Can the Republican Party Avoid the Fate of the Whigs?

Note from Senior Management: Pat Caddell, Fox News Contributor and top Democratic strategist, continues his series of exclusive commentary and analysis for Breitbart News concerning the recent election and the future of the Republic.

If present trends continue, the Republicans will likely soon fall out of political viability; and the Grand Old Party will be the Grand Defunct Party. They are well on their way to becoming the 21st Century incarnation of the Whigs.

Let’s consider: At the national level, Republicans have lost four of the last six presidential elections; if one measures the popular vote, they have lost five of the last six. Indeed, over the last six elections, the GOP has averaged approximately 44.8 percent of the popular vote, whereas the Democrats have won 48.8 percent.  And the disparity in the electoral college is even more telling: Republicans have won an average of 211 electoral votes over the last six elections, while Democrats have won 327.  

These are trends that transcend any one candidate, and any one election. Meanwhile, the Establishment Republican party seems uninterested in learning anything about why they really lost; the goal DC Republicans today is the generation of conveniently self-serving excuses.  

The proof that Establishment Republicans want to paper over their failures--and prop up a doddering, but still lucrative, status quo--is found in the post-election behavior of Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Priebus was just another state party chairman, unknown outside of Wisconsin, until he was hand-picked for the national chairmanship by Beltway kingmakers Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie.  So of course Priebus is not going to do anything much to investigate, let alone change, what wrong with the Republican campaigns of 2012 that were profitably overseen by Rove, Gillespie, and their cronies. Priebus, Rove, and Gillespie should be exiting from the scene; they should not be given another chance to explain away their own failures, even as they make new plans to make new money in the next set of elections.   

And speaking of failures, what is there to say about Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who also helped oversee this Republican debacle?  McConnell now has presided over three consecutive GOP Senate failures, in 2008, 2010 and 2012. In ‘08, McConnell’s Republican Senate lost seats, and then in ’10 and ’12, McConnell & Co. blew opportunities to win control of Senate from the Democrats--indeed, they lost more seats in ’12.   

Failure in politics can have many causes, but in a political coalition there can be only one leader, and that leader should step up and take responsibility. And so for Senate Republicans, that’s McConnell, and he should have done the right thing.  

McConnell should have set an honorable example by resigning from his minority leadership post. If he had, others, too, would have been forced to rethink their ways, and their roles--and that’s how renewal takes place.  But of course, McConnell stayed in place, indeed, he was unopposed. And that learn-nothing attitude, from McConnell and his subordinates, sent a powerful signal of despair to Republican partisans. We might pause to note that the Democrats are no better these days; the same stench of failure hangs around the neck of Nancy Pelosi, and yet she, too, clings to power on her side of the aisle; evidently, nobody in the DC political class feels burdened by a sense of competence, let alone honor.  

We will more closely the failings of Mitt Romney and the Republican consultant-ocracy in later installments of this series. But first, let’s focus on the big picture for the Republicans.  

So what has happened over four election cycles, 2006 to 2012? Most obviously, George W. Bush did enormous harm to the Republican brand; his grandiose vision of nation-building first gave us the Iraq fiasco and then, indirectly, the Islamist ascendancy in Gaza, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Notably, Iran, having gained influence over an old enemy, Iraq, proved to be in a stronger position at the end of the Bush presidency than at the beginning.  

On the homefront, voters still remember the Bush economic meltdown; the 2012 exit polls showed that more Americans blamed Bush for the present-day bad economy than blamed Obama. The Bush Administration and the GOP Washington establishment transformed the Republicans into a pro-spending, pro-government party-- a junior version of the Democratic party and establishment in Washington.  

Although Republicans like to point out that Bush ran the deficit up less than Obama, the truth is that 43 opened the floodgates. How so? Because when a Republican deficit-spends without restraint, such spending gives license to the Democrats to trump it. So yes, Bush Republicans and the Congressional majority spent money like “drunken sailors,” as John McCain said; abrogating their very rationale for existence--and opening wide the spending sluice for the Democrats. Moreover, the Republicans were at the trough, right alongside the Democrats, when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were ladling out their off-budget financial favors. 

But before Bush, such figures as Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, and Bob Livingston had all damaged themselves and their party by trying to impeach Bill Clinton, when they themselves had sexual peccadilloes; hypocrisy is always bad politics. 

Just this year, we’ve had the disgusting spectacle of a married Republican Congressman, Scott DesJarlais, having been taped pressuring his mistress to have an abortion. DesJarlais was re-elected to his seat in Tennessee this November, although hopefully not for long.

