By Stump Connolly

          I grew up a Republican, a right-wing Republican. I mean a tip of the feathers right-wing Republican. I watched movies in school about a Red Menace spreading across the globe until the United States “falls like an overripe fruit into our hands.” My mother ran the local John Birch Society bookstore. We boycotted the local IGA because it sold Polish hams. Want one more? My basement had 5,000 copies of Phyllis Schlafly’s “A Choice Not an Echo” in storage, for a long time.

            Don’t tell me about Republicanism. I lived it. I breathe it.

            That’s why I’m looking forward to a new Republican Party, because the time has never been more propitious, and the need never more urgent, for thinking Republicans to rethink who they are.

The Grand Old Party

            It’s hard to see how the Republican party gets back to what it was before Trump. First he invaded it, then commanded its loyalty, seized the party machinery, and spread his noxious lies into the party doctrine. “Trump transformed the G.O.P. brand from one of law and order, federalism and originalism into one of incitement and riot, of personality cult and usurpation of power,” Bret Stephens, the conservative New York Times columnist wrote. Like a skunk at a garden party, he left his stink all over the place. And you can’t just sweep up a stink. Or an insurrection. Or Donald Trump. He lingers.

            And even if he leaves, his son Don Jr. is waiting in the wings to take over. That’s the same Don who launched his bid for party leadership the morning of the Capitol insurrection by telling the rally crowd, “This gathering should send a message to them: This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.”

            Forget them. We’re way past reform. We’re around the bend into Crazy Land.

            “The violent endgame of the Trump presidency has exposed a new divide in the conservative coalition. Not a normal ideological division or an argument about strategy or tactics, but a split between reality and fantasy that may be uniquely hard for either self-interest or statesmanship to bridge,” says Ross Douthat, another conservative voice.

             And how does John Boehner, the former Republican Speaker of the House, feel about the party these days? “I once said the party of Lincoln and Reagan is off taking a nap,” he tweeted. “The nap has become a nightmare for our nation. The GOP must awaken. The invasion of our Capitol by a mob, incited by lies from some entrusted with power, is a disgrace to all who sacrificed to build our Republic.”

Not Your Father’s Republican Party

            A lot has changed since my Republican days. But what’s changed most is America. Republicans are older, richer, and more diverse than ever. We have racial biases that run through our friendships and economic disparity we don’t see because we’re not looking. But we are all increasingly interconnected – economically, technologically and, as Coronavirus has brought to our attention, in our national health. A strong and effective government isn’t just a Democratic talking point, it’s a necessity. And our connections extend beyond U.S. borders to a global economy the United States no longer controls.

            It’s a complicated world, running at breakneck speed, into a future more uncertain than ever. One of the mantra’s in my father’s Republican party was limited government is good. “The government that governs least, governs best.” But the government today is called on to provide a wide range of services that were unimaginable in the days of the founding fathers – to 330 million citizens not the 4 million counted in the first census – and the debate today isn’t whether government should be involved in our lives, but what’s the best way to engage it.

            That’s a question today’s Republican party is ill-equipped to answer.

The Trump Effect

            A lot of the party’s failure to bring solutions to the table stems from Donald Trump’s insistence on keeping the focus on himself. He didn’t come from a government background. He doesn’t know how it works. And he doesn’t care, as long as it works for him. His ideas pop up in phone calls with friends or out of news features he sees on Fox news. His idea of working with Congress is he tells them what to do, and they do it.

            When the President latched onto the notion that the November election was stolen from him, he demanded loyal Trump Republicans speak up on his behalf, and he took their loyalty to a very dark place in American politics, fomenting an insurrection to overturn the results of the Electoral College. Eight Republican Senators and 140 House Republicans – two thirds of the House Republican conference – shamelessly parroted his claim. The others knew better but stayed silent.

            The New Republicans will be made up of those who know better, and are brave enough to speak up. They are not so philosophically different from old Republicans, but they are temperamentally different, open to new ideas, dedicated to bringing on a new America that works together for the common good.

The Lincoln Project

            The New Republican Party will not have to start from scratch. They can build on the work of The Lincoln Project, founded by a cadre of seasoned “Never Trump” strategists: Steve Schmidt (of Game Change) who ran John McCain’s 2008 campaign; John Weaver, a longtime consultant to John Kasich; Rick Wilson, a Florida-based media consultant; and Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign consultant.

