North by Northwestern is pleased to bring back Dormroom Debate, where two students take on a political issue from opposite sides of the political spectrum. This week, our writers grapple with the uncertain future of the Republican Party and just how much trouble the GOP is in after the 2012 election. Photos of the authors by Sunny Kang / North by Northwestern.
I’m a Medill sophomore double majoring in American history and I’ve been liberal as long as I could remember.
While growing up in the far suburbs of New York City in a devoutly Democratic family certainly has its influences, the ideas of my parents’ party have always just made sense to me, even when we’ve butted heads about just how far these ideas should be taken.
To me, it makes sense to have a government that invests in and financially protects its citizens as long as they meet their end of the bargain. It makes sense to me to have a government that guarantees not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. It makes sense to me to have a government that’s more concerned with preserving peace than projecting power.
But more than anything, I believe if politicians focused more on the good of their country and less on the good of their party, the actions that they’d take would make a lot more sense.
When it comes to missed opportunities for the Republican Party, it doesn't get much worse than 2012.
With a majority in the House of Representatives, an economy slowly rebounding from near ruin and a president who overestimated how well his policies would work and then failed to communicate the smaller but significant progress they did make, the Grand Old Party seemed poised to take back the reigns of the American government.
Now all they needed was a charismatic presidential candidate with clearly defined conservative policies who could relate with the millions of Americans tired with the seemingly unfulfilled promises of the Obama administration. All they needed to do was drive home one simple message: Obama and his party are all fluff, no filler.
Instead they ran Mitt Romney, arguably the only competent candidate with enough funding to challenge Obama (sorry, Jon Huntsman).
Then, they paired a political opportunist and his inconsistent platform with an ideologue budget-hawk who relied on faulty math and lies to pander to voters who despised Obama anyway, inherently neglecting the independent and undecided voters upon which their success would be contingent.
To cap it all off, the GOP turned a campaign that in all logic should have been a manifesto on economic policy into one about abortion, women's rights and even rape.
The result? On election night, Obama handily beat Romney, winning eight of nine swing states in the process. The Democrats slightly improved their majority in the Senate and the Republican majority in the House was reduced by eight seats. The most crushing blow for the GOP was not the diminutive ground that they lost, but rather the enormous ground that they failed to gain.
But why was it that the Republicans failed to muster a suitable presidential candidate or take back a government bogged down in partisan bickering, a debt crisis and a near-stagnant economy on Obama's watch?
It wasn't because the Democrats are particularly strong, but rather because forces within and outside of the Republican Party are weakening it.
First and foremost is the Tea Party caucus within the House of Representatives.
Taking cues from the Tea Party movement that put them in power, newly anointed Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took great pains to oppose anything Obama tried to do, aiming to make him a one term president.
But in an ironic and poetically just twist of fate, the same force that brought the party to power is threatening its basic functionality two years later. The recent battle over the Fiscal Cliff is a perfect case study.
While the Democrats did argue internally, some Republican congressmen refused to vote for a deal that raised taxes, citing their allegiance to Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge when he himself said that the proposed solution would be innocuous enough to pass his test.
In the end, the cliff was avoided in part, but the Republican leadership went separate ways with their votes. Boehner and Ryan voted yea while Cantor and Florida Senator Marco Rubio voted nay. Even before the vote, the Republicans had ample opportunity to shove the spending cuts they so passionately desired into the deal, but failed to reach an agreement on how to do so before a decision was due.
Just how damaged and hapless the Republican leadership is will be tested in the impending battle over the debt ceiling crisis and sequestration. Like in 2012, the Republicans have enough political capital to make a serious mark on Washington, in this case by shaping just how much money our federal government spends in the future.
But then again, like in 2012, it's not the ideas that are holding the party back: it's the execution. It's a lack of clear leadership and unity that prevents Republicans who want to take a responsible approach to federal spending from agreeing with Republicans who want a government so small they can "drown it in the bathtub."
As anti-idealistic as it sounds, the political polarization in Washington has reached a point where bipartisan agreements aren't a goal but rather a concession. But if the Republicans want to defeat the Democrats, first they must defeat themselves.