To be sure, no party has any monopoly on either vice or virtue, but it does seem as if the Republicans have done their best to monopolize the vice of strangely medieval, as well as hypocritical, sexual politics. But I’ll get to Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, as well, in a later installment.  

The economy, to be sure, is the most important issue, and national security may be the second most important issue, and as we have seen, Bush 43 bequeathed a negative legacy for Republicans on both.  

Yet at the same time, modernity is an important issue, too. Much of the Republican Party has simply lost its capacity to think about America as it is today--an America where, for example, most people no longer worry about gay marriage. 

So what could happen? As I said, the GOP could slide into marginalization. It’s happened before. 

For example, during the years 1932 to 1968, the Republican Party lost seven of nine presidential elections.  The only two exceptions were the twin victories of Dwight Eisenhower, the greatest hero of WW2. Without Ike’s presence on the Republican ticket in 1952 and 1956, it’s easy to imagine the Republicans having lost all nine of those elections.   

Moreover, as a better measure of partisan support in those years, we can note the Congressional elections: During that same 36-year period, the Republicans managed to win the House and Senate for a meager four years each. Four years out of thirty-six. Now that’s marginalization.  

For further perspective, we could reach back even further into US history. After all, in terms of its geographical center of gravity, the Republican Party of today is much closer to the Democratic Party of the 19th century. That is, the party today is centered in Dixie, where Romney won nine of the states of the old Confederacy; the South was the only region that he carried. And so for more precedent, we might look back to Dixie during its wilderness years.  

After the Civil War, the South was deeply discredited in the eyes of the rest of the country, and so the Democrats--the party tied to the South--lost nine of the 11 presidential elections from 1868 to 1908. It took a long time for memories of the Civil War to fade, and a long time for the South to be willing to join the modern mainstream of civil rights and equality. Indeed, as a Southerner myself--born in South Carolina, raised in Florida, a resident of South Carolina today--I was and am proud to have helped a Georgian, Jimmy Carter, become the first president from the Deep South in nearly a century-and-a-half. Notably, whatever Carter’s flaws as president might have been, he was a sterling figure on civil rights.  

Of course, the ultimate example of political failure is the Whigs. The Whigs could trace their political lineage to George Washington, and they elected two presidents in the 1840s and yet went out of existence in the 1850s.  The Whigs were a forward-looking, modernizing party, but they disappeared because they could no longer grapple with the changes coming to the country, nor with the widening cracks in their own coalition. As has been said of the Whigs, having lost their citadels of electoral strength the Whigs now chose to abandon all their principles. On important issues such as the abolition of slavery and a forward-looking policy on immigration, they could reach no agreement other than disagreement, and that was the end of them. 

It’s worth recalling that there was a Whig president, Millard Fillmore, sitting in the White House on March 4, 1853. And yet within one presidential election cycle, by 1856, the party was dead. So the Republicans need to understand just how quickly political extinction can happen. 

Today, slavery is long gone, but immigration is as prominent an issue as it ever has been. A century-and-a-half ago, the Whigs couldn’t figure out a viable policy for new immigrants, in those years, mostly the Irish. Today, Republicans haven’t been able to figure out a viable policy for newer immigrants, now mostly Hispanics. So that’s one reason why Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote. And what will happen to the GOP when another 10 or 20 million Hispanics are legalized and start to vote? Or when perhaps even hard-red Texas becomes a blue state?  

Indeed, the Republican pathology runs deeper than the just the presidential races. As noted earlier, the Republicans have blown two Senate election cycles in a row--two cycles in which they were given easy chances to win a majority. And now respected political analyst Stu Rothenberg is projecting a possible Democratic supermajority in the Senate by 2016.  

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the Republicans hung on to their majority, but by reduced numbers. In fact, though, the Democrats won a majority of the House vote this year, only the particularities of House districts saved the Republicans. But the Democrats, with the wind now at their back, will make recapturing the House their top priority in 2014. 

What I am describing here is the contemporary path to the Whigs’ fate. I certainly hope that my party, in its current corrupt incarnation, is not allowed to dominate the political landscape without challenge, without checks and balances.  And in fact, I am confident that checks and balances will come -- perhaps from a revived Republican Party, or perhaps from a new party altogether.  

I will examining possible alternative fates for the Republicans, in future installments. 

But before letting him slip completely down the memory hole of bad ideas, let’s take up Mitt Romney, in the next installment. 


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