           Initially, they thought they could afford to spend a couple million dollars to poke Trump with negative spots on the internet. Soon enough, they discovered they weren’t just a thorn in his side, they were messing with his head, so they decided to pour it on. In spots, billboards, and op-eds, they turned out some of the most entertaining and effective  campaign ads out there. “We don’t bring any dull knives to this fight,” Wilson says proudly. They also brought a sophisticated understanding of how the new tools of the internet were transforming political advertising.

            Reed Galen, another co-founder, headed up the Lincoln Project digital team. His job was to co-ordinate sites on Facebook, Tiktok, and Instagram with online fundraising operations and other friendly networks. But his baby was Twitter, where he tweeted out dozens of posts a day to an audience of 2.7 million followers.

            In December, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post saying the Lincoln Project goal wasn’t just to defeat Trump at the ballot box, but to ensure that Trumpism failed along with him. Galen has been instrumental in setting up the Serve America Movement, a grass roots organization laying the groundwork for a new party, and their first target in the 2022 midterms will be the 18 state attorney generals and 140 House Republicans who promoted Trump’s bogus election fraud claims.

Political Professionals

            One of the advantages of working with Lincoln Project is they’ve worked with campaigns all over the country. They know how to organize a local chapter, set up a statewide ground game, or stage a rally for 10,000 people. And if they don’t know, they know someone who does. They know the filing dates and signature requirements to get on the ballot in every state, and have old media maps showing the most effective markets to advertise in.  

            They know how to play the media, build a website overnight or get a commercial out the door in 30 minutes. They know the right reporters to give exclusive interviews, how to get on 60 Minutes, who to call to get on the Sunday morning shows. In the fast-growing industry of politics, they are the new precinct captains of the internet, tech-savvy pros who can get things done.

            And if someone wants to know what the New Republican Party stands for, they can whip out the old Republican party platform, because Donald Trump sure wasn’t using it. He told the old Republican party he didn’t need a platform this year because he alone would be making all the decisions.

Getting the Ball Rolling

            But first you have to get the ball rolling. The New Republicans have 36 months to get ready for the 2024 election, so they have to move fast to use the 2022 midterms as a dry run. They need to find local candidates willing to take the plunge, run slates for state legislature, governor and other state offices, and build out an election apparatus. Not many will win, but at least they’ll have the train up on the tracks for 2024.

            At the same time, like a start-up on Wall Street, the New Republicans have to be taking advantage of the quiet period to make the deals that get the wheels turning. They should start by quietly recruiting some of the bigger names in the party to the cause.

          It’s no secret that voters who identify themselves as independents (29 percent) outnumber Republicans. It’s time to go find them. Make them un-independent. Make them New Republicans, and nothing will attract them faster than showing them the company they’ll be keeping. Roll out your most prominent supporters in a full-page ad in the New York Times with 300 names signed to a statement of party principles, people like:

            Lamar Alexander, Charles Baker, Jaime Beutler, John Boehner, John Bolton, Saxby Chambliss, Liz Cheney, Chris Christie, Susan Collins, William Cohen, George Conway, Bob Corker, John Danforth, Mike DeWine, Jim Edgar, Jeff Flake, Reed Galen, Ben Ginsberg, Anthony Gonzalez, Chuck Hagel, Niki Haley, Larry Hogan, Jennifer Horn, Jim Justice, Jon Huntsman, David Jolly, John Kasich, John Katko, John Kelly, Adam Kinzinger, Mark Kirk, Bill Kristol, Jim Mattis, Jim McGovern, Peter Meijer, Lisa Murkowski, Anna Navarro, Dan Newhouse, Bob Packwood, Colin Powell, Tom Rice, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Steve Schmidt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alan Simpson, Stuart Stevens, Charlie Sykes, Rex Tillerson, Pat Toomey, Rick Tyler, Fred Upton, David Valadao, John Warner, John Weaver, Lowell Weicker, Christine Whitman, Rick Wilson.

            That’s pretty good company. Or would you rather be in the party of Louis Gohmert, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Lauren Boebert?

Talk’s Cheap, Let’s Race

            Now here’s where it gets interesting.

            While they are recruiting members, the New Republicans will also be recruiting candidates for their first presidential nomination. They don’t need one messianic leader, they need half a dozen thoughtful candidates from across the conservative spectrum competing in a series of New Republican primaries.