I’m a Medill freshman from Cleveland, Ohio. I consider myself very socially conservative, and my Catholic upbringing certainly helped shaped this. My individual life experiences and introspection have strengthened these foundations, so my beliefs are the product of both religious and personal means.
I am slightly more moderate when it comes to fiscal matters, but I still fall within the realm of conservatism. Both my dad and maternal grandfather lost their fathers at a young age, so their stories of hard work and self-determination to make their own living have inspired me. I firmly believe in the power of the human spirit, and the oft-cited Chinese parable of “Give a man a fish...teach a man to fish...” perfectly sums up my belief on the government’s proper role. I am not opposed on principle to most federal programs, but I believe that their aim should be to make themselves unnecessary over time. The government should focus less on instantly solving its citizens’ problems and focus more on helping the people forge their own solutions.
It would be dangerously naive to suggest that the Republican Party is in perfect shape right now.
The post-recession years have created major splits among Republicans. The rise of the Tea Party in the 2010 midterms gave political power to the extreme right wing. The current fiscal cliff crisis has caused even more disunity, as top party leaders in Congress have not voted as a cohesive unit.
Perhaps the most alarming development in the past few years was the Republicans’ inability to produce any candidate capable of challenging President Obama in a year where he probably should have been on the ropes.
Many signs point to a bleak future for the Republican Party, but an optimistic attitude and a little historical consultation gives it hope for the future.
The charge that the Republican Party is irreparably broken due to internal friction has merit, but there is reason to believe that this current dissension will lead to positive results.
The Republicans currently lack a unifying face of the party, a void Obama fills for the Democrats. His second term in office is historically unlikely to be a well-received one, as no president in recent memory has had better success following re-election.
Thus, the more singularly unified Democratic Party runs a large risk of following Obama down the rabbit hole of fiscal and foreign policy woes in future years. The President likes to be in control of many aspects of his administration, and his recent Cabinet appointments consist of those agreeable to his policies. Thus, the Democratic Party is putting much of their trust in Obama and politicians who closely concur with him. This is a dangerous proposition, as any misstep by the President could very well bring the Democrats down as well.
James Madison wrote extensively about the positive role of factions in The Federalist No. 10, stating that differing opinions among large groups of politically-minded people are in fact quite beneficial. The democratic opportunities the United States allow healthy debate between two (or more) sides to result in the option which does the greatest good for all involved. Thus, a similar phenomenon could very well be occurring within the Republican Party currently.
Though it is easy and timely to make apocalyptic references about the Republicans’ impending doom, the failings of 2012 can be viewed as a positive turning point for the party.
This past year allows an opportunity for reflection on where things went wrong, much like a sports team watching the tape of an unsuccessful game. With proper analysis and an admission of mistakes, the Republicans can emerge from this mire stronger than ever.
History will remember the span between the 2008 and 2012 elections as the last hurrah of the old guard (Romney and McCain are both senior citizens), as well as the dawn of a new, youthful Republican Party. In recent years, charismatic politicians like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio (both under 45) have stepped into the political foreground as hopeful figures who are even capable of agreement on major issues like immigration.
Underneath a pretense of discombobulation, a vast array of solutions to the party's immediate problems are being conjectured by all types of Republicans, from the moderates to the Tea Partyists. As the situation becomes more and more dire, the Republicans will find a way to incorporate enough ideas from all factions to create a unified plan which will re-affirm 225 years of political theory. A rejuvenation of the Republican Party is right around the corner and the 2014 midterm elections are a golden chance.
It will be the 20th anniversary of one of the most important congressional votes in American history, as the Contract With America garnered nearly unanimous participation and turned a record number of seats to Republican control.
The smartest thing for the Republican Party to do in the next few years is to not fight the growing tide of youthfulness. Spearheaded by figures like Ryan and Rubio, the Republicans could once again earn the voters’ trust by coming together with a unified plan to ameliorate the stalemate in Congress. If this strategy comes to fruition, Washington could see Republican control of both houses in two years.