful strategies to grapple with major issues. Historically the Republican Party was willing to dedicate national resources to solve critical problems. It understood when and when not to intervene.
The Republican Party was founded at a moment of national crisis, just prior to the Civil War, to hold together the Union and to continue our nation’s pursuit of freedom and opportunity for all. President Lincoln, an iconic American statesman of enormous character and determination, led the Republicans in holding the Union together and freeing approximately 4 million enslaved Americans. General Grant struggled against great odds to successfully end the war. Despite his ultimate failure, Grant aggressively fought the Ku Klux Klan and tried mightily to protect the rights of the newly freed slaves.
At the turn of the 20th Century, during America’s explosive industrialization phase that juxtaposed tremendous wealth and urbanization with horrific working conditions, President Theodore Roosevelt judiciously used the federal government to help temper the worst excesses of capitalism while supporting rapid industrial growth as a long term benefit for all Americans. He was also known as the Conservation President and systematically began to protect some of our most magnificent natural environments for future generations.
General Eisenhower, after a distinguished military career, chose to represent the Republican Party when offered the opportunity to be the Presidential candidate of either Party because of his belief in the GOP’s history of careful and judicious use of the federal government. Eisenhower used the federal government to build the largest and most complex project in American history—our national highway system—the scale of which demanded a federal approach. This investment enhanced our productivity and national security and benefited all Americans, not just special interests.
Eisenhower also decisively used the military to enforce the desegregation of the Little Rock schools after the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education decision. This action declared to all Americans that education equality was a national imperative.
When Democratic President Lyndon Johnson needed support to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1965, Republican Senator Everett Dirksen worked in tandem with Johnson to pass this critical piece of legislation. Republicans can be proud that more Republican senators supported this legislation than Democratic senators.
While he is rightly judged for his Watergate failures, President Nixon represented the interests of all Americans by supporting the creation of OSHA and the EPA. Most important, he deftly renewed diplomatic relations with China as a counterweight to the Soviet Union during the critical moment of the Cold War. Americans of both parties positively remember President Reagan’s actions to defeat Communism with resoluteness, his commitment to a robust military to ensure peace, and his clarity about good and evil. His attempt to unleash American industry and business to allow all Americans to seek upward mobility remains inspiring. These examples represent only an abbreviated list of the bold and thoughtful actions of Republican leaders across America’s history.
Over the recent past, the GOP has become a party of small thinkers. The choice of Donald Trump as its nominee confirms to me (and many others) that our party has lost its way. Many people I have talked to are supporting him out of desperation, despite their distaste for his bombastic, erratic, and ignorant remarks. In essence, they are rejecting "the establishment" because of its failure to confront and solve their problems.
It’s clear that to revitalize itself the Republican Party must begin by seeking candidates of character and broad experience who have exhibited records of service and competence. We must find leaders who will study existing government activities and end those efforts that fail to deliver meaningful and affordable results as well as those that are beyond the scope of government intervention. In essence, we should relearn how to economize, think boldly about government, and evaluate what works and what does not.
The Republican Party should re-evaluate its assertion that the federal government is always too large and too intrusive. The GOP must be open-minded and acknowledge that the federal government has a major role to play in select areas that protect and benefit all Americans without compromising our vibrant free market system. Any thoughtful review of our history confirms that all successful government action must be consistent with America’s traditions of freedom, the rule of law, upward mobility, the appropriate use of government, and a belief that America is a melting pot as opposed to a conglomerate of special interests.
Repairing the Republican Party will be a big job, made even more difficult by Trump’s meandering, poorly-run campaign that has turned off so many Americans…but the time to start is now.
–Now an independent investor, Paul Addis previously served as Chairman and CEO of Louis Dreyfus Highbridge Energy and Executive Vice President of American Electric Power. He resides in Delaware County.