            They can hold them in the same early states as the old Republicans and Democrats will have theirs, but they’ll have their own debates, with their own cable news coverage. If the delegates are apportioned proportionally, Steve Kornacki can keep track of who’s winning. They’ll hold a convention. Find sponsors. Hold parties. (Some things never change.) And broadcast it live in prime time on the networks.

            Best of all, come the general election in the fall, the winner of the New Republican nomination will be guaranteed a spot on stage in the debates held by the Commission on Presidential Debates ­– where he or she will have a one-in-three chance of winning.

            Who wouldn’t want to run in this primary? A chance to stand on stage for two hours talking about Republican issues to an audience eager to hear new ideas from intelligent people. What if the field were John Kasich, Chris Christie, Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, and Ben Sasse?

          All strong candidates, but only one can win. I think we have a race here. I’ll set up the bookie line in London.

            Now there’s nothing to say one, or all of them, can’t simultaneously run in the old Republican primaries. The field will be bigger. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Nikki Halley and, of course, Donald Trump – Jr. or Sr – will be in it. So there’s going to be a lot of candidates sucking up stage minutes, and half of them are going to be spouting Trumpisms to appeal to “the base.” How are you going to articulate a new vision for America in a room like that?

            If you’re a Nikki Haley, you’re facing a long uphill climb to the top, only to find Donald Trump sitting on the summit. But remember, only one of the old party candidates can be the nominee, so why shouldn’t Haley  jump to the New Republican primary where you can shape your own destiny, win converts to your cause and shape the nation around your values. And it’s a straight shot to The Finals without all the sturm und drang.

Show Me the Money

            Money is the mother’s milk of politics, and no start-up party is going to get far without it. But there are now alternatives to the $5,000-a-plate campaign galas. The proliferation of online fundraising and virtually unregulated activities of non-partisan foundations and political action committees (PACs) has brought more money into the system than ever before. As the Georgia runoff showed, it can be raised quickly. In the 60 days leading up to the election, the four candidates raised over $800 million. The money is there, if you know how to find it.

            In the wake of the Capitol insurgency, many of the biggest contributors in Washington announced they will only give money to candidates who share their ethics and values. (Now there’s a novel idea.) Specifically, they said they will not be giving money to Republicans who encouraged the protests against the Electoral College.

           And what corporations are these?  Try Amazon, American Airlines, American Express, Airbnb, AT&T, 3M, Best Buy, BlackRock, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Boston Scientific, BP, Charles Schwab, Citigroup, Cisco, Coca-Cola, ConocoPhillips, Comcast, Commerce Bank, Dell, Deloitte, Dow, Ernst & Young, Facebook, Ford, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Google, Hilton, JPMorgan, Chase, Kroger, Leidos, Marathon Petroleum, Marriott, Mastercard, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Smithfield Foods, Target, UPS, Verizon, Visa, and Walmart.

            “We continuously evaluate our political contributions to ensure that those we support share our values and goals,” BlueCross BlueShield CEO Kim Keck said in a statement. “In light of this week’s violent, shocking assault on the Capitol, and the votes of some members of Congress to subvert the results of November’s election, BCBSA will suspend contributions to those lawmakers who voted to undermine our democracy.”

Charles Koch

            And there is more good news. Charles Koch is having second thoughts about the money he’s spent over the last two decades building a base for conservatism. He funded conservative think tanks, pushed a conservative agenda on state legislatures and, through his Americans for Prosperity PACs, gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Republican candidates.

            Emily Seidel, the CEO of Americans for Prosperity, announced last week it will not be giving to any candidates this year who practices “the politics of division.”

            “We decide to support candidates based on their record and ability to lead on policy that will help people improve their lives,” says Emily Seidel, the CEO. “With that standard in mind, lawmakers’ actions leading up to and during last week’s insurrection will weight heavy in our evaluation of future support.”

            Koch himself has expressed reservations that his political mission has run amok. “Boy, did we screw up. What a mess!” he writes in his new book Believe in People “Partisan politics prevented us from achieving the thing that motivated us to get involved in politics in the first place — helping people by removing barriers.”

            “I was slow to react to this fact, letting us head down the wrong road for the better part of a decade,” he added. “If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the old ways of doing things aren’t working. But the solutions to our country’s problems are all around us. If we’re willing to believe in people, empower them from the bottom-up, and unite with anybody to do right, we can work together to build a society where everyone can rise.”

            Charles Koch. Welcome to the club. Would you, perhaps, like to be national finance chairman?

 